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Posted 9/7/20, updated 9/18/20


Should Black citizens fear White cops?

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. Jackson, Mississippi’s capital city, is mostly Black. Ditto its cops. So if citizens are better off dealing with cops of their own race, a frail, elderly Black resident should have survived a minor encounter with three Black cops. But as we reported in “Black on Black” Mr. George Robinson didn’t.

     This time we’ll explore the citizen/cop combination that’s provoked protests across the U.S. For examples we’ll offer two: the August 23rd wounding of Mr. Jacob Blake, a Black resident of Kenosha, Wisconsin, by a White police officer, and the killing of Mr. Dijon Kizzee, a Black resident of a Los Angeles suburb, shot dead by White Sheriff’s deputies on August 31st.

     Here’s an extract from a tweet posted by Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on August 23rd, about three hours after a White Kenosha cop shot and crippled Mr. Jacob Blake:

    Tonight, Jacob Blake was shot in the back multiple times, in broad daylight, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Kathy and I join his family, friends, and neighbors in hoping earnestly that he will not succumb to his injuries….While we do not have all of the details yet, what we know for certain is that he is not the first Black man or person to have been shot or injured or mercilessly killed at the hands of individuals in law enforcement in our state or our country.

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     However compelled Governor Evers may have felt to denounce the police, his swift opinionating virtually guaranteed that something important would be left out. And it was. When their handiwork went tragically astray, three White cops were trying to arrest the 29-year old Black man on a recently-issued warrant for felony sexual assault. A Black woman who was apparently Mr. Blake’s former domestic partner accused him of breaking into her home while she slept, sexually assaulting her, then leaving with her car and a credit card.

     Mr. Blake remained free. On August 23rd the victim called police to complain that he was back. According to the Wisconsin Department of Justice, which is investigating the use of force, “Police Department officers were dispatched to a residence in the 2800 block of 40th Street after a female caller reported that her boyfriend was present and was not supposed to be on the premises.” An account posted by the police union adds that Mr. Blake “was attempting to steal the caller’s keys/vehicle.” Here’s our best assessment of what then took place:

  • Officers arrived. Radio messages indicate that they knew of the warrant. Three officers tried to intercept Mr. Blake as he walked to his car. According to the police union Mr. Blake supposedly “forcefully fought with the officers, including putting one of the officers in a headlock.”
  • Mr. Blake apparently freed himself and kept walking. Two officers fired their Tasers but without apparent effect. A bystander who didn’t see what, if anything, Mr. Blake carried said that officers commanded Mr. Blake to “drop the knife!”
  • Two bystander videos depict the last part of the encounter. (Click here  and here.) Pistols drawn, officers followed Mr. Blake around his vehicle to the driver’s side. As he approaches the door an officer grabbed him by the shirt (see above image) and when the still-noncompliant man stepped in the cop fired seven times into his back. Police claim they recovered a knife from the vehicle’s floorboard, and state investigators reported that Mr. Blake admitted it was his.

     Mr. Blake’s lower body was paralyzed and he remains hospitalized. As for the sexual assault, he pled not guilty via video, posted a $10,000 bond and waived a preliminary hearing. Trial could take place as early as November.

     Demonstrations and violence followed. As did visits by President Trump and his challenger, Mr. Joe Biden. Their views were predestined to clash. Focusing on the violence, the President praised law enforcement and the National Guard and denied that racism had infected policing. As for Mr. Blake’s shooting, his opinions seemed decidedly mixed:

    Shooting the guy in the back many times. I mean, couldn’t you have done something different? Couldn’t you have wrestled him? You know, I mean, in the meantime, he might’ve been going for a weapon. And, you know, there’s a whole big thing there.

In a controversial follow-on Mr. Trump likened what the officer did to a golfer who “chokes” while attempting a “three-foot putt.”

     Mr. Biden took a different tack. Focusing on the issue of race, he met with Mr. Blake’s family, and in an hour-plus speech at a local church the candidate bemoaned the plight of Black Americans who must deal with White police: “I can’t understand what it’s like to walk out the door or send my son out the door or my daughter and worry about just because they’re Black they may not come back.”

     During the afternoon hours of August 31st L.A. County sheriff’s deputies were patrolling Westmont, an unincorporated neighborhood in the hard-stricken South Los Angeles area when they came across a bicyclist reportedly committing an unspecified moving violation. And when they flagged him down he dropped the bike and took off on foot, jacket in hand. (Update: In a 9/17 news conference Sheriff’s officials said that Mr. Kizzee had been riding on the wrong side of the street.)

     A blurry security camera video depicts deputies chasing a large, burly man as he runs down a sidewalk. There’s a protracted, violent tangle during which a deputy said he was punched in the face. Dijon Kizzee, 29, managed to free himself and resumed fleeing. Deputies said that’s when he dropped the bundle he was carrying. A gun supposedly fell out, and Mr. Kizzee moved as if to grab it (but didn’t).  Mr. Kizzee then resumed fleeing (see image) but managed only one long stride before two deputies – a supervisor and a trainee – opened fire. Mortally wounded, Mr. Kizzee fell to the ground. (Update: In a 9/17 “news briefing” Sheriff’s officials said that Mr. Kizzee picked up the gun and had it in hand when the deputies fired.)

     Deputies discharged as many as fifteen shots. The handgun Mr. Kizzee allegedly possessed was recovered.

     Gunfire by Kenosha police paralyzed Jacob Blake, likely permanently. Gunfire by L.A. Sheriff’s deputies killed Dijon Kizzee. Why did officers turn to lethal force?

     We’ll start with Kenosha. With a population of about 100,000, in 2018 its violent crime rate of 338.2 came in slightly better than the national figure (368.9). That year its murder count was…four. In 2019 killings zoomed all the way to…five. So unlike, say, Jackson or, as we go on, South L.A.’s Westmont neighborhood, its cops should have little reason to feel they’re at war.

     According to Kenosha police chief Daniel Miskinis it was a combination of things. An outstanding arrest warrant may have produced a “heightened awareness” that, together with Mr. Blake’s resistance and possession of a knife, “changed the dynamics” of the encounter. Meaning, it made officers more likely to act defensively or, put another way, aggressively.

     To be sure, individuals count. That warrant was for a crime of violence. And this wasn’t the first time that Mr. Blake had violently misbehaved. According to a court file reviewed by USA Today, in 2015 Racine (Wis.) police arrested Mr. Blake after he pulled a gun in a bar and became “combative” when confronted by officers. A firearm was recovered and he was charged with five counts. However, it seems that everything was ultimately dismissed. (For a detailed account of the incident click here.)

     What about the cop? Other than being White, officer Rusten Sheskey was thirty-one years old, had seven years on the job, and lacked any substantial disciplinary record. He also seemed very community-oriented. Indeed, a year-old newspaper profile depicted him in a very favorable light. Here’s an outtake from his comments during the interview:

    What I like most is that you’re dealing with people on perhaps the worst day of their lives and you can try and help them as much as you can and make that day a little bit better. And that, for the most part, people trust us to do that for them. And it’s a huge responsibility, and I really like trying to help the people. We may not be able to make a situation right, or better, but we can maybe make it a little easier for them to handle during that time.

Square that with shooting someone in the back. Your writer can’t. Neither, apparently, can Mr. Joe Biden, who quickly called for the officer and his colleagues to be prosecuted.

     L.A.’s Westmont area (2010 pop. 31,853), where the encounter between Sheriff’s Deputies and Mr. Kizzee took place, is no Kenosha. Only three months earlier deputies shot and killed an 18-year old murder suspect who reportedly fired on them as he tried to get away. Westmont’s most recent six-month violent crime rate of 413/100,000 (its projected full-year rate would be 826, more than twice Kenosha’s) places it as the 27th most violent of Los Angeles’ 272 neighborhoods. As one would expect, Westmont is also poor. A full thirty percent of its residents live in poverty, nearly three times the U.S. figure of 11.8 percent.

     Might the implicit threat that Westmont presents affect officer decisions? Cops must frequently weigh the consequences to themselves and others of acting swiftly against delaying or trying to “de-escalate.” Of course, the consequences of laying a wrong bet can be profound. Let’s self-plagiarize:

    In the uncertain and often hostile environment of the streets, officers can find it impossible to quickly choreograph and implement a peaceful response. Bottom line: “slowing down” requires that cops occasionally accept considerable risk. Should their judgment be off, they can be easily hurt or killed. That’s not ideology: it’s just plain fact.

Officer temperaments vary. Crucial characteristics such as impulsivity and risk tolerance are all over the map. Citizen personalities also run the gamut. Factor in the violence, gun-slinging and lack of voluntary compliance that besets hard-hit areas, and the answer to our question seems clear: how could Westmont’s nasty aura not count?

     We know nothing about the deputies involved other than their ranks. However, plenty is known about Mr. Kizzee. According to family members he was an “unemployed plumber” who had served time in prison but “was trying to find his way.” We obtained his criminal record through the Los Angeles Superior Court website. Here’s a condensed version:

Mr. Kizzee was a convicted felon. He also had felony charges pending when officers confronted him. As a felon, he was prohibited from possessing a gun, a crime for which he had already been twice convicted. He also had a track record of fighting police and trying to evade capture. Had he been again caught with a gun he would have likely been locked up for a very long time.

     Kenosha’s cops knew there was an active felony warrant for Mr. Blake. And when they stepped in he reacted violently. Taser strikes also had no more effect on Mr. Blake than on Rayshard Brooks, the Atlanta man who fell asleep in a Wendy’s drive-through. As for Mr. Kizzee, he also reacted violently. At this point we don’t know whether either suspect was under the influence of drugs, but their conduct resembles that of others, such as Mr. Brooks and George Floyd, whose “superhuman strength” and “lack of willingness to yield to overwhelming force” are characteristic of a syndrome that the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the American College of Emergency Physicians recognize as “excited delirium” (for more on that and a list of references click here.)

     So what can be done? Deploying a less-lethal alternative such as a Taser comes to mind. Unfortunately, darts are difficult to place and can be defeated by clothing. Conducted energy devices have proven ineffective on highly excited characters. They’re also clumsy and time-consuming to properly deploy, and perhaps impossibly so should encounters turn dynamic. What’s more, drawing a Taser leaves an officer with nothing substantial in hand should someone draw a gun. Given the ubiquity of armed characters such as Mr. Kizzee, that’s a risk officers may be reluctant to take.

     Fine. But is there a way to prevent the need to use a weapon? As essays in our “Compliance and Force” section (e.g., “Making Time”, “De-escalation”) frequently point out, not every situation calls for police intervention, and not every refusal to comply requires a forceful response. “Slowing things down,” say, by using verbal skills, can prevent tragic misperceptions, such as thinking someone is going for a gun when they’re actually reaching for a cell phone. It also affords an opportunity for backup officers, supervisors and crisis intervention teams to arrive.

     Sounds good. But when circumstances turn dynamic, trying to “de-escalate” can give evil-doers the opportunity to go for a gun. And it’s not just cops who may be placed at risk. Failure to contain a dangerous person can easily imperil innocents. Officers must also assess how a response squares with law and policy and, perhaps just as importantly, comports with the views of the colleagues on whom they depend for support. Should things turn out poorly, flouting accepted practice can shred one’s reputation. What’s more, officer personalities vary. As plentiful examples attest (see, for example, “Speed Kills”) when things turn dicey some cops have proven so risk-averse or impulsive that they were simply incapable of holding off.

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     Back to Mr. Blake. Consider the options should even the best cop in the world encounter someone that obstinate and violent. Had he got away there would have likely been a vehicular pursuit, with all the attendant risks to both citizens and police. Choosing not to pursue would have by no means eliminated the danger he posed. Locating and safely arresting a forewarned fugitive ties up prodigious resources and, as your blogger can personally attest, carries exceptional personal risks as well. It’s for reasons such as these that in the practical, everyday world of policing, dangerous characters aren’t simply “let go.”

     To be sure, we’re just scratching the surface. From choosing whether to intervene, to deciding how best to proceed, the police decision-making calculus can prove exceedingly complex. Alas, most of us reside in pleasant, middle-class environments and rarely interact with the dangerous, non-compliant folks whom officers encounter every day. So in these ideologically charged times, our “yes, but” sentiments will probably have little effect. Even so, if we’d like to minimize poor outcomes such as the crippling of Mr. Blake or the death of Mr. Kizzee, let’s work to expand our understanding of how policing happens, and why. Then by all means, let’s set out to improve the practice of this fascinating and highly demanding craft. Click here for a place to start.

UPDATES (scroll)

5/8/24  $3.375 million dollars. That’s what L.A. County has agreed to pay the father of Dijon Kizzee, whom deputies fatally shot in 2020. Kizzee was purportedly riding his bicycle on the wrong side of the street, and he fled on foot when deputies tried to stop him. That turned into a scuffle. Kizzee freed himself and supposedly reached for a gun he had dropped on the ground. Deputies repeatedly fired, killing him. While the deputies were cleared by prosecutors, officials now agree that the officers overreacted. A gun was recovered. Kizzee, a felon, had been twice convicted for gun possession.

4/19/24  Former St. Louis police officer Luther Hall, a Black man, was viciously beaten by four White uniformed officers as he worked undercover monitoring a protest over a St. Louis cop’s acquittal for the 2011 killing of a Black man. Hall, a 22-year veteran, was disabled and retired. His four assailants were convicted of civil rights charges. Mr. Hall settled with the City for $5 million. And a judge just awarded him $23 million in a default judgment against one of the convicted cops, who is now in home confinement. (See 7/15/21 update)

1/18/23  A contested 2020 traffic stop that resulted in one officer’s firing for using excessive force against an uncooperative motorist had a mixed ending in a Federal civil trial, with jurors awarding very small sums to the driver. Circumstances the officers faced were undeniably complex. Caron Nazario was (legally) armed, refused to pull over when police tried to stop him for no license plate, then refused to exit his vehicle. A Federal judge had previously found the officers’ actions reasonable (see 1/1/22 update).

11/16/22  Both L.A. County deputies who shot and killed Dijon Kizzee two years ago were cleared of criminal wrongdoing. According to prosecutors, sheriff’s deputies Christian Morales and Michael Garcia “reasonably believed, based on the totality of the circumstances, that force was necessary to defend against a threat of death when they initially fired their weapons.” Our post reported that Kizzee had two prior convictions for felon with a firearm, and that a gun was recovered at the scene of the shooting.

9/12/22 In May police in Childersburg, a city of 4,750 pop. in central Alabama, were informed by a caller that a stranger was at a home whose occupants were away. Officers (they were White) encountered Michael Jennings, a middle-aged Black man watering the flowers. Mr. Jennings said he was a Pastor and a neighbor, and had been asked to help. All this turned out to be true. But the officers didn’t know him. He refused to provide ID, and after a protracted back-and-forth they arrested him for obstruction. Charges, however, were ultimately rejected. He has now sued for civil rights violations. Video

1/12/22  Dominick Black, the 20-year old who bought the AR-15 rifle for his friend, Kyle Rittenhouse, because Rittenhouse was at 17 too young to purchase the gun himself, pled guilty to a non-criminal local infraction. He was originally charged with a state violation, felony delivery of a dangerous weapon to a minor, but an accommodation was reached as the judge was skeptical that the law covered rifles.

1/1/22  Virginia’s A.G. is suing the Town of Windsor (pop. 2,600) for racially discriminatory policing. Its action was spurred by a nighttime 2020 traffic stop in which then-officer Joe Gutierrez (he’s since been fired) pepper sprayed Caron Nazario after the uniformed Army officer failed to promptly exit his vehicle when asked. Fearing the dark, Lt. Nazario drove on for a mile after Gutierrez and his partner tried to pull him over for no license plates. And when he stopped in a well-lit area, both cops pulled their guns (see 1/18/23 update).

11/23/21  In “Does racial congruence between police agencies and communities reduce racialized police killings of civilians?”, Shytierra Gaston, Matthew J. Teti and Matheson Sancheza studied the relationship between the racial composition of 1,988 local police agencies and their use of force against Blacks. They found that forces with larger proportions of Black officers used significantly less force against Blacks, and that the use of force against Blacks was more common in areas with fewer Blacks.

11/20/21  After three days of deliberation, Kenosha (WI) jurors acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse on each of the five counts of reckless and intentional homicide and reckless endangerment that he faced for fatally shooting Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz during street protests against the police killing of Jacob Blake. Rittenhouse, then 17, was armed with an AR-15 rifle he got through a friend. He took the stand and testified that each shooting was motivated by self-defense.

11/17/21  To prevent sheriff’s deputies from using bicycle violations as pretexts to detain members of minority groups, L.A. County Supervisors approved a measure that legalizes riding on a sidewalk in unincorporated areas should no bike lanes exist. An investigation by the Los Angeles Times revealed that 85% of cyclists stopped by deputies are searched, and seventy percent are Latino.

11/9/21  During the summer and fall of 2020, Beverly Hills police deployed a specialized police unit on tony Rodeo Drive to combat a reported surge of hooliganism that was driving off a desirable clientele. Their focus soon shifted to unemployment fraud, which was supposedly funding buying sprees by lower-income persons. Of the ninety persons arrested by the team, eighty were Black, four were Latino and only three were White. Using these and more recent examples, a lawsuit has been filed alleging that during 2020-21 BHPD discriminated against Blacks and used excessive force in minor situations.

10/30/21  In June 2020 eight Shreveport (La.) police officers - five White, three Black - were indicted on State “malfeasance” charges for punching and brutalizing two Black men who fled when officers tried to stop their vehicle for seat belt violations. During the chase the suspects, both with extensive criminal backgrounds, allegedly threw drugs and a stolen gun out the windows. But when they stopped and tried to peacefully surrender officers beat them, inflicting serious injuries. On October 29, 2021 one of the White officers and two of the Black officers were indicted on Federal civil rights violations.

10/9/21  On October 8 DOJ announced that Federal charges will not be filed against the Kenosha (WI) officer who shot Jacob Blake. According to DOJ, “insufficient evidence exists to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the KPD officer willfully violated the federal criminal civil rights statutes,” and that neither “accident, mistake, fear, negligence, nor bad judgment” are enough to suffice.

8/28/21  In March Austin (TX) police officer Christopher Taylor, who is White, was charged with murder for shooting and killing an unarmed Black/Hispanic man during an encounter in April 2020. He now faces another murder charge, for shooting and killing a mentally ill Black man in July 2019. That victim, who was threatening suicide with a knife, was well known to police from prior encounters. A second officer, who also fired, has also been charged.

8/21/21  One year after gunfire from a White cop - he was officially exonerated and is still on the force - paralyzed Jacob Blake, a Black man, Kenosha’s stark divide remains. While some better-off areas thrive, storefronts in the racially-mixed, economically downtrodden Uptown area where the shooting and follow-up rioting took place remain boarded up. And there is considerable anxiety about what will happen in November, when the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse takes place.

8/19/21  Parents of Anthony Huber, who was murdered by counter-demonstrator Kyle Rittenhouse as Huber and others protested the police shooting of Jacob Blake (see 11/1/20 update), are suing Kenosha city leaders and members of its police force. According to the plaintiffs, police “walked away from their duties and turned over the streets of Kenosha to Kyle Rittenhouse and other armed vigilantes.”

7/17/21  A study in which non-police volunteers listened to brief body-cam excerpts from routine traffic stops revealed that they found the tone of White cops’ voices (“prosody”, scaled 1-6) significantly less respectful and friendly when motorists were Black (mean 3.50) than when they were White (mean 3.72.) These scores were found to correlate with volunteers’ pre-existing trust in and feelings about the police. Even so, the authors concluded that the responses “attest to the role everyday interactions play in building or eroding police-community trust across race.”

7/15/21  In 2017 St. Louis police officer Luther Hall, who is Black, was viciously assaulted by four White uniformed officers as he worked undercover monitoring a protest over a cop’s acquittal for a 2011 killing. Hall was left physically and emotionally disabled. In 2019 one of his assailants, former cop Randy Hays, pled guilty to Federal charges, and two days ago he was sentenced to four years imprisonment. Two of Hays’ colleagues will also soon be sentenced. (See 4/19/24 update)

5/28/21  On March 3, 2020 Manuel Ellis, a 33-year old Black man, died after being forcefully subdued by three Tacoma, Washington police officers who encountered him on the street. Although passers-by said that Ellis was respectful and didn’t resist, officers used a chokehold and a Taser and ignored Mr. Ellis’ pleas that he couldn’t breathe. Police said they moved in because Mr. Ellis, a former resident of a sober-living facility, was “in the middle of an intersection, hassling a passing car.” On May 27 State police arrested the officers: Matthew Collins, 38, and Christopher Burbank, 35, for 2nd. degree murder and 1st. degree manslaughter, and Timothy Rankine, 32, for first-degree manslaughter.

1/14/21  Jacob Blake told ABC News that he dropped a pocketknife on the ground while returning to his car. He picked it up and was about to put it in the car and surrender when he was shot. “I shouldn’t have picked it up, only, considering what was going on...at the time I wasn’t thinking clearly.”

1/5/21  D.A. Michael Graveley announced that his office will not charge Kenosha, Wis. officer Rusten Sheskey for shooting Jacob Blake, a wanted man whom police claim was armed with a knife. According to officer Sheskey, he fired in self-defense as Mr. Blake “started turning toward him with the knife.” Police are on high alert and the Wisconsin National Guard has been mobilized. A Federal Civil Rights investigation of the shooting is underway.

12/17/20  California data reveals that between 2016-2019 state residents made about 3,500 allegations of racial profiling by police. Agencies upheld a total of forty-nine complaints. LAPD sustained two out of 883, while the L.A. County Sheriff sustained two out of 146. According to LAPD, nearly eight out of ten complaints (its criteria go beyond race) were simply false. LASD reported that it took more actions against deputies than it seems, but most of the faults uncovered were not about race.

11/12/20  Prosecutors dismissed charges of third-degree sexual assault and criminal trespass against Jacob Blake. In exchange, he pled guilty to two counts of disorderly conduct. His alleged sexual assault victim was reportedly “not cooperating” with prosecutors.

11/1/20  Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, an Illinois youth, took an assault rifle bought for him by an eighteen-year old friend to a security gig they performed for a Kenosha, Wisconsin business during the protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake. He has now been extradited to Wisconsin on charges of using that gun to kill two protesters and wound a third who allegedly chased and threatened him.

10/16/20  A review by the Los Angeles Times revealed that sixteen bicycle riders stopped for bike violations were shot by police in Los Angeles County since 2005. Eleven were killed: each was Black or Latino. Eleven of the riders were reportedly armed with guns, and a twelfth with an airsoft pistol that looked like a gun.

9/18/20  In a 9/17 news conference Los Angeles County Sheriff’s officials said that Mr. Dijon Kizzee was stopped because he had been riding his bike on the wrong side of the street. They added that Mr. Kizzee picked up the gun after dropping it and had it in hand when the deputies opened fire.

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The Craft of Policing


When Worlds Collide     Does Race Drive Policing?     Want Happy Endings? Don’t Chase

Cop? Terrorist? Both?     L.A. Wants “Cahoots”     RIP Proactive Policing?     Black on Black

Don’t Divest – Invest!     Urban Ship     Gold Badges     Is it Ever OK? (II)     Violent and Vulnerable

Punishment Isn’t a Cop’s Job     Speed Kills     Location, Location, Location     De-escalation

Is it Always About Race?     A Dead Marine     First, Do no Harm     Making Time     Neighborhoods

Posted 9/1/20


Are Black citizens better off with Black cops?

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. What first drew our attention to Jackson was an article in the New York Times about the indictment of three cops for the fatal beating of a 62-year old Black man. And the story became even more compelling when we noticed that each of the accused was Black. As it turns out, so are most of Jackson’s cops, including the Chief and his entire command staff.

    It began on a Sunday morning, January 13, 2019. That’s when passers-by discovered the body of Anthony Longino, a 62-year old Black pastor, on the steps of his modest church (photo above). He had been shot dead. A few hours later, three officers trolling for his killers spotted 62-year old George Robinson apparently dealing drugs from his car. Their official report indicates that an unidentified woman slipped Robinson cash through the window and “scurried” away. They approached and ordered Robinson out. He didn’t promptly comply, so they dragged him out. According to the indictment the force used was clearly excessive, as it included “body slamming George Robinson head first into the roadway pavement as well as striking and kicking George Robinson multiple times in the head and chest.”

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     Robinson, who was recovering from a stroke, collapsed and police summoned an ambulance. Attendants declared Mr. Robinson O.K. After supposedly finding “a large amount of US currency” in the vehicle but no drugs officers cited him for “failure to obey and resisting arrest” and let him go. Robinson returned to a motel room where he had been staying and apparently had several visitors. But within a few hours he was back in the hospital with a brain bleed. He died two days later.

      Officers soon arrested a 22-year old man for the pastor’s murder. He confessed, and within a few weeks some good old-fashioned police work led to the arrest of three accomplices, two nineteen and one twenty-three. Within a few weeks an internal investigation by Jackson P.D. and the city’s civil service commission (and, supposedly, a review by the FBI) cleared the cops of wrongdoing. One remained on the job at Jackson PD while the two others transferred to the nearby Clinton Police Department.  But on August 4, nearly eight months after the incident, as allegations of police abuse beset the U.S., the local D.A. charged the three cops with second-degree murder. Mr. Robinson’s family also filed a lawsuit. It alleges that the officers had no reason to act as they did, as “at no time during this event was Mr. Robinson threatening harm to himself or anyone else.” (Note: see 8/15/22 update)

     Policing is an inherently messy enterprise with uncertain outcomes. Officer skills vary, and when we throw in the vagaries of cop and citizen temperament and the difficulties of gaining compliance some tragic endings are assured. Still, if Mr. Robinson was a criminal, he seems at worst a small-time drug dealer, and the grossly disproportionate outcome left this (thankfully, retired) practitioner’s head shaking.

    Mr. Robinson was apparently shuttling between a home in the the neighborhood where the encounter took place and a motel room where his girlfriend lived. Other than his being older and frail, we discovered little else of significance. As for the Jackson officers, the Free Press (hint: it’s not a fan of the police) and other sources reported that the cops were part of a K-9 team that was looking for the pastor’s killers. Two were involved in nonfatal shootings in 2017 and 2018 but had been exonerated of wrongdoing. Meanwhile officials in both Jackson and Clinton are steadfastly standing by their servants. “We don’t want anything to do with a bad cop and if I thought these guys were bad cops, we wouldn’t have hired them,” said Clinton’s police chief. Its mayor went so far as to suggest that the indictment might have come about because of a sweetheart deal between the Robinson family attorney and the D.A.

     What’s beyond a doubt is that Jackson is a very violent place. Last December, after “nearly two dozen” residents were shot in a single week, a desperate police sergeant lamented that “gun violence is just awful”:

    Sometimes it is just a way of life…it is definitely something important we need to work on…It is just horrible that people have to live with that…we have to take the steps to change this dramatically!... We certainty need to study this in depth and come up with some decent plans to combat it.

By any measure, the city’s body count is truly astounding. This graph compares Jackson’s 2018 murder rates with the nine crime-struck cities participating in DOJ’s freshly-hatched “Operation Legend.”

     Mr. Robinson’s encounter with police, and the pastor’s murder that preceded it, took place in a particularly downtrodden neighborhood known as “The Washington Addition.” Located within the 2nd police precinct, its median household income of $16,500 is one-quarter the national median ($60,293.) Jackson as a whole fares little better. At $37,563, its median household income is only three-fifths of the national median. In fact, nearly twenty-seven percent of Jackson’s residents live in poverty, more than twice the U.S. figure (11.8 percent.)

     Full stop. Posts in our blog’s “Neighborhoods” section frequently remark about the relationship between income, race and crime. (See, most recently, our essay about Portland and Minneapolis). Might these factors also play a role in Jackson? We gathered precinct murder data using WLBT’s homicide tracker. Counting the “dots” on its precinct maps yields 76 murders in 2018 (the UCR reported 78) and 78 in 2019. According to the Census, eighty-two percent of Jackson’s 160,628 residents are Black. Based on the dominant ZIP’s, it seems that most Blacks reside in the impoverished 1st, 2nd and 3rd precincts. Most Whites live in the comparatively prosperous 4th precinct, whose dominant ZIP boasts a median HHI of about $56,453, only slightly lower than U.S. overall.

     Grab a look at the table. Compare murder frequencies and rates between precincts. And within precincts, between Blacks and non-Blacks. (The contrast would have probably been higher but for J.P.D.’s exaggerated population count for the 1st precinct, and possibly the 2nd.) Quibbles about numbers aside, Jackson’s Black majority clearly faces appalling odds. Of course, the cops know that.

     We approached this incident as we do all: tabula rasa. Still, when your author paused while building fancy tables to consider his own experiences carrying a badge, Mr. Robinson didn’t strike him as much of a threat. Jackson’s cops, though, work in a very unforgiving environment. When the now-indicted officers happened on someone who seemed to be taking advantage of the city’s troubles, their exasperation may have led to an overly aggressive response. One that caused an old man to fall and crack his skull. That’s not so dissimilar from what happened to Mr. Martin Gugino, the White septuagenarian “peace activist” whose head smashed the pavement after he was pushed aside by a White cop.

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     Might Jackson’s struggle with crime and violence affect how its officers deal with citizens? Could it sometimes lead to poor decisions? Really, how could it not?

     Normally this would be the place to offer correctives, but we’ve got another iron in the fire: Kenosha, where most cops and citizens are White. We’ll have more to say about Jackson as well. Until then, keep safe!

UPDATES (scroll)

2/16/24  With a population of about 150,000 and a grisly 118 murders, Jackson, Mississippi, the state’s capital city, reportedly had the nation’s worst homicide rate last year, about twice Detroit’s in magnitude. To lessen the toll, a collaborative effort involving local and state police, the FBI and DEA is now in effect. Aimed at violent offenders and drug traffickers, “Operation Unified” ostensibly settles a protracted dispute between the “Reds” and “Blues” about the best way to bring down crime.

7/14/23  Pointing to Jackson’s shortage of cops and accompanying scourge of violence - it’s sustained more than 100 murders during each of the previous three years - Mississippi's Governor got a law passed that expands the role of State police and creates a parallel court system in Hinds County, home to the capital city. Convinced that the move was inspired by racism, the NAACP has sued to overturn the law, and DOJ just joined in.

5/25/23  Two former Jackson, Mississippi police officers, both Black, have been indicted for murder in the death of a disorderly man, also Black, with whom they struggled on New Year’s eve. A third former officer, who is White, was charged with manslaughter. During the struggle the officers forced Keith Murriel, 41, to the ground, flipped him onto his stomach and repeatedly stunned him with a Taser. Jackson’s Mayor called their actions “excessive, disheartening and tragic.” Bodycam video

4/25/23  According to the Post,  Jackson, Mississippi’s capital city, had the nation’s worst 2021 murder rate. A quarter of its residents, who are mostly Black, live in poverty. To supplement Jackson’s beset police force, the Governor has extended the authority of the Capitol Police to the whole city, not just its government buildings. Calling it a “state takeover of Jackson,” the NAACP objects. Litigation is pending.

1/30/23  “A cloud of dishonor” that’s descended on her agency’s “Scorpion” anti-crime unit led Memphis Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis, a Black woman, to disband its three teams. Brenda Andrews, president of a national association of police executives, pointed out that the officers who encountered Tyre Nichols were instantly aggressive and that none tried to intervene with their colleagues. “Nobody tried to stop anything...This was never a matter of de-escalation” she said.

1/28/23  “SCORPION”. That’s the name of the specialized anti-crime team to which the five Memphis cops who savagely beat Tyre Nichols belonged. In late 2021 Memphis assigned forty officers to combat violence by “saturating” areas beset by crime. According to Police Chief Cerelyn Davis, the strategy proved effective, reducing violence and leading to the seizure of many guns. Indeed, Mayor Jim Strickland recently praised SCORPION’s success. But it’s now been suspended.

1/27/23  Memphis-area schools are closing early as the community braces for the release of video depicting the reportedly brutal beating of Tyre Nichols by five Memphis cops on January 7. Nichols, who succumbed to his injuries, was supposedly stopped for reckless driving, but evidence of that is said to be lacking. Each officer was indicted on second-degree murder and other charges on January 26; one remains in jail and four made bond.

1/23/23  Five Memphis police officers, all Black men, have been fired for using excessive force to detain Tyre Nichols, a 29-year old Black male whom they stopped for reckless driving on January 7. Mr. Nichols, who was also Black, apparently resisted and ran off. He was chased down, and during a subsequent struggle complained that he couldn’t breathe. He died in a hospital, according to his family, from a heart attack and kidney failure caused by a beating. Prominent civil rights lawyer Ben Crump is on the case.

8/15/22  Two of the three Jackson P.D. officers charged with murdering Mr. Robinson were ultimately acquitted and one was convicted, but of manslaughter.

10/30/21  In June 2020 eight Shreveport (La.) police officers - five White, three Black - were indicted on State “malfeasance” charges for punching and brutalizing two Black men who fled when officers tried to stop their vehicle for seat belt violations. During the chase the suspects, both with extensive criminal backgrounds, allegedly threw drugs and a stolen gun out the windows. But when they stopped and tried to peacefully surrender officers beat them, inflicting serious injuries. On October 29, 2021 one of the White officers and two of the Black officers were indicted on Federal civil rights violations.

6/21/21  During five years on the job, Wauwatosa (Wis.) police officer Joseph Mensah, a Black man, shot and killed three persons. Two were Black: Jay Anderson Jr., and Alvin Cole. Anderson had been sleeping in a car and allegedly reached for a gun; Alvin Cole fled from a disturbance and supposedly pointed a gun at Mensah during the chase. That incident, which happened last year, provoked large protests. Officer Mensah also killed a Hispanic man, Antonio Gonzalez, who had been flaunting a sword. Mensah voluntarily resigned and became a Sheriff’s Deputy. Although Mensah was cleared in each case, Anderson’s killing is back under judicial review and could lead to charges.

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Does Race Drive Policing?     What Were They Thinking?     White on Black     Don’t Divest – Invest!

Urban Ship     Gold Badges     Punishment Isn’t a Cop’s Job     Is it Ever OK? (II)

Violent and Vulnerable     Speed Kills     De-escalation     Is it Always About Race?     A Dead Marine

First, Do no Harm     Making Time

Posted 8/16/20


Officers join specialized teams for a reason

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. Let’s begin with an interesting quote:

    Under the surface…SWAT is controlled by a group of Police Officer III+1’s ("plus-ones”) who glamorize the use of lethal force, and who direct the promotions of officers who share the same values while maligning the reputations of officers who do not….These Police Officer III+1’s exercise influence and power in SWAT in a manner that is highly disproportionate to their rank, and they refer to themselves as the "SWAT Mafia”….

These words form but a small part of a lawsuit recently filed by LAPD Sergeant Timothy Colomey  against his employer, the City of Los Angeles (L.A. Superior Court no. 20STCV28185.) In a highly detailed thirteen-page complaint, Sgt. Colomey, who helped supervise SWAT officers for over a decade, alleges that his honest criticisms about their work led to his banishment from an active role and stalled his career.

     We obtained a copy of the complaint. What first caught our eye comes about a third of the way through, in paragraph number “26.” That’s where the good Sergeant asserts that in March 2019, while he was still active in SWAT, he informed LAPD internal affairs investigators that colleagues whom he described as members of a “SWAT Mafia” had engaged in “improper uses of force without being properly disciplined or otherwise held accountable.” (Para. 26.) While these episodes aren’t described, Sgt. Colomey’s lawyers are said to be focusing on these three encounters:

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  • Accidental death of Carlos Ocana. During the evening hours of May 24, 2014 SWAT was called to help patrol officers get a homeless man off the roof of a commercial structure in L.A.’s downtown skid row. By the time they arrived fifty-six year old Carlos Ocana was on top of a billboard that was on top of the roof. To entice him down an officer proffered a cigarette. Sure enough, Ocana came down from the billboard. But after snatching his smoke he tried to go back up. Officers had planned to grab him, but before they could a SWAT team leader fired his Taser. Struck by a dart, Ocana lost his balance and fell to the ground, tragically missing the cushions that firefighters laid down to absorb the impact should he fall. He died from his injuries.
  • Shooting death of Anthony Soderberg. On May 8, 2017 a woman found a strange man in her hillside home. Anthony Soderberg, 29, was “speaking to himself and referencing Jesus.” She fled out a window, called police, and alerted them about unsecured guns and ammunition that were inside the home. A helicopter was called in and SWAT deployed a robot to communicate with the intruder.

    What happened next is complicated, but it began inside the house, with Soderberg using one of the guns to fire at police while threatening to “kill all those SWAT officers that are out there.” A gas grenade drove him outside. He exchanged fire with the helicopter and was fired on by a group of officers, all armed with rifles, who were positioned some distance away. Soderberg re-entered the home. He then left again, this time for good. Officers again opened fire. Soderberg, who may have been struck by a round, eventually wound up in a ravine. That’s where he was shot dead by more rifle fire. According to a detailed review by the L.A. County District Attorney, the fatal wound was inflicted by an officer who fired from “56 yards away” when Soderberg, who had assumed a prone “praying position,” suddenly moved.
  • Arrest of Jose Rauda. Five weeks after the Soderberg episode, on June 15, 2017, officers attempted to conduct a probation search at the residence of Jose Rauda, a 34-year old gang member. But they were met by gunfire, and Rauda ran out the back.

    Two hours later SWAT team members spotted Rauda hiding in a trash can. He opened fire, wounding a police dog, then bounded into a shed. There was more gunfire, and when one of Rauda’s rounds “grazed” an officer’s helmet the team unleashed an eighty-round barrage. Miraculously, none struck Rauda. He eventually came out and was arrested with help from a beanbag shotgun. Rauda was convicted on multiple counts of attempted murder and got life in prison. LAPD’s account of the episode is online. We couldn’t find any mention that discipline was ever considered in this affair.

     Let’s analyze. We’ll begin with Mr. Ocana, the homeless man who fell to his death. Clearly, the only risk he posed was to himself. To their credit, officers seemed intent on keeping him from harm. But a SWAT team leader – a senior officer with a rank just below sergeant – had “a better idea.” According to the lawsuit, his sudden, uncoordinated discharge of the Taser “substantially deviated from the tactical plan” and led to the man’s death.

    Sergeant Colomey apparently intends to use this episode to illustrate the power and independence of these team leaders – the so-called “plus-ones” – who comprise the “SWAT Mafia.” His lawsuit alleges that while they ostensibly report to supervisors such as himself, they often make decisions without consultation, flaunt use-of-force rules, and exert unseemly influence on promotions and assignments:

    …the powerful Police Officer III + 1’s who make up the SWAT Mafia: routinely made decisions during tactical incidents without consultation or input from their sergeants; dictated to the SWAT lieutenants which officer candidates would be selected to undergo SWAT School; and successfully pressured SWAT supervisors into failing certain candidates out of SWAT School....SWAT Mafia members had engaged in improper uses of force without being properly disciplined or otherwise held accountable…SWAT trainings conducted by SWAT Mafia members instructed SWAT officers that the use of deadly force was permissible in situations when Department policy clearly dictated that it was not.

     So what was the outcome for the team leader? Perhaps surprisingly, then-LAPD Chief Charlie Beck formally admonished the officer for making an unplanned, inappropriate use of the Taser and issued a written reprimand. Astonishingly, the “plus-one” contested the wrist-slap with a lawsuit. It ultimately failed.

     Both other incidents involved multiple officers discharging large volumes of rifle fire at lone suspects who were at most armed with a handgun. Concerns about the SWAT response are evident throughout the Los Angeles Police Commission’s detailed review of the killing of Mr. Soderberg. Although one officer’s initial six rifle rounds were ruled “in policy,” three of four commissioners found that twelve other officers acted inappropriately when they fired a total of 38 rifle rounds at someone who was by then unarmed:

    Officers…cited observations of a gun or dark object being held or presented by the Subject….The evidence in this case does not support the reasonableness of any of these reported observations. There were no firearms recovered outside the residence and there were no dark objects identified that could be construed as weapon….The officers’ observations of the Subject were made from a considerable distance, which would have limited their ability to accurately observe and assess the Subject’s actions as constituting an imminent deadly threat. Moreover, the relative proximity of the officers at the residence and APS officers to the Subject was such that it was not reasonable for these officers, from their distant location, to believe their intervention with lethal force was warranted.

     Then-Chief Charlie Beck disagreed and ruled that all the force used was appropriate. After an extensive review, District Attorney Jackie Lacey took a more nuanced position. She concluded that all officers but three had fired in self-defense, the defense of others, or to “apprehend a dangerous fleeing felon.” As for the three who shot Soderberg as he lay on the ground, she found “insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the shots fired…were unlawful.” Mr. Soderberg’s survivors have filed a lawsuit. An expert statement suggests that the plaintiffs will characterize the killing as an execution. So the last word on this conflicted episode is yet to be heard.

     As for the episode involving Mr. Rauda, there was a happier ending: no one got shot despite all the gunfire. And there was a lot of that. Four officers fired a total of twelve pistol rounds and nine discharged a total of ninety-two rifle rounds. Yet the commissioners were largely pleased. All gunfire was ruled “in policy” except for three pistol shots fired by one officer as the encounter began (the officer was faulted by three of four commissioners for firing while confused and without a clear target.)

      Mr. Rauda was armed throughout and repeatedly fired at police. His gunfire wounded a K-9 (don’t worry, the pooch recovered) and nearly struck an officer’s skull. Given all that, the incident clearly presented an easier call “politically” speaking. And until Sgt. Colomey came forward there’s been no blowback.

     More than a decade has passed since we posted “You Can’t Manage Your Way out of Rampart.” In the late nineties dozens of members of LAPD CRASH teams (“Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums”) beat up suspects, planted evidence and flat-out lied as they combatted street gangs in the city’s downtrodden Pico-Union district. (For a 300-plus page report click here.) Then there’s the L.A. Sheriff’s Department, whose tattooed deputy cliques (e.g., “Little Devils,” “The Jump-Out Boys,” “Banditoes,” “Spartans,” “Reapers”) have prowled the Southland’s high-crime unincorporated areas since the seventies.

     Still, we’re skeptical about attributing Sgt. Colomey’s career crash to a police clique. We don’t doubt that SWAT officers have flung that colorful “Mafia” term about. But when it comes to the death of Mr. Ocana, there’s a readier explanation at hand. There are few working cops who haven’t experienced a senior officer butting in and messing things up. As past posts suggest, the consequences can sometimes be tragic:

  • In October, 2014 Chicago police officers corralled a knife-wielding youth and were trying to be “patient” when a late-arriving 14-year veteran rushed in and shot him dead.
  • Two years later an NYPD sergeant aggressively barged in to an apartment where officers were containing a mentally disturbed woman. She ran into a bedroom and flaunted a baseball bat. He shot her dead.
  • And on May 25, 2020, in an episode that will live in infamy, a Minneapolis police sergeant’s cold-hearted knee-on-neck move caused a man’s death. Coming in after rookies had successfully corralled a suspect, the sergeant did things his way, setting off a chain of events from which we’ve yet to recover.

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     Neither is the presence of an officer “Mafia” necessary to explain the massive volleys fired at Mr. Soderberg and Mr. Rauda. Since they were alone, and neither was armed with a long gun, one might expect that a couple of officers would have engaged them with rifle fire. But nine? Twelve? Sgt. Colomey’s civil complaint indicates that he’s all about de-escalating. In our experience, though, that’s not exactly where combat-ready, rifle-toting teams such as SWAT typically are. His conservative views about high-risk engagement and use of force, if true, could have placed him at odds with most everyone in SWAT. So it wouldn’t be surprising if he was ostracized.

     Then again, we haven’t seen Sgt. Colomey at work. Is he truly as skilled as he implies? It will be interesting to see what the lawsuit reveals.

UPDATES (scroll)

5/8/23  According to the L.A. Times, former LAPD SWAT Sergeant Tim Colomey offered new, damaging details in his long-running lawsuit that claims he was booted from the unit as payback for opposing its “culture of violence.” In March Colomey reportedly asserted that he was present in 2017 when Anthony Soderberg, an armed housebreaker who had exchanged gunfire with officers, was literally executed by SWAT riflemen after the Lieutenant in charge issued what amounted to be a “kill order”.

2/6/23  Last year, an LAPD officer who uttered “happy hunting” to colleagues about to confront an armed man renewed concerns about a “Mafia” that supposedly ran herd over the SWAT teams. His utterance was caught on tape and made public by a disgruntled Sergeant whose lawsuit accused the unit of “glamorizing force”. It’s now been revealed that the remarks were indeed punished - by a two-day suspension. Meanwhile a review of SWAT operations concluded that its members seldom used force.

1/30/23  “A cloud of dishonor” that’s descended on her agency’s “Scorpion” anti-crime unit led Memphis Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis, a Black woman, to disband its three teams. Brenda Andrews, president of a national association of police executives, pointed out that the officers who encountered Tyre Nichols were instantly aggressive and that none tried to intervene with their colleagues. “Nobody tried to stop anything...This was never a matter of de-escalation” she said.

1/28/23  “SCORPION”. That’s the name of the specialized anti-crime team to which the five Memphis cops who savagely beat Tyre Nichols belonged. In late 2021 Memphis assigned forty officers to combat violence by “saturating” areas beset by crime. According to Police Chief Cerelyn Davis, the strategy proved effective, reducing violence and leading to the seizure of many guns. Indeed, Mayor Jim Strickland recently praised SCORPION’s success. But it’s now been suspended.

5/25/22  A SWAT officer’s “happy hunting” remark was apparently the last straw for LAPD Chief Michel Moore. He has ordered a comprehensive ten-year review of SWAT operations to determine whether “problems or patterns” exist in its use of force. William Briggs, President of the agency’s civilian oversight commission, is very pleased. “My concern was not only for the comments that were made but also the reporting around an alleged SWAT mafia, so I’m glad that you’re being proactive.” (see 2/6/23 update)

5/21/22  “Happy hunting.” Uttered by an LAPD SWAT officer to colleagues as the team responded to an armed suspect (the man would be shot and killed during an exchange of fire), those words - “gallows humor” according to Chief Michel Moore - were caught on an officer’s body camera. They’ve led to their utterer’s “removal from the field.” And to renewed concerns about the “SWAT Mafia” that Sgt. Colomey complained of in his (still, unresolved) lawsuit. (See 5/8/23 update)

4/8/21  Los Angeles settled a lawsuit filed by the family of Anthony Soderberg for $1.15 million. Disagreeing with the Chief and the police union, the Police Commission ruled that the final police barrage that killed the mentally-ill man was unnecessary as he was no longer armed or presenting a threat.

3/12/21  When multiple cops unleash near-simultaneous barrages of gunfire at a suspect, are they deciding individually? Or are their trigger fingers sometimes driven by “contagion” from their colleagues? On November 23, 2020 six Oklahoma City police officers confronted Stavian Rodriguez, 15, after he and another youth robbed a gas station. Rodriguez dropped a handgun on the ground, then reached into a pocket. One officer fired a non-lethal round. Five others unleashed a barrage of pistol fire, striking Rodriguez at least thirteen times. Rodriguez died from his wounds. On March 10, 2021 a criminal complaint was filed charging those five officers with first-degree manslaughter.

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Punishment Isn’t a Cop’s Job (I) (II)     Two Sides of the Same Coin     Speed Kills     Routinely Chaotic

Homeless, Mentally Ill, Dead     L.A.S.D. Blue     Meltdown in SoCal

You Can’t Manage Your Way out of Rampart

Posted 7/8/20, edited 7/9/20


Some combative citizens may be at heightened risk of death

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. It wasn’t a chokehold that felled Robert Heston on that fateful Saturday afternoon some fifteen years ago. After going berserk, attacking his elderly parents and thrashing their home, Mr. Heston was in no mood to cooperate with Salinas (Calif.) police. He resisted violently, and they responded with a score of Taser strikes. But once the cuffs went on Mr. Heston stopped breathing. He remained unconscious and died in the hospital on the following day.

     Mr. Heston had a substantial record of arrests for drug use, drunkenness, disorderly conduct and assault, so he wasn’t exactly an unknown. Yet nothing in his past or in his conduct that day would justify killing him. So the onus landed square on the cops – and, collaterally, on the tool (the Taser) to which they turned. And yes, there was a lawsuit, which ultimately drew nothing from the authorities but yielded a small judgment against Taser.

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     Why did Mr. Heston die? Litigation generated a series of post-mortems. Their findings were set out in great detail in an expert’s report. They were also summarized in Amnesty International’s ground-breaking study of Taser-linked deaths. Here’s an extract:

    The first...autopsy findings listed the Taser as a cause of death...a second report...listed an enlarged heart as cause of death and the Taser as contributory causes. The third and final report...determined that cause of death was multiple organ failure due to cardiopulmonary arrest; due to methamphetamine intoxication; excited delirium; left ventricular enlargement and fibrosis, with contributory causes: Rhabdomyolysis, secondary to multiple Taser application.

We italicized “excited delirium” for a reason. Here is how that term is defined by medical specialists:

    Excited delirium refers to a clinical situation that is characterized by a series of typical features that include agitation, aggression and paranoia, intolerance to pain, unexpected physical strength, failure to tire despite constant physical activity, lack of clothing, rapid breathing, profuse sweating, elevated temperature, an attraction to glass or mirrors, and failure to respond to police or medical directives.

     As that article mentions, the syndrome, commonly referred to as “ExDS” has been stigmatized because some consider it a handy way to excuse police abuses. (For a comprehensive accusation to that effect check out this article in Slate.) Still, ExDS first appeared in nineteenth century medical literature as “Bell’s mania,” so its origin long predates current controversies in policing. And while some find it odious to attribute poor outcomes to anything other than officer misconduct, respected players in the policing community – say, IACP’s Law Enforcement Policy Center – have determined that ExDS is very much real.

     More importantly, that’s also the view of the emergency medicine community. In a highly detailed 2009 “White Paper Report on Excited Delirium Syndrome,” the American College of Emergency Physicians concluded that ExDS “is a real syndrome of uncertain etiology...characterized by delirium, agitation, and hyperadrenergic autonomic dysfunction, typically in the setting of acute on chronic drug abuse or serious mental illness.” Two years later an article in the Journal of Emergency Medicine described the demeanor of persons in the throes of ExDS:

    Patients present to police, Emergency Medical Services, and the emergency department with aggressive behavior, altered sensorium, and a host of other signs that may include hyperthermia, “superhuman” strength, diaphoresis, and lack of willingness to yield to overwhelming force. A certain percentage of these individuals will go on to expire from a sudden cardiac arrest and death, despite optimal therapy.

As one might expect, ExDS is also well known to emergency medical responders:

    The hallmark of ExDS is agitation and violent behavior in a patient with altered mental status. Patients with ExDS often have superhuman strength, do not respond to physical compliance techniques due to increased tolerance to pain, and are highly resistant to physical restraint. On physical exam, patients will present with hyperthermia, tachycardia and tachypnea.

     Officers, though, aren’t clinicians. They don’t work in anything that approaches a controlled environment. So while ExDS may indeed be “a medical problem masquerading as a police call” (that’s what an NIJ-sponsored report calls it), the chaotic nature of street encounters may limit officers’ willingness to let the fuse keep burning. After all, who says there won’t be “bomb” at the other end? Bottom line: all that “superhuman strength” and unwillingness “to yield to overwhelming force” that accompanies a full-blown instance of ExDS will inevitably provoke a forceful police response.

     Unfortunately, the U.S. lacks a national law enforcement use of force dataset. (In 2019 the FBI launched an effort to capture data about police use of firearms and any uses of force that caused death or serious bodily injury. For more about that click here.) However, two common tools – pepper spray and conducted energy devices (CED’s, e.g., “Tasers”) – have been examined in some detail. NIJ has little positive to say about pepper spray. It’s not considered an effective way to prevent violence and has actually been blamed for increasing officer injuries. On the other hand, NIJ has reported that CED’s can reduce harm to both citizens and police.

     Yet CED’s also have problems. A 2017 Reuters study reported there had been more than one-thousand deaths attributed to their use. However, the authors blamed strikes to the chest for most of the toll. According to PERF, though, some people are especially vulnerable to CED’s. Among them are persons in the midst of an episode of ExDS:

    Some populations currently believed to be at a heightened risk for serious injury or death following an ECW application include pregnant women, elderly persons, young children, visibly frail persons or persons with a slight build, persons with known heart conditions, persons in medical/mental crisis, and persons under the influence of drugs (prescription and illegal) or alcohol. Personnel should be trained about the medical complications that may occur after ECW use and should be made aware that certain individuals, such as those in a state of excited delirium, may be at a heightened risk for serious injury or death when subjected to ECW application or other uses of force to subdue them. [Emphasis ours]

     Now that “excited delirium” has again reared its nasty head, consider the case of Zachary Bearheels.  Here’s a condensed version, self-plagiarized from “Three (In?)explicable Shootings”:

    Omaha officers came across a morbidly obese, mentally disturbed 29-year old man licking a store window. He accepted water and was let go. He was subsequently booted off a bus and caused a ruckus outside a store. Two officers got him into a squad car to go in for a mental check, but their sergeant said no. Bearheels then broke free. Two other cops jumped in. They repeatedly Tasered Mr. Bearheels and struck him on the head. Zachary Bearheels went “motionless” and died at the scene. A coroner later ruled that his death was “associated with excited delirium (psychomotor agitation, hallucinations, speech and thought disturbances, reduced response to painful stimuli, bizarre and combative behavior, and hyperthermia), physical struggle, physical restraint, and use of conducted energy device.”

      Many essays in our “use of force” section discuss instances that clearly line up with the syndrome. Consider, for example, the shooting death of Michael Brown, which set off major protests and helped propel a national dialogue about the use of force against blacks. But as we pointed out in “Lessons of Ferguson,” Mr. Brown was not blameless. Convenience store videos depict him shoplifting cigarillos and strong-arming a clerk who tried to stop him from leaving (1:12-1:35). Witnesses confirmed that Mr. Brown acted aggressively towards the officer who ultimately killed him. (The officer claimed that Brown punched him in the face and tried to take his gun.) And an autopsy revealed sufficient cannabinoids in Brown’s blood to impair judgment.

     Fast-forward to...today. ExDS-like patterns are evident in two notorious recent episodes: the police killings of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks. No, we’re not saying that the officers who encountered them acted appropriately. (For our in-depth assessments check the posts.) But we are saying that factors associated with ExDS syndrome helped set the stage for the deplorable outcomes.

  • Mr. Floyd and Mr. Brooks had substantial criminal records. Mr. Brooks was on felony probation.
  • When faced with arrest, Mr. Floyd and Mr. Brooks suddenly turned non-compliant and violently engaged officers in protracted physical battles. Knock-down, drag out fights do happen in policing, but they’re definitely not typical.
  • Mr. Floyd’s death is commonly attributed to choking. His autopsy, though, revealed “no life-threatening injuries.” Instead, the diagnosis cites blunt force injuries, serious pre-existing medical conditions (e.g. severe arteriosclerosis, hypertension), and a substantial amount of drugs in his blood, including fentanyl and meth. Notably, one of the rookies involved in the arrest, officer Thomas Lane, voiced concern during the struggle that Mr. Floyd was suffering from “excited delirium or whatever” (see “Punishment” and 7/9 update, below.)
  • A field breath alcohol test indicated that Mr. Brooks was intoxicated. He had fallen asleep in his car in a drive-through lane, so something was clearly amiss. Manner of death was reported as two gunshot wounds to the back. No toxicology results or other medical information has been released.

     In-custody deaths are frequently attributed to purposeful choking by police. Undoubtedly some have happened. But a recent New York Times review of seventy arrestees who died after telling police that they couldn’t breathe paints a far more complex picture:

    Not all of the cases involved police restraints. Some were deaths that occurred after detainees’ protests that they could not breathe — perhaps because of a medical problem or drug intoxication — were discounted or ignored. Some people pleaded for hours for help before they died…In nearly half of the cases The Times reviewed, the people who died after being restrained, including Mr. Williams [Byron Williams, Las Vegas], were already at risk as a result of drug intoxication. Others were having a mental health episode or medical issues such as pneumonia or heart failure. Some of them presented a significant challenge to officers, fleeing or fighting.

While this account seems almost a roadmap to excited delirium, the Times makes no mention of the syndrome. Still, its analysis is eerily consistent with findings reported in the American College of Emergency Physicians’ “White Paper” on ExDS:

    There are well-documented cases of ExDS deaths with minimal restraint such as handcuffs without ECD use. This underscores that this is a potentially fatal syndrome in and of itself, sometimes reversible when expert medical treatment is immediately available.

In an extensive “law enforcement section” the paper’s authors warn of the risks posed by persons in the grips of ExDS. But they also point out that virtually any technique or physical aid that’s commonly used to control violent persons, including pepper spray, batons and joint locks, can prove lethal:

    Given the irrational and potentially violent, dangerous, and lethal behavior of an ExDS subject, any LEO interaction with a person in this situation risks significant injury or death to either the LEO or the ExDS subject who has a potentially lethal medical syndrome.

What about simply stepping back? That’s something we’ve repeatedly counseled (see, for example, “First, Do No Harm.)” According to the authors, though, it may not be feasible to let persons who exhibit the symptoms of ExDS calm down on their own, “as this may take hours in a potentially medically unstable situation fraught with scene safety concerns.” Officers who encounter excited delirium are thus caught in the horns of a true dilemma, as any substantial application of force might kill. All they can realistically do is recognize when ExDS might be present, try to tailor their response accordingly, and call for EMS. And even if they do it all correctly, they’re hardly out of the woods:

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    This already challenging situation [ExDS] has the potential for intense public scrutiny coupled with the expectation of a perfect outcome. Anything less creates a situation of potential public outrage. Unfortunately, this dangerous medical situation make perfect outcomes difficult in many circumstances.

     That paper was published during the halcyon days of 2009. More than a decade later its concerns about “potential public outrage” should policing prove lethally imperfect seem all too sentient. In these deeply polarized times it’s far wiser to blame poor outcomes on the cops, and only the cops. So if you’re an educator and decide to “pocket” this essay, we understand. We’re not offended! (NOTE: The American College of Emergency Physicians has re-imagined the syndrome. It’s now “hyperactive delirium.” See 10/16/23 update).

UPDATES (scroll)

4/26/24  An in-depth, multi-year review by the AP of violent interactions between police and emotionally disturbed persons blames many of the fatal outcomes on the excessive use of force and the needless or excessive administration by EMT’s of dangerous sedatives such as ketamine. Police and EMT’s are also criticized for relying on supposedly discredited notions such as “excited delirium” (since supplanted by “hyperactive delirium”) to justify their actions. But not all medical authorities agree.

2/5/24  A Burlington, Vt. mother called police when her mentally troubled 14-year old adopted son came home with stolen e-cig’s. It wasn’t the first time she had called the cops over the youth’s behavior. When officers first arrived they gently prodded “the 230-pound teen” to hand them over. But he held some back, and when they insisted he became aggressive. So they forcefully piled on and called paramedics, who injected ketamine. The youth spent a night in the hospital. That was in May 2021. His mom and the ACLU have just filed a lawsuit alleging inappropriate and excessive use of force.

1/8/24  Former Aurora (CO) officer Randy Roedema was convicted last year of felony negligent homicide and misdemeanor assault in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a pedestrian whom a 9-1-1 caller reported had been acting oddly. Roedema was just sentenced to 14 months in jail. His two companion officers were also tried, but both were found not guilty. However, two paramedics were convicted for negligently injecting McClain with an excessive dose of ketamine. They will soon be sentenced (see below update).

12/26/23  Aurora (CO) paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec, who injected ketamine into Elijah McClain as he was being forcefully restrained by local police in August 2019, were found guilty of negligent homicide by a jury. Cichuniec was also convicted of 2nd. degree assault. Cooper and Cichuniec allegedly failed to examine McClain, delivered a clearly excessive dose of ketamine, then failed to monitor McClain’s condition. Cooper was accused of falsely reporting that McClain was resisting when injected, although a body camera showed him lying unconscious. Colorado now prohibits using ketamine on persons supposedly suffering from ExDS. (See 11/7/23, 10/16/23 and above updates)

11/24/23  Agreeing with a department board, the LAPD Commission recently ruled that LAPD’s repeated application of a Taser on Keenan Anderson, a mentally ill man high on drugs, was improper. Mr. Anderson later died. And three days ago, the Commission similarly ruled that LAPD officers were wrong to shoot and kill Takar Smith, a schizophrenic man who was in a kitchen, armed with a knife. Their actions were deemed unnecessary, as they could have retreated and called for a mental unit to assist. (See 6/5/23 update)

11/7/23  Jurors found Aurora (CO) officer Nathan Woodyard not guilty in the death of Elijah McClain. Woodyard, the last of three Aurora, Colorado officers to go on trial for manslaughter and negligent homicide (one was convicted, and the other was acquitted) testified that he pressed on McClain’s neck because another officer warned that McClain, who was detained for erratic behavior, grabbed for one of their guns. McClain later died of cardiac arrest, supposedly brought on by rough handling and a ketamine injection from paramedics, who diagnosed excited delirium. Two paramedics are yet to be tried. (See 10/16/23, 12/26/23 and 1/8/24 updates)

10/16/23  Concerns that “excited delirium” syndrome preys on racial stereotypes and justifies physical abuse by the police have led the American College of Emergency Physicians to “disavow” a 2009 paper and prohibit its members from testifying about the syndrome in court. However, "hyperactive delirium" will continue to be recognized. The National Association of Medical Examiners has already withdrawn its endorsement of excited delirium, and the State of California recently prohibited its use in autopsy reports.

In 2019 three Aurora (CO) police officers detained Elijah McClain, a pedestrian whom a 9-1-1 caller said was acting oddly. McClain resisted, and the officers applied a carotid hold. Paramedics diagnosed excited delirium and injected ketamine. McClain went into cardiac arrest and later died. On October 12 jurors convicted former Aurora officer Randy Roedema of negligent homicide but found his partner Jason Rosenblatt not guilty. Ex-cop Nathan Woodyard and the paramedics are pending trial. (See 11/7/23, 12/26/23 and 1/8/24 updates)

6/5/23  According to the L.A. Coroner, Keenan Anderson, 31, who was repeatedly Tasered by LAPD officers during a January 3rd. encounter, died “hours” later from the “effects of cardiomyopathy [heart disease] and cocaine use”. Anderson, a D.C. high-school teacher, was visiting family in L.A. when he exhibited odd and aggressive behavior in a public area. A private autopsy confirmed there was cocaine in his system but blamed officers’ restraint and Taser use for causing his death. A lawsuit is pending. (See 11/24/23 update)

4/14/23  Two Indianapolis police officers face involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide and battery charges over the April 2022 death of Herman Whitfield III after his mother called 9-1-1 because her son was in a “mental health crisis.” During the encounter the officers Tased Mr. Whitfield, applied handcuffs, and held him face down until paramedics arrived and began CPR. Cause of death was “cardiopulmonary arrest in the setting of law enforcement subdual, prone restraint, and conducted electrical weapon use.”

4/1/23  Minneapolis signed a “court-enforceable agreement” with the Minnesota Dept. of Human Rights that creates major chances in police practices in the wake of George Floyd. Cops will still be permitted to apply articulable suspicion and probable cause, but pretextual stops are severely circumscribed, and consent searches during these stops are prohibited. Use of force is also limited, and officers must not use force to punish or retaliate. They will also no longer be trained on “excited delirium”. Agreement

1/21/23   In August 2019 three Aurora police officers detained Elijah McClain, a 21-year old Black pedestrian whom a 9-1-1 caller said was behaving oddly. The encounter turned forceful. Two paramedics responded. They diagnosed excited delirium and injected McClain with ketamine. McClain later died, supposedly because the dose was excessive. City officials later ruled the stop unnecessary, and the five have now been charged with manslaughter and other crimes. Each has pled not guilty.

1/14/23  LAPD officers on an unrelated call encountered Keenan Anderson, 31, as he was wandering about, acting and speaking strangely, and trying to enter vehicles without permission. He resisted efforts to contain him and officers took him to the ground. One deployed his Taser. Within one minute he fired two darts and used stun mode four times. Anderson died in a hospital four hours later. He reportedly had cocaine and marijuana in his system.

10/21/22  Former Maryland State Medical Examiner Dr. George Fowler testified that George Floyd’s death was due to pre-existing conditions and drug use and was not caused by being pinned down by Chauvin. That case, and others, have led Maryland attorney general Brian Frosh to order a review of 100 autopsies during Fowler’s term of persons who died after police restraint but whose deaths were attributed to other causes. One such case, the death of a teen athlete, had led to a $5 million settlement.

9/24/22  During a 2019 encounter, Elijah McClain, a 21-year old Aurora (co) man whom a 9-1-1 caller said had been behaving oddly, was thought by officers to be suffering from ExDS. After a forceful struggle they injected him with ketamine, and McClain later died at a hospital. A new coroner’s report attributes McClain’s death to the use of force together with the effects of the drug. In 2021 three officers and two paramedics were charged with manslaughter and negligent homicide; their cases still pend.

7/8/22  Five years ago, a pregnant mother of four threatened Seattle officers with a shear “and spoke of morphing into a wolf.” Two weeks later, when two other cops came to her home on a burglary call, Charleena Lyles “suddenly lunged at one with a knife.” And when they drew their guns, she yelled “do it!” and cursed. Officers shot and killed her. One cop, who didn’t have his Taser, was briefly suspended. But neither was fired, and in 2021 the city settled the family’s lawsuit for $3.5 million. A coroner’s jury just ruled that the shooting was justified. But prosecutors insist they are reviewing the matter.

3/17/22  Called by a mother whose drug-using adult son had turned violent, L.A. sheriff’s deputies fought to control Brian Pickett. An officer fired a Taser at his chest, then held the trigger down for 29 seconds, nearly six times the normal cycle. Pickett went down and was handcuffed. Soon he went into cardiac arrest. Cause of death was listed as “effects of methamphetamine associated with probable excited delirium.” But the ruling could not “exclude the effects of the Taser” as a contributing factor. That happened in 2015. On March 16, 2022 the County settled the family’s lawsuit for $3.8 million.

2/15/22  With police use of force in the cross-hairs, ExDS, which can be used to deflect blame from the cops, has become highly controversial. Minneapolis P.D., an agency at the center of the struggle, relabeled its “Excited delirium” training module to “Severe agitation with confusion (delirium)”. That doesn’t satisfy the AMA, which rejects the syndrome. But E.R. physicians and medical responders who deal with combative patients insist that whatever it’s called, the condition very much exists.

12/30/21  A Kansas youth was detained after exhibiting “erratic and aggressive” behavior at his foster home. He then fought his jailers. They shackled his feet and arms and placed him on his stomach. Cedric Lofton, 17, lost consciousness and died. According to the coroner, his death was a homicide caused by “complications of cardiopulmonary arrest sustained after physical struggle while restrained in the prone position.” A lawyer and some experts are faulting his death on the use of prone restraint.

12/29/21  In a comprehensive review, “How Paid Experts Help Exonerate Police After Deaths in Custody,” the New York Times criticizes “a small but influential cadre of scientists, lawyers, physicians and other police experts” for “slanting science” and “ignoring inconvenient facts” by using diagnoses such as excited delirium to explain why officers were impelled to use force.

10/3/21  In a recent review of prior research, a hospital cardiologist who has testified against police use of positional restraints criticizes what seems to be the prevailing expert opinion, that the technique is not a cause of death. Dr. Alon Steinberg argues that while such restraints are unlikely to asphyxiate a healthy person, they decrease both ventilation and cardiac output. This can “significantly worsen acidosis and hemodynamics,” and these factors can in turn lead to cardiac arrest.

6/30/21  In December 2015 St. Louis police arrested Nicholas Gilbert for trespassing and placed him in a cell. Gilbert acted as though he was suicidal and became violent. Officers handcuffed and shackled Gilbert and forcefully held him down on his stomach. After fifteen minutes. Gilbert died. His family’s Federal lawsuit was rejected by a District Court which found that the officers had qualified immunity. On appeal, a Circuit Court held that constitutionally excessive force wasn’t used. But in Lombardo v. St. Louis (no. 20-391, 6/28/21) the Supreme Court sent the case back to the Circuit to consider whether  prone positioning was reasonable given its known dangers and the agency’s own warnings about its use.

2/24/21  State grand jurors declined to charge any of the Rochester officers involved in the detention and death of Daniel Prude (see 9/3/20 entry.) This matter is being investigated as a possible Federal civil rights violation by the Department of Justice.

2/23/21  On August 24, 2019 Aurora (CO) police forcefully detained Elijah McClain, a 21-year old Black pedestrian whom a 9-1-1 caller reported was behaving oddly. During the struggle officers applied a carotid hold. On arrival paramedics diagnosed excited delirium syndrome (exDS) and injected a sedative (ketamine). McClain soon went into cardiac arrest and died days later at a hospital. On February 22, 2021 an official city report concluded that police did not have adequate cause to forcefully detain or restrain Mr. McClain and that officers and paramedics badly mishandled the situation.

10/16/20  The judge presiding over the prosecution of the officers accused of killing George Floyd will allow the defense to introduce evidence of a May 2019 traffic stop during which Floyd apparently swallowed a large quantity of pills and exhibited similar noncompliant behavior. Medical help was summoned and he was rushed to the hospital because of dangerously elevated blood pressure.

9/19/20  Four Shreveport, Louisiana police officers were charged with negligent homicide and “malfeasance” for using Tasers, mace and nightsticks and repeatedly “punching and kicking” a highly agitated, violent man who clearly “exhibited signs he was a mental patient in need of medical treatment.” Tommie D. McGlothen Jr. , 44, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, was placed in a police car on his head and left there for a prolonged period before being taken to a hospital, where he soon died. The coroner ruled the cause of death as excited delirium.

9/3/20  Seven Rochester, New York police officers were suspended in the March death of a 41-year old Black man they encountered as he ran naked through the streets. Forced restraint and use of a spit hood were blamed for causing Daniel T. Prude to stop breathing. A detailed autopsy listed several contributing factors, including severe heart and lung problems and acute PCP intoxication, and attributed his behavior to excited delirium.

7/19/20  An op-ed in The Washington Post challenges the conclusion by the American College of Emergency Physicians that excited delirium is real. It calls the syndrome “pseudoscience” that police use as a “convenient scapegoat” to justify killings that disproportionately victimize Black men.

7/9/20  Transcripts of footage from the body-cams of Minneapolis officers Lane and Kueng reveal that officer Lane voiced concern that George Floyd was suffering from “excited delirium or whatever.” Officers summoned an ambulance early during the struggle but confusion about their location and the urgency caused a delay.

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Police & the Mentally Ill special topic

Punishment Isn’t a Cop’s Job (I) (II) (III)     What Were They Thinking? (II)

Piling On    Another Victim: The Craft of Policing     Slugging it Out     L.A. Wants “Cahoots”

White on Black     Black on Black     Is it Ever OK (II)   Workplace Without Pity

Routinely Chaotic     Three Shootings     Ideology Trumps Reason     A Very Hot Summer

Lessons of Ferguson     Making Sausage     Contact Sport (I)  (II)     First, Do no Harm

Dancing with Hooligans     Sometimes a Drunk    Kicking a Suspect


Major Associated Press review “Dozens of deaths reveal risks of injecting sedatives into people restrained by police”

American College of Emergency Physicians ACEP Task Force Report on Hyperactive Delirium (new)

American College of Emergency Physicians “White Paper Report on Excited Delirium Syndrome” (old)

Penn State study “Special Panel Review of Excited Delirium

Forensic Sciences editorial “Ongoing issues with the diagnosis of excited delirium

Western Journal of Emergency Medicine article “Excited Delirium

The Journal of Emergency Medicine article abstract “Excited Delirium

Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, “Distinguishing Features of Excited Delirium Syndrome in Non-Fatal Use of Force Encounters

EMS World article “Excited Delirium

IACP Law Enforcement Policy Center “Need to Know” about Excited Delirium

Posted 6/19/20


In Atlanta, a “routine” encounter turns lethal.
Instantly, the deplorable outcome is attributed to race.

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. Friday, June 12, Atlanta. Thanks to citizen videos, police bodycams and a fixed surveillance camera, there is little question about what took place in a Wendy’s parking lot on that fateful evening. But explaining why a “no big deal call” (in cop-speak) led to the death of a citizen who had at most driven while drunk takes a lot more than pictures. To be sure, given the current, polarized atmosphere, jumping to the conclusion that it was all about race – after all, the cops were white, the citizen black – seems like a no-brainer. But policing is a complex enterprise. So let’s take a closer look. (Our main sources were ABC News, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The New York Times, and a YouTube post by GPB Media.)

     Wendy’s called police about 10:3o pm to report that drive-thru customers were maneuvering around a motorist who was asleep in his car. Officer David Brosnan responded. According to ABC News, he’s on his second year as a cop. Officer Brosnan woke up the driver, Rayshard Brooks, 27. Brooks was pleasant and cooperative, and on request relocated his vehicle to a parking spot.

Click here for the complete collection of compliance and force essays

     Officer Brosnan called for assistance. Officer Garrett Rolfe soon arrived. He had been with Atlanta PD since 2013. According to the Journal-Constitution, officer Rolfe, a member of the “High Intensity Traffic Team,” made more than fifty DUI arrests in 2019 and was honored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Brosnan quickly briefed Rolfe, who took over. Brooks readily performed a field sobriety test, then agreed to a breath test, which Rolfe administered.

     That’s when things turned dicey. A body-cam close-up of the breath device screen depicts a reading of .108. That’s 35 percent higher than Georgia’s .08  limit. After telling Brooks that he had “too much to drink to be driving,” Officer Rolfe instructed him to put his hands behind his back and reached for his handcuffs. (Officer Brosnan, who isn’t clearly depicted on the video, walked up to help.)

     Mr. Brooks, who had already volunteered to leave his car and walk home, seemed upset. Although he initially complied, as officer Rolfe started applying the cuffs Brooks resisted with such force that he and both officers tumbled to the ground. That’s when officer Brosnan pulled his Taser. Brooks promptly grabbed it. Breaking free, he then punched officer Rolfe in the face and bolted, armed with a Taser. Officer Rolfe fired his Taser at Mr. Brooks, who seemed to react. But the man ran off anyway.

     Taser in hand (newer versions can fire twice), officer Rolfe chased Brooks through the parking area. Officer Brosnan trailed far behind. During the chase, officer Rolfe switched the Taser to his left hand and  drew his pistol.  Momentarily, Brooks turned and fired his Taser (see left). His shot went wild. Officer Rolfe instantly discarded his Taser, aimed the pistol and fired several rounds (see right). Two struck Brooks; both in the back. (Apparently, at least one round went wild and struck an occupied vehicle in the lot.)

     Brooks died at the scene. According to the medical examiner, cause of death was “two gunshot wounds of [Mr. Brooks’] back that created organ injuries and blood loss.” Things moved swiftly. One day after the shooting, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced that she did “not believe this was a justified use of deadly force” and fired officer Rolfe. At a hastily-called news conference, the mayor also announced the voluntary departure of police chief Erika Shields, a veteran Atlanta cop. Here’s an extract from the chief’s parting words:

    Out of a deep and abiding love for this City and this department, I offered to step aside as police chief. APD has my full support, and Mayor Bottoms has my support on the future direction of this department. I have faith in the Mayor, and it is time for the city to move forward and build trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

     Chief Shields’ “offer” had been quickly accepted. Blame assessment was moving at warp speed. In a charged national atmosphere, city officials were confronting the police killing of a black citizen who had seriously harmed no one. Yet forty-five minutes after the police stepped in he lay dead. That dreadful incongruity resounded with mayor Bottoms:

    I firmly believe that there is a clear distinction between what you can do and what you should do. I do not believe this was a justified use of deadly force and have called for the immediate termination of the officer.

Her sentiments were promptly echoed by Fulton County D.A. Paul Howard, whose office was considering charges against the officers:

    (Brooks) did not seem to present any kind of threat to anyone, and so the fact that it would escalate to his death just seems unreasonable. It just seems like this is not the kind of conversation and incident that should have led to someone's death.

     What is the law about police use of deadly force? Here are two Supreme Court cases on point:

  • Tennessee v. Garner (1985): Officers may not use deadly force to prevent “an apparently unarmed, non-dangerous fleeing suspect” from escaping unless there is “probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.”
  • Graham v. Connor (1989): Four years after Garner the Justices offered a key concession, ruling that the appropriateness of force must take into account “the facts and circumstances judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene” while allowing “for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation.”

     Unlike the Supremes, who simply refer to “suspects,” best we can tell Atlanta P.D.’s use of force policy, which cites Graham v. Connor, mentions deadly force only in relation to arresting a suspected felon (sec. 4.6.9):

    Employees shall only use deadly force to apprehend a suspected felon when: (a) he or she reasonably believes that the suspect possesses a deadly weapon or any object, device, or instrument which, when used offensively against a person, is likely to or actually does result in serious bodily injury; (b) when he or she reasonably believes that the suspect poses an immediate threat of physical violence to the officer or others; (c) or when there is probable cause to believe that the suspect has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm (O.C.G.A. Section 17-4-20) if the employee reasonably believes that the suspect’s escape would create a continuing danger of serious physical harm to any person. (emphasis ours)

That “O.C.G.A. section” refers to a provision in the Georgia State code that addresses using deadly force to apprehend felons. Actually, the “felon” distinction probably makes little difference here. After all, Mr. Brooks became a suspected felon when he violently resisted arrest, then fired a Taser at his pursuer. According to the D.A., the task now was to decide whether Brooks posed the threat mentioned in Garner:

    Specifically, (the question is if) Officer Rolfe, whether or not he felt that Mr. Brooks, at the time, presented imminent harm of death or some serious physical injury. Or the alternative is whether or not he fired the shot simply to capture him or some other reason. If that shot was fired for some reason other than to save that officer's life or to prevent injury to him or others, then that shooting is not justified under the law. (emphasis ours)

Bottom line: did officer Rolfe believe he faced a risk of “death” or “serious physical injury” at the moment that he pulled the trigger? Or did he feel that he or others “imminently” faced that risk? And either way, was that belief reasonable?

     As far as the D.A. was concerned, it was not. On June 17 he filed eleven counts against the ex-cop, including murder, aggravated assault, violating his sworn oath and damaging property. Three of the aggravated assault counts and the property offense stem from his discharge of a round that went astray and struck an occupied vehicle. One count of aggravated assault accuses him of kicking the dying man. Officer Brosnan wasn’t charged in relation to the actual shooting. But he faces three counts: aggravated assault, for stepping on Mr. Brooks as he lay on the ground, and two counts of violating his oath.

     Let’s take a closer look at Mr. Brooks. At first, he seemed pleasant and cooperative. He even referred to officer Rolfe by his first name. Those niceties ended when the cuffs were about to come on. Watch the videos – Mr. Brooks’ fighting abilities are jaw-dropping. He was also a convicted felon, and currently on probation. Here’s his summary table from the Clayton County superior court:

     Mr. Brooks’ record (click here and enter his name) dates back to 2012, when he was charged with drug and weapons crimes. Mr. Brooks pled guilty to two counts and received a suspended sentence. Two years later he pled guilty to false imprisonment, two counts of battery and one of felony cruelty to children and drew a one year prison term, to be followed by probation. In 2016 he pled guilty to five counts of theft and apparently returned to prison for another year. He was again released on probation. Apparently there were more violations, and his most recent hearing was in February 2020. (We couldn’t find a detailed account of Mr. Brooks’ criminal record in the American media. For a Daily Mail [U.K.] summary click here.)

     An opinion piece by CNN host Van Jones, who is deeply involved in criminal justice reform, suggested that Mr. Brooks’ record had everything to do with his reaction:

    For a person on probation, as Brooks was, any contact with a police officer -- for any reason -- means an almost certain return to the horrors of a jail cell. It is safe to assume that Brooks did not want to go back to jail over sleeping in his car or failing a sobriety test, lose everything he had and be forced to start his life over again. In other words, we do not know why the Atlanta police officer chose to shoot a man who was running away from him. But we can guess why that man chose to run, in the first place. Brooks didn't want to lose his liberty. Instead, he wound up losing his life.

     What about officer Rolfe? After all, this is the time of coronavirus. With police departments throughout the country throttling back, it’s been suggested that another officer might have let the man walk home. Mr. Brooks’ status as a felony probationer, though, probably made that less likely. In any case, strictly enforcing DUI isn’t a bad thing. Indeed, there are innumerable police-citizen encounters every day, and nearly all turn out peaceably. But as your writer can personally attest, there are also plentiful opportunities for bad endings. Making lots of arrests can yields great stat’s and plaudits from MADD. It also increases the chance that sooner or later something will go wrong. Possibly very wrong.

     We’ve often argued that both citizen and officer personalities matter. As he interacted with Mr. Brooks and administered field sobriety and blood-alcohol tests, officer Rolfe evidenced a calm, adept, compliance-gaining approach. Yet your blogger also sensed that he was a determined, perhaps even hard-headed sort. If there was enough evidence, no way would he let Mr. Brooks go. At the end, that .108 blood alcohol cinched it. Probable cause!

     In “Fair but Firm” we mentioned that, as every cop well knows, being nice doesn’t always gain compliance. Even when officers do their best, some citizens – say, Mr. Brooks – still go berserk. (Our first “Is it Ever OK?” cited two such examples, both involving chronic offenders.) Yet even when things go wrong they seldom turn lethal. Was there something about officer Rolfe that made it more likely he would turn to a gun? ABC News reported that officer Rolfe was “reprimanded” for a 2016 episode in which he used a gun. One year before that, according to the Guardian, officer Rolfe and two colleagues shot a man during what a judge would call “the wildest incident,” then allegedly covered it up.

     But as we discussed two years ago in Part I, shooting a man in the back – it was then 25-year old Daniel Hambrick – is something more. Much more:

    Cops are supposed to protect everyone – not just themselves. That, indeed, is the reason for their being. Still, whatever its justification, shooting someone in the back is and will forever remain a loathsome practice. To many observers, perhaps most, Hambrick’s killing seems nothing less than an execution, and this won’t change no matter how carefully we deconstruct the circumstances that led to his demise.

There’s no doubt that Mr. Brooks’ willingness “to go to the mat” presented substantial risks. On the  other hand, while we don’t consider officer Rolfe’s actions per se unreasonable, the thought of shooting someone in the back remains simply abhorrent. We’re certain that most cops wouldn’t do it. A number of policing experts, though, believe that officer Rolfe was justified. Chris Wigginton, director of Georgia’s law enforcement academy, pointed out that officer Rolfe had plenty of reason to fear that a second attempt was coming, and that it could leave him seriously injured or dead. According to the New York Times, officer Brosnan’s lawyer now claims that Mr. Brooks Tasered his client during the struggle, so shooting at officer Rolfe left him with an empty gun. We didn’t see that first discharge on the videos, and even if it happened it’s doubtful that in the heat of things the officers were keeping count.

     Along these lines, we should keep in mind that officers routinely call in the names and birthdates of whomever they stop, and dispatchers promptly check and report any criminal histories they find. During the stop Officer Rolfe may well have learned that Mr. Brooks was on felony probation. So that, too, might have influenced his actions.

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    However one evaluates what took place, avoiding such endings is something that everyone can agree on. Could more training help? Perhaps, but officer Rolfe was reportedly recently trained in use-of-force and de-escalation techniques. How about more rules? Usually we’re of the opinion that there are already plenty. But weighty public policy decisions are now being made at warp speed. With poorly informed, ideologically-driven solutions looming, agencies should make every effort to speedily clean their own house. They could begin by having working officers give examples and provide opinions about regulating the use of force against fleeing suspects, including those who aren’t believed to be armed with a gun.

     So let’s get on with that fine-tuning. And please, let there be no reason for a Part III!

UPDATES (scroll)

8/24/22  A special prosecutor declined to seek charges against Atlanta PD officers Garrett Rolfe and  Devin Brosnan over the death of Rayshard Brooks two years ago. According to lawyer Pete Skandalakis, “the officers were willing to give Mr. Brooks every benefit of the doubt and, you know, unfortunately, by his actions, this is what happened.” Brooks, who fought with the officers and took away Brosnan’s Taser, was shot dead by Rolfe after he fired the Taser at Rolfe during a foot chase.

6/15/22  Prosecutors charged both Atlanta officers involved in the death of Rayshard Brooks five days after the June 2020 encounter. David Brosnan, whose Taser Brooks snatched, is accused of aggravated assault; Garrett Rolfe, who chased Brooks and shot him in the back, of murder. But neither officer has been indicted. Last year, Rolfe was “reinstated” by the civil service board, which found that his due process rights had been violated. Both, who remain off the job, are now suing the city for false arrest.

5/6/21  Atlanta’s civil service board reinstated officer Rolfe. His firing, which came one day after he shot and killed Mr. Brooks, was ruled as lacking in due process. Officer Rolfe will be on paid leave until his pending murder charges are resolved. He is yet to be indicted, as Georgia law requires for such matters to proceed.

4/24/21  Sheriff’s deputies attempting to serve arrest and search warrants for drug offenses on a 42-year old North Carolina man opened fire as he drove away. Andrew Brown, Jr., was killed; according from an intercepted medical transmission, from a wound to the back. Seven deputies were placed on leave. Brown, allegedly a cocaine dealer, reportedly has a substantial criminal record for drug crimes.

1/22/21  An L.A. Coroner’s report indicates that all five rounds that killed Andres Guardado (see 7/8, 7/10 and 1/17 entries) entered through his back. They were fired by L.A. Sheriff’s deputy Miguel Vega, who was hired in 2009. He is  the subject of recent complaints for excessive force and discourtesy. A licensed security guard has also accused him of loading the gun he lawfully possessed to justify charges. Deputy Vega’s only known disciplinary action is a four-day suspension in 2017 for making false statements or failing to properly screen an inmate. An informer has also accused both deputies of being prospective members of the “Executioners” clique, which their lawyer denies.

1/17/21  L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputies Miguel Vega and Chris Hernandez have been relieved of duty and are being criminally investigated for “kidnapping” allegedly unruly skateboarder Jesus Alegria, 24, then taking him on a “wild ride” that ended in a car crash and left Alegria bleeding from the head. In June Vega and Hernandez shot and killed Andres Guardado, a death still under investigation (see 7/8, 7/10 entries.)

1/6/21  In connection with the killing of Breonna Taylor, Louisville PD fired Detectives Cosgrove and Gentry. Sgt. Mattingly was exonerated for use-of-force violations, and three other officers connected with the case received reprimands or one-day suspensions. In a decision that has sparked controversy, Louisville selected Erika Shields as its new permanent chief. Ms. Shields had resigned as Atlanta police chief after the shooting of Rayshard Brooks.

12/3/20  On October 23 two San Bernardino (Calif.) deputies observed Joseph McLaughlin, 31 at a casino. They recognized him as a wanted parolee who did prison time for burglaries. McLaughlin ran off, and during a foot chase in hilly terrain he picked up a rock as to throw it at a deputy. The officer opened fire, striking McLaughlin him three times, in the shoulders and forearm. Questions have been raised as to whether deputies could have used other means and whether the shooting met the legal standard of “imminent threat of serious bodily injury” under P.C. section 835a.  Video depicting full encounter

11/13/20  The Los Angeles County Coroner will conduct a rare, full inquest into the shooting death of Andres Guardado on June 18 by deputies who were allegedly “prospective members” of the “Executioners” deputy clique (see 7/8/20 and 7/10/20 updates). Deputies claim that they ran after Guardado after observing that he was armed and that he reached for the gun when he came to a stop.

8/24/90  In Kenosha, Wisconsin, officers followed a participant in a domestic dispute to his vehicle. They reportedly used a Taser and, as the man entered the car, repeatedly shot him. According to Wisconsin Governor Tony Eevers, “Jacob Blake was shot in the back multiple times, in broad daylight. While we do not have all of the details yet, what we know for certain is that he is not the first Black man or person to have been shot or injured or mercilessly killed at the hands of individuals in law enforcement in our state or our country.” Unrest spread through the city, and arsons were reported.

7/24/20  In 2019 Colorado prosecutors declined to charge a Rifle officer who fatally shot a man in the back. Armed with a handgun and apparently suicidal, Allan George, 58, was running away from officers who sought to arrest him on a child pornography warrant. According to the D.A., George, who was once convicted of child exploitation, was heading towards a populated area, giving “reason to believe that [he] might...take cover and at some point, engage the officer or others with his handgun.” One month ago Colorado prohibited officers from using deadly force “unless there is proof of imminent threat of danger and there is a substantial risk that the suspect will hurt others.” George’s survivors are suing.

7/10/20  The L.A. County Coroner released the full autopsy of Andres Guardado. It confirmed that all five bullets entered his back. No drugs were detected in his blood or urine.

7/8/20  A private autopsy requested by the family of an 18-year old shot dead by a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy concluded that he died from five bullets that entered his back. Officials claim that the youth was carrying a pistol with an illegal high-capacity magazine and ran from two deputies who approached him to talk. Andres Guardado, 18, was supposedly employed as a security guard, but was too young to carry a gun.

7/6/20  Violence continues to engulf Atlanta following the killing of Rayshard Brooks, with five shot dead and twenty-six wounded during the July 4th. weekend. One of the dead was an 8-year old girl riding in her mother’s car. “The reality is this,” said Mayor Keisha Bottoms. “These aren’t police officers shooting people on the streets of Atlanta, these are members of the community shooting each other.” Violence and the “ransacking” of the state police building led Georgia Governor Brian Kemp to deploy 1,000 National Guard troops to protect government buildings.

6/22/20  After the shooting officer Brosnan was examined at the hospital and diagnosed with a concussion suffered when his head struck the ground. Officer Brosnan is freely expressing himself to the media. He says he always tries to defuse situations, denies trying to hurt Mr. Brooks, whose death he considers tragic, and insists he is not fashioning himself as a “witness” against anyone. He also says he was unaware of Brook’s record.

6/21/20  An arrest warrant was issued for “Natalie White,” Brooks’ alleged girlfriend, whom surveillance images connect with the fire that burned down the Wendy’s restaurant where he was killed. Brooks had asked officers to let him go to “Natalie White’s” apartment to sleep off his intoxication.

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Tenacity is Great - Until it’s Not     Want Happy Endings? Don’t Chase     Cop? Terrorist? Both?

L.A. Wants “Cahoots”     White on Black     Black on Black     Violent and Vulnerable     Fair but Firm

Routinely Chaotic     Is it Ever OK to Shoot Someone in the Back?     More Rules, Less Force?

Posted 4/2/20


Gaining voluntary compliance is the sine qua non
of everyday policing. Indeed, of everyday life.

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. Every mom and dad remembers the day (well, maybe it was a week or a month) when their bundle of joy transformed into an obstinate brat. As we well know, that’s a two-way street. How parents respond to their children’s acting-outs – and how offspring react to their parents’ response – can affect their relationship during the crucial teen years and well into adulthood.

     To be sure, even the best parents can only do so much. Genes don’t come with an instruction manual. And once environmental factors such as peers and schools come into play the ability to influence one’s offspring is severely limited.

     Gaining compliance – hopefully, without resorting to brute force – is crucial in areas other than parenting. Regulations that require industry to recycle waste and limit pollution would hardly be needed if businesses paid attention to their impact on public health. Alas, when the “bottom line” is in play, corporations tend to assess the benefits of social responsibility with a calculator. Governments can offer inducements such as financing and technical assistance, but in the end there seems to be no substitute for the ability to impose fines that exceed the cost of doing the right thing from the very start.

Click here for the complete collection of compliance and force essays

     Big business has problems other than Uncle Sam. Their chieftains must contend with corporate boards, investors and the stock market. So what about individuals? Must they also be coerced to do the right thing? Perhaps. According to Robbins and Kaiser the likelihood of punishment for noncompliance seems to be the key motivator for paying one’s taxes. (“Legitimate authorities and rational taxpayers: An investigation of voluntary compliance and method effects in a survey experiment of income tax evasion,” Rationality and Society, 2018).

      What about policing? Are threats of punishment the real motivator there, too? Much of the literature says “yes!” For example, Sommers and Bohns looked into so-called “consent” searches. Bottom line: citizens who comply do so because they feel pressured. (“The Voluntariness of Voluntary Consent: Consent Searches and the Psychology of Compliance,” Yale Law Journal, 2019).

     Just like what happens between parents and kids, police encounters involve two parties: citizens and cops, and what one says or does inevitably influences the other. In “Compliance, non-compliance and the in-between: causal effects of civilian demeanor on police officers’ cognition and emotions,” Nix, Pickett and Mitchell probed how citizen behavior affects what cops do. Working officers were asked to respond to three detailed vignettes: one described an encounter with a disorderly pedestrian, another a car stop for a traffic violation, and the third a dispatch about a “suspicious person.” (Our post is about commonplace encounters. We won’t be commenting on bank robberies and such.)

     As one might predict, citizens who were “outright noncompliant” evoked the most negative sentiments. Next to compliance, officers thought that citizen demeanor was also important. “Disrespectful” citizens consistently “arouse[d] greater suspicion” and “evoke[d] more antagonistic emotions (i.e., anger, annoyance, frustration).” Citizen disrespect also heightened officers’ sense of danger on dispatched calls and increased their fear during traffic stops. Researchers thought these latter effects especially important because sentiments such as anger might distort perceptions; say, turn a cell phone into a gun. (For more about that check out “A Reason? Or Just an Excuse?”).

     To be sure, it’s a two-way street. How cops go about their job affects how citizens react. In “Compliance on demand: the public’s response to specific police requests,” Mastrofski, Snipes and Supina described findings of a ride-along study in Virginia. In routine encounters, being “forceful” or showing a citizen “disrespect” proved significantly less likely to yield compliance than a “friendly” (but not gushing) approach. Officers with more experience and those who reported more positive feelings about community policing also seemed to get better results.

     Yet cops were only part of the puzzle. Citizens who were less “rational” proved less likely to comply. Compliance also suffered in non-public settings (e.g., someone’s home) and as situations increased in severity. However, it improved when it was obvious that the citizen had done wrong.

     What can police do to enhance the prospects for compliance? Nix and his colleagues suggest that realistic training exercises might help officers improve their ability to analyze risk:

    …training emphasizing that bad attitudes violate no laws may help to reduce officers’ reliance on the attitude test to judge civilian suspiciousness and dangerousness. Such training may also have the added benefit of helping to reduce antagonistic emotions by countering the view that a bad attitude is a moral violation.

Better risk analysis could enhance officer safety. It could also help citizens survive should they say or do something that might cause an untrained cop to become needlessly fearful. (For more about the centrality of risk tolerance to the craft of policing, check out “Working Scared.”)

     Mastrofski et al seemed less sanguine about the prospects for improvement, in part because of difficulties in nailing down the officer traits that really count. They did speculate, though, that cops who regularly succeeded at securing compliance might have “heightened diagnostic skills” that helps lead them down the most likely paths to a peaceful and satisfactory conclusion.

     Such things have preoccupied pundits (including us) for some time. Beyond the willingness to accept risk, our “Use of Force” section is replete with posts that caution against letting the chaotic nature of the streets interfere with one’s judgment. (To be sure, easier said than done.) About the need to slow down, keep one’s distance and, when possible, work from a position of cover. About de-escalating. In “Three (In?)explicable Shootings” we emphasized the centrality of officer characteristics such as temperament, judgment and forbearance, which should come with experience (but sometimes don’t), and of the need for training that goes well beyond the academy. Bottom line: shifts that work together should train together.

     Yet even the best crafted and intentioned police work sometimes fails. While this really(!) isn’t a post about the virus, the pandemic offers pertinent examples of just how difficult it can be to get citizens to give up something they prize. Consider, for example, the avid surfer who received a $1,000 fine after brushing off “numerous warnings by police and lifeguards cautioning him not to go in the water.” Or the Florida pastor who assembled his flock for church services despite pleas by cops and lawyers to avoid “putting his congregation in danger of contracting the coronavirus.” (He was arrested.)

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     To be sure, these characters would probably justify themselves differently. Yet their obstinacy likely shares a common psychological root. As everyone who’s worked in law enforcement knows, some citizens – and that includes surfers, preachers, angry spouses and inner-city gang members – seem determined, come what may, to do what they want when they want. Consider the threat such pig-headedness could pose, and especially should a gun be around. Alas, there’s no quick, street test for being shtupid (one of my dissertation chair’s favorite sayings.) When that condition is diagnosed it’s usually after someone gets hurt.

     Ultimately, changing hearts and minds is a task for society. For civic leaders. Educational institutions. Politicians. And yes, even the clergy. Make it loud and clear: it’s everyone’s obligation to comply with the cops. After things have settled – and only then – complain. Until that sentiment spreads and takes hold, though, we urge that, if nothing else, officers fall back on the old “firm but fair” ditty but swap the terms around. After all, citizens usually assume that cops will be forceful. So surprise them with a pleasant and meaningful tweak. Whether it’s a preacher or gangster, come in “fair” from the very start. Still, keep Mastrofski et al’s findings in mind and don’t overdo the sugar (that “carrot” in our online graphic.) In the real world of the streets, and seemingly everywhere else, there is sometimes no substitute for “firm.”

UPDATES (scroll)

6/13/24  Dashcam and body-camera recordings from two police departments were examined to assess the effects of patrol officer communications strategies on the outcomes of their interactions with crime suspects. According to the authors of “Finding the Path of Least Resistance,” compliance was enhanced through the use of “a positive tenor/demeanor”. Verbal coercion did not improve compliance, and suspects who were rattled or otherwise impaired were also less likely to comply.

8/25/23  Are cops needlessly spurring conflict through their choice of words and delivery? An academic study will scour bodycam videos of 1,000 officer-citizen encounters during a three-year period to identify the characteristics of successful interactions. Artificial intelligence will be used to select episodes where officers “cross the line” and to recommend solutions. Variables will include officer age and experience, citizen race, and the location of a stop.

1/18/23  A contested 2020 traffic stop that resulted in one officer’s firing for using excessive force against an uncooperative motorist had a mixed ending in a Federal civil trial, with jurors awarding very small sums to the driver. Circumstances the officers faced were undeniably complex. Caron Nazario was (legally) armed, refused to pull over when police tried to stop him for no license plate, then refused to exit his vehicle. A Federal judge had previously found the officers’ actions reasonable (see 1/1/22 update).

9/12/22 In May police in Childersburg, a city of 4,750 pop. in central Alabama, were informed by a caller that a stranger was at a home whose occupants were away. Officers (they were White) encountered Michael Jennings, a middle-aged Black man watering the flowers. Mr. Jennings said he was a Pastor and a neighbor, and had been asked to help. All this turned out to be true. But the officers didn’t know him. He refused to provide ID, and after a protracted back-and-forth they arrested him for obstruction. Charges, however, were ultimately rejected. He has now sued for civil rights violations. Video

8/31/22  Early morning street takeovers, stunts and drag racing have beset some South Los Angeles intersections. They’ve now taken hold in Chicago, as well. Police have begun to respond with arrests and car impounds. But some citizens are impressed by the shows, which feature unimaginable stunts. “It almost looks like a movie,” said one spectator (click here for a video).

8/23/22  Major intersections in south Los Angeles have become a nightly “scene of lawlessness” as Instagram messages draw hundreds of spectators to street takeovers, where muscle-car drivers spin doughnuts and stage exhibitions of speed and daring. LAPD has reported nearly 700 such events this year, issued more than 2,000 tickets and impounded more than 400 cars. Yet the madness continues.

8/20/22  NHTSA reported that 2002’s first quarter experienced the most motor vehicle traffic deaths since the first quarter of 2002. This year’s estimated toll, 9,560, is 7 percent higher than last year’s 8,935, which was itself a 13.2 percent jump from the first quarter of 2020, when 7,893 were killed. Per 100 million vehicle miles, 2022’s first-quarter fatality rate (1.22) also sets a record. According to NHTSA head Steve Cliff, “when everyday life came to a halt in March 2020, risky behaviors skyrocketed, and traffic fatalities spiked. We’d hoped these trends were limited to 2020, but sadly they aren’t.”

7/18/22  A report on the law enforcement response to the Uvalde school massacre faults agencies for failing to coordinate their response and provide leadership. There were 149 Border Patrol officers, 91 State police officers, 25 city police officers, sixteen sheriffs deputies, and five school police officers. School police chief Arredondo caught plenty of blame, but external agencies, which had far more officers and equipment on hand, were severely criticized for not recognizing the chaos and taking charge. Report

7/18/22  Your blogger’s new opinion piece, “How to Defuse Police-Civilian Encounters,” was just published in The Crime Report. Highlighting present-day difficulties in getting both “good” and “bad” citizens to voluntarily comply, it calls for systematically collecting information “about the many police-citizen encounters that are successfully resolved.” How do officers manage to produce happy endings?

5/21/22  LAPD 77th. Street Division’s “alternatives to incarceration” offers addicts, homeless and the mentally ill treatment and housing instead of jail. But most decline to participate for the required 3-6 month period. LAPD’s officer in charge says that arrestees know they will be released pending trial, and prefer that to obeying the program’s rules. “The court’s zero-bail practice is wreaking havoc on this program.” Homeless persons also want privacy, which is impossible in a communal shelter. But a citywide diversion program for juveniles, which offers mentoring and tutoring, is far more popular.

1/1/22  Virginia’s A.G. is suing the Town of Windsor (pop. 2,600) for racially discriminatory policing. Its action was spurred by a nighttime 2020 traffic stop in which then-officer Joe Gutierrez (he’s since been fired) pepper sprayed Caron Nazario after the uniformed Army officer failed to promptly exit his vehicle when asked. Fearing the dark, Lt. Nazario drove on for a mile after Gutierrez and his partner tried to pull him over for no license plates. And when he stopped in a well-lit area, both cops pulled their guns (see 1/18/23 update).

8/4/21  A community-policing project In New Haven, CT used “positive non-enforcement police contact” to improve relations between the public and police. According to NIJ, the results were  “promising,” with citizens reporting more favorable attitudes towards police and a greater willingness to cooperate. On the other hand, “there was no statistically significant effect on compliance with police.”

6/20/20  In “Procedural Justice and Legal Compliance,” Daniel Nagin and Cody Telep argue that while  procedurally just treatment of citizens by police can be of social benefit, it will not necessarily increase citizens’ compliance with the law or reduce lawbreaking.

In “Effects of police body cameras on citizens compliance and cooperation,” Mustafa Demir, Anthony Braga and Robert Apel conclude that citizens who interact with traffic officers wearing body cameras are more likely to agree with officers and with the laws than citizens who encounter officers without cameras.

6/7/20  After heated criticism, L.A. Pride, which organizes a yearly LGBTQ parade, apologized for thoughtlessly requesting its usual LAPD permit to conduct a “solidarity” march with Black Lives Matter, as asking for law enforcement blessing “goes against the demands for systemic police reform.”

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How to Defuse Police-Civilian Encounters”. The Crime Report, 7/18/22.


Shutting the Barn Door     When (Very) Hard Heads Collide (II)     Punishment Isn’t a Cop’s Job (III)

Watching the Watchers     Piling On    On the One Hand...     Does Legal Pot Drive Violence?

What Were They Thinking?    Tenacity is Great     Is the “Cure” Worse?    When Must Cops Shoot? (II)

RIP Proactive Policing?     “SWAT” is a Verb    Is it Ever OK? (Part II)     A Conflicted Mission

Can the Urban Ship be Steered?     COVID-19: R.I.P. Policing?     A Reason? Or Just an Excuse?

Routinely Chaotic     Speed Kills     Three Shootings     Working Scared

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