Friday, October 10, 2014

Video Shows Police Smash a Car Window, Taser Passenger As Children Watch

Sometimes a picture (or a video) is worth a thousand words, but does it tell the whole story?

A video taken by a 14-year-old boy is the focus of increased media attention after his family sued the city of Hammond, Ind., police officers for allegedly using excessive force while stopping their vehicle for a seatbelt infraction.

The lawsuit alleges that Jamal Jones, his girlfriend Lisa Mahone, and her two children were pulled over by Hammond police officers because Mahone was not wearing a seatbelt. The officers requested that Mahone produce her license and registration, which she did.

One officer then asked the front seat passenger, Jones, to produce identification. Because he was not carrying it with him, Jones offered instead to show the police a copy of a ticket that listed his address. Unsatisfied, the officers ordered Jones to exit the vehicle.

The video shows the police smash the car door window after Jones refused, and then use a Taser while forcibly removing him from the vehicle. Mahone’s 14-year-old son recorded the incident from the backseat while her 7-year-old daughter cries in the background.

According to the lawsuit, Jones was arrested for resisting law enforcement and refusal to aid an officer. Mahone was cited for not wearing her seat belt. The complaint alleges that the police had no reason to use such force, stating:

The actions of the individual defendants created a reasonable apprehension of imminent harm by and constituted harmful or offensive contact with each Plaintiff. The actions of the individual defendants were objectively unreasonable under the circumstances and were undertaken intentionally with malice, willfulness, and reckless indifference to the rights and safety of Plaintiffs.

In response, the Hammond Police Department released a statement arguing instead that the officers "were at all times acting in the interest of the officer’s safety and in accordance with Indiana law."

Because the video only shows the second half of the incident (the Hammond police stated the video began 13 minutes after the initial stop), it is premature to determine whether their actions were justified or necessary. Even so, the courts have given clear guidelines that are relevant to this issue.

According to the U.S. Supreme Court in Pennsylvania v. Mimms, the police have the authority to ask a driver to step outside the vehicle during the course of a stop. The Court has also held in Maryland v. Wilson that an officer may order passengers to get out of the car pending completion of the stop. The purpose of this request is to protect both the driver and the officer from the surrounding traffic, and "diminishes the possibility, otherwise substantial, that the driver can make unobserved movements; this, in turn, reduces the likelihood that the officer will be the victim of an assault."

But the question of whether the police are authorized to remove a passenger from a vehicle must be balanced against whether the officer’s use of force was justified. According to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Lester v. City of Chicago, an officer’s use of force is unconstitutional if, "judging from the totality of circumstances at the time of the arrest, the officer used greater force than was reasonably necessary to make the arrest."

Thus, the Hammond police officers must establish, based upon the totality of the circumstances leading up to and concurrent with the arrest, that their actions were both reasonable and necessary.

Several factors are pertinent to this analysis. The basis for whether excessive force was used is derived from a three-part test articulated by the Supreme Court in Graham v. Connor. This objective test examines:

1) The severity of the crime at issue;

2) Whether the suspect posed an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others; and

3) Whether the suspect was actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.

If the Hammond police can successfully show that their decision to break into the car to remove Jones was justified, either because they perceived he was reaching for a weapon or engaging in threatening behavior, they will have an easier time in court defending this incident, although there is little evidence from the video that this appeared to be the case.

Serious questions must be raised about the wisdom of smashing the car door window to Taser Jones–all while two young children watched in horror from the backseat. Was it truly necessary for officer safety to escalate the situation in such an aggressive manner?

This picture isn’t pretty.

Original report here



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