Friday, May 6, 2011

Police Brutality

Saw this article in the news today. For most people who read this story and see the video, it is pretty shocking. Unfortunately for us criminal defense attorneys, it is an all too familiar story. Most likely when this girl ended up in custody and was appointed or retained a lawyer, she will tell them about the excessive force used by the officer. But, most cases do not have video evidence of it like this one. In those cases, a criminal defense attorney like myself can do little with that information unless there are independent eye-witnesses or medical reports detailing the abuse.

Otherwise, at trial we can cross-examine the officers about what occurred that day but I have a funny feeling that this push, will not be part of the officers' testimony, nor will it be included in their police reports about the incident. More often than not, these incidents occur without recourse, retribution, and worst of all, do not even make it into evidence in the defendant's trial, if they are charged.

Now, if one reads the entire story, they will find this girl was not some poor innocent teen attacked without reason. In fact, she is pretty unsavory herself. The officers arrived at the scene that day because the teen was being kicked out of school for being intoxicated and serving alcohol to other students. And, other parts of the video show her wrestling with her poor mother on the ground and even punching her mom in the head and face a few times. But, the story seems to indicate that this all occurred before the officers arrived and the video clearly shows a teenager calmly walking away from the scene.

Was she being insubordinate? Probably. Obnoxious? I would believe it. Had she done something wrong? I would certainly believe that and the video clearly shows it. Does any of that justify what the officer did to her? I wonder if opinions on that last question would differ? If so, please watch the video again. By the time the officers arrive (around the 1:30 mark), the scuffle between daughter and mother is over and she is walking away. Most likely the officer told the girl to stop and she did not listen. Having said ALL that (thanks again, Jerry Seinfeld), does any of that justify the tactic the officer used?

Apparently the "technique" is called an "impact push" which means that the officer not only used all his force to push this teenage girl down, but he was trained in how to do this. These criminal defense attorneys, have no objection to the technique used properly and in the appropriate situation, but was this the type of incident envisioned for its use? I think not; and I bet my partner would agree.

The other interesting part of this story is that the video was uploaded to You Tube in March - we don't even know when it was shot or when this incident occurred but it was at least a month ago. That begs the question, why are we just finding out about this now? Publicly at least, the local police department claims they were unaware of the situation. So, going back to my original point above, do you think this girl told anyone what happened? And, did anyone outside of the witnesses themselves believe her? Was anyone taking any action on her behalf or against the officer himself before the video became today's media sensation?

Finally, the current story is that the officer was placed on paid leave? This, I cannot understand but is always what occurs in this type of incident. In other words, Joe Q. Officer, you acted completely out of line and used unnecessary and excessive force on a teenage girl - how about a paid vacation?!? This is like suspending the truant student - does this make any sense?

Hopefully, this girl now has an attorney working for her. Some personal injury or civil rights lawyer should have a field day with this one now that the video surfaced and the media is involved. The problem is that this officer is going to end up with a slap on the wrist and will be back to his policing at his, or some other department, real soon. And, if not, he'll get a job as a security officer at a mall which leads me to my last piece of unfortunate but true advice: stay away from the cops at all costs and avoid other security too as best you can unless you absolutely need help (and even then watch out). Simply put, if you feel the need to act like an asshole, do it at home and if anyone else is home, make sure they don't have a phone or won't call the cops on you. If they do, this guy might be coming to "help". This might seem extreme but I can tell you, as criminal defense and personal injury lawyers, we have seen cases upon cases of people getting hurt or mistreated by those authorities who were supposed to be there to help. It's hell out there people...

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