Thursday 20 June 2013

Obeying a police officer`s orders on the phone What would you do?

Obeying   a  police  officer`s  orders  on  the  phone  What  would  you  do?

The Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures was a series of social psychology experiments conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram, which measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience. The person being tested was told that if another person who was supposedly hooked up to electrical wires gave a wrong answer, the person being tested would give him an electric shock. As each mistaken answer was given, the shock would be greater. The persons being questioned wasn’t really hooked up to any wires but every time the small light went on signaling that that person being tested had pushed a button that supposedly sent out a current of electricity into the person being questioned, that person would howl in pain. If the tested person wanted to stop, the instructor ordered him to continue. Almost all of them did.

The experiment proved that normal decent people will commit all kinds of terrible things to people if they feel that they should follow the orders of  someone who is in a position of authority over them. This was a common defence given by Nazi war criminals during their trials.

An unusual event took place in 2004 in the town of Mount Washington, Kentucky that clearly proves that normal people will commit stupid and illegal acts if they honestly believe that they are following the orders of someone in authority.     

A man who called himself Officer Scott of the local police department  phoned the McDonald's in that town claiming that a customer had accused one of McDonald`s employees of stealing some money from the customer`s purse that had been on the counter.  Let me say right from the get go, it was a hoax and the victimized employee was Louise Ogborn who worked at the restaurant for $6,50 an hour as a counter girl.  According to McDonald's manager, Donna Summers who had answered the call, the description of the suspect matched Louise Ogborn, an 18-year-old worker.

The officer gave the manager an ultimatum: The girl could be arrested and taken to the police department to be strip-searched or alternatively, the manager could perform the strip-search in her office with the officer listening in on what was going on via his phone.

I think it should be obvious to anyone reading this article that the perp who was impersonating a police officer was getting his jollies as a recipient of this unusual form of phone sex. In fact, there were 70 such phone calls made over a period of ten years and a great many people suspect that it was done by one perpetrator.

What this devolved into is unbelievable, but suffices it to say, the young woman was sexually assaulted and humiliated, all because the manager blindly believed whom she was talking to was an authority figure and that she was just following his orders.

The so-called officer told the assistant manager at McDonalds that the victim of the theft was with him at the station. The manager didn`t realize that it was strange indeed that the so-called victim of the theft didn’t speak to her first before going to the police. Also, if a victim complains to the police that a theft took place somewhere, the police will take that person to the scene of the theft and confront the person accused of committing the theft. That reasoning didn`t come to the mind of the manager either.


In any case, the officer told the manager to the search her employee’s purse.

I don`t find the act of the manager searching the girl`s purse necessarily outrageous however a police officer would not designate that responsibility to a citizen because if there was stolen items in the purse, the police officer would have to be the person to conduct the search so that when the matter goes to trial, he would be the person who gives testimony as to what he found. After all, the manager could move away in the interim and if the manager couldn`t be found, then the case against the girl would collapse even before the trial would begin. Now admittedly, the manger couldn`t have possible arrived at that conclusion on her own however managers do have authority to search for evidence of a theft on their property if a police officer isn’t on hand.  


When nothing untoward was found in the girl’s purse, the officer told the manager to tell her employee to take off her clothes—all of them including her shoes.


This was the beginning of this fiasco when everything went wrong. No legitimate police officer would ever, ever tell a citizen to tell a suspect to remove her clothes.  Now she didn’t specifically order the girl to remove her clothes but when the officer told her and the girl that if the girl didn’t remove her clothes, she would be arrested, taken to the police station and then stripped naked at the station. Both the manager and the girl were told that if nothing was found on her that showed that she committed the theft, then the matter would be over. The girl stripped off all of her clothes. The girl was embarrassed but more orders were to follow. The manager was told to have one of her female employees brought to the office so that she could guard the girl while the police came to arrest her.


The manager should have suspected that something was definitely amiss since there was no evidence of any money in the girl’s purse or in her clothing. And she should have been doubly suspicious when the officer told her to take the girl’s clothes to her own car and leave them on her front seat so that the police could come by and pick them up. The officer’s reason  for wanting to pick up the clothes was that the girl’s brother was a drug dealer and some of powder from his illicit drugs may have fallen on her clothes and they needed her clothes as evidence against her brother.


Of course, this was utter nonsense but to the manager, it seemed plausible so she did what she was told. Meanwhile, the girl was given an apron to wear.  


Later, the manager was told that it would be better if a man guarded the girl so the manager brought in the girl’s boyfriend who was also an employee and was on duty during that shift. When he saw his girlfriend almost naked, he was too embarrassed to remain so he walked out of the office.


When the officer asked if there was another man she know who could guard her, she thought of her fiancé. This man’s name is Walter Nix, and was a 43-year-old man when he came onto the scene. This is when everything went from bad to really bad.


People like to point the finger at who the villain is in this story. Many say it was the manager who allowed all of the abuse to take place. Others say it was the manager's fiancé, who found nothing suspicious when the officer told him that the girl was to perform a sexual act on himself. And then there's the hoaxer, it is highly likely that he was the one who also did this in 70 other stores before Mount Washington.


It was a bizarre, real-life crime that occurred at a McDonald's restaurant in a small town in Kentucky. The criminal who committed this crime also committed approximately 70 other similar crimes over a span of ten years; although the crime at the Kentucky McDonald's was the worst.


The odd thing about the crime is that it was committed with the perpetrator on the phone in the State of Florida. All the events in the film called Compulsion are basically the same as to what really happened during the real life event; except instead being at McDonald's, the establishment in the film is a fried chicken restaurant.


The perp pretending to be a police officer, convinced the manager of the restaurant, that a young, teenage employee of hers had stolen money from a customer earlier in the day. He told the manager that his colleagues are busy and she needs to take the employee in the back room, where she is instructed to strip search her.

Any normal person with the slightest bit of common sense would have realized that this was some kind of scam or a pervert getting his rocks off from the get go, but the manager was one of those people who never thinks of questioning authority, and subsequently, she followed every one of the perpetrator's directives. The young employee, found herself naked, except for an apron. The caller manipulates the girl as well, claiming that her brother could face charges, as he is also the subject of a police investigation.

Things become even weirder when the perverted caller convinces the manager to call her fiancé to the restaurant, in order to watch the hapless girl. He is even more of a ‘Yes Man’ than the manager and on the instructions of the officer, he first spanks her for ten minutes and then on the instructions of the officer, tells the girl that  is to have oral sex with him as part of the punishment. This abuse goes on for over two hours, as the manager is outside, helping customers.


After another employee comes in to the restaurant and realizes what's going on, he convinces the manager to call her regional manager, who according to the officer on the phone was supposedly at the police station with the caller but in reality was sleeping at home.

How could anyone be so gullible to believe that the guy on the other end of the line was actually a cop? His instructions were so ludicrous, that any normal person would have realized what was going on. But we're not dealing with 'normal’ people here. Like the good Germans in Nazi Germany, who followed ‘orders', the employees of this particular fast food restaurant, simply complied with the authority figure who was giving them orders. Perhaps they had such a fear of punishment (the manager thought she might lose her job and the fiancé and the store employee, thought they might end up being placed under arrest), that this caused them to become the ultimate followers.

On a moral plane, some have argued that everyone involved in this incident was a victim. As I see it, at least the manager was a victim of this hoax as a result of her absurd gullibility and slavish devotion to authority by facilitating the events that occurred. You can make some excuses for the then 18-year-old due to her young age, but it hard to believe that she’s representative of the average teenager. I think anyone her age would have refused to have sex with a man simply because a police officer told her to do it as a form of punishment.  

This unfortunate event engendered quite a bit of discussion on the Internet about the nature of those morally challenged ‘yes men’, who are unable to judge right from wrong, due to their subservience to authority figures.


Based on a real life occurrence in 2004 at a Kentucky McDonalds, the movie's screenplay recreates (although in a fictional setting) what occurred in that store almost exactly according to the restaurant's security video, police reports, and court transcripts.


A man calls a harried fast food manager, identifies himself as a police officer, and tells her that he has a witness that one of her employees has stolen from a customer – could she help with the investigation until he can get there? Hoping to get this resolved quickly, she complies – even when he asks her to detain, search, and then strip-search the teenage employee. Threatened with arrest, the teenager complies with increasingly bizarre requests from the disembodied voice on the phone – including doing nude jumping jacks to “dislodge” anything hidden within her body’s orifices, bending over to be spanked, and performing a sexual act for one of the males guarding her. Only when one of the male employees objects to the proceedings does the caller hang up, because the whole thing was one elaborate prank to see how far they would go.


On an average day at your local Ohio Chickwich, the harried manager (Ann Dowd) receives an officious phone call from someone claiming to be a police officer. He identifies a young employee (Dreama Walker) as a thief saying that a woman customer has reported her taking money from her purse earlier in the day. Claiming he has already spoken to Dowd's District Manager, he asks for her cooperation in expediting the investigation while his team is detained. What follows, playing out in basically 90 minutes of real time, I saw the movie on TV on June 19, 2013 for the first time although I remember learning about it around the time the event actually happened.


No one seemed willing to challenge the caller even as things began spiraling out of control. It was a sadistic prank, and once the caller has the restaurant on the hook,  the  girl was humiliated and subjected to sexual abuse.


Beyond the gullibility vs. obedience issue raised by most critics, the situation also begs the question – didn’t the manager know this poor woman’s rights?


The specter of a cop is a powerful thing. It gives people pause. The participants in this fiasco, including the girl were scared enough by the so-called police officer on the phone,  that they didn’t question his orders. They didn’t want to say the wrong thing. They don’t want to get into trouble with the police.


In the end, Louise Ogborn, was awarded $5 million in punitive damages and just over $1.1 million in compensatory damages following a four-week trial and about 13 hours of jury deliberations spread over two days. The McDonald Corporation appealed.


The unanimous three-judge appeals panel ruled that Ogborn was unlawfully held against her will for the duration of the 3 1/2 hour call. They said that she was deprived of her clothes and all her other possessions. Judge Glenn Acree wrote. “Ogborn did not only face the false assertion of police authority, she also faced the real authority of her supervisors.”

The same jury awarded $1.1 million to Donna Summers, who was the former McDonald's restaurant manager after she also sued the fast-food chain. Summers, who had asked the jury to award her $50 million.  However later, the appeals court knocked down the award to Summers to $400,000, saying the amount granted by the jury was too high. She was fired and claimed she was traumatized. She underwent counseling after the incident. Summers was placed on probation for a misdemeanor conviction related to the incident.


Nix was engaged at the time to the store's assistant manager, Donna Jean Summers, who asked him to come watch Ogborn. A man who phoned the store pretending to be a police officer accused Ogborn of theft and ordered her strip-searched.

According to police and court records, Nix said he thought he was following an officer's orders when he began to abuse her. A surveillance video showed Nix spanking Ogborn on her naked buttocks for ten minutes and forcing her to orally sodomize him.

What makes me wonder is how either of them could have really believed that a legitimate police officer would order anyone to do that to a suspect. I think Summers was totally confused by this time however I also believe that Nix was unquestionably pleased that he had been given such an order by a police officer.

Nix, 44, had pleaded guilty to sexual abuse, sexual misconduct and unlawful imprisonment of Louise Ogborn. Nix's attorney, Kathleen Schmidt, asked Judge Waller to give her client shock imprisonment for 90 to 120 days. Nix was sentenced to five years in prison for strip-searching and sexually abusing the teenage worker.  He would have got much more but since he was willing to testify against the caller, his sentence was only five years.

The girl successfully sued McDonald's and got million dollar award because the jury concluded that the McDonald Corporation was aware of the prank calls but did nothing to alert their employees about them beforehand.


The caller, David Stewart was found and arrested in Florida at the firm where he worked. Nix agreed to testify against David Stewart, a former prison guard who was charged with soliciting sodomy and impersonating a police officer. He pleaded not guilty.

During a week of testimony and evidence, jurors heard circumstantial evidence from prosecutors, who showed a timeline of the case, fuzzy surveillance photos of a man buying calling cards and put on testimony about similar incidents in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Idaho Falls, Idaho, that were traced to calling cards found in Stewart's home in Fountain, Florida.

Detectives then testified that they had recovered a calling card from Stewart's home that they say had been used to call a burger king in Idaho,  the same restaurant at which a female manager received a call instructing her to strip search a male employee. That call had been made nearly a year before the call to the McDonald's in Kentucky.

Romines (Stewart`s lawyer)  said that even if one were to find that it was Stewart who bought the phone cards, it did not prove that it was he who made the calls to the fast food establishments.


There were no witnesses to identify Stewart as being on the pay phone where the call originated and no voice recording of the call to compare to Stewart speaking. Romines said that lack of direct evidence may have affected the jury's decision after an hour and 40 minutes of deliberations. They ruled that he was not guilty. That doesn`t necessarily mean that he was innocent however. It simply means that the evidence in the criminal trial left the jurors with reasonable doubt in their minds. 

There is one thing to consider however. Since Stewart's arrest in June 2004, there have been no other reported hoax calls to fast food restaurants.

There is a lesson to be learned from this. If you suspect that an order by a police officer is highly suspicious, tell him so and say that you want to speak to his supervisor.  If the order is given to you over the phone, tell him that you want him to hang up and you will call the police station to confirm that he is whom he claims he is. If the manager had done this, this fiasco never would have happened. She also should have called the man who owned that particular McDonalds franchise. She didn’t do it and when he learned about what was going on, he drove to restaurant to put an end to it but by the time he arrived, it was too late. He was blameless in this fiasco.

UPDATE:  In June, 2013, a self-confessed sextortonist admitted in court to talking young girls into performing sex acts online so that he could view them while they were doing these acts. He targeted hundreds of young girls across the United States, some as young as 12 to perform the sex acts for him on line. For two years, he orchestrated this scheme before he was finally detected. The judge sentenced him to 40 years in prison.




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