Why incidents like the Kelly Thomas beating death by Fullerton police won’t go away

The increasing number of suspected police abuse incidents caught on video is becoming a real problem for both our police departments and our society

By Barry Levinson | Police Chiefs around this country tell us repeatedly how well-trained the members of their departments are and how they believe their department is one of the best in the country.

Yet every time we witness via live video a police/civilian contact gone terribly wrong, almost never is the officer criminally or even civilly held to account for their actions.

Police AbuseThey are put on paid administrative leave, which means a fully-paid vacation for months or even up to a year or more while the police hierarchy and/or the District Attorney investigates the incident. Then almost always the officer’s actions are found to be “reasonable” and they are back at their job fully refreshed from their extended paid vacations.

Yes, many times we might hear that the officer will receive additional training — as if every bad act by a police officer can be fixed by attending one or more classes. If an officer likes to hurt people, training will do absolutely nothing to stop his bad behavior. If the officer has the wrong temperament or lacks the necessary common sense to deal rationally with the public, training will do absolutely nothing to change that officer’s bad behavior.

If someone is asked to sit down by an officer and he/she refuses, does that give the officer the right to put that person’s life in danger? It is clear that too many police officers like the power and authority they have over the average citizen, and have an extremely low bar before they escalate a confrontation from words to physical violence.

I for one, if asked to sit down, or stand up, or even get on my knees would obey the officer out of both respect and fear that this officer might use any minor excuse to physically assault me.

But there are those citizens who do not automatically listen to commands barked by an officer, and who want to know why they are being detained and want an answer before considering obeying an officer’s command.

These are situations that are not easy for the police. Non-obeying suspects are a challenge to them. But is a situation where a non-violent suspect does not obey a verbal order grounds to put someone in the hospital — or worse? I don’t think so.

The headline of this post asks if the police are more violent today than in the past. I don’t know the answer. But I do know that more and more suspected police abuse is now being caught on citizens’ smart phone cameras.

I also know that laws such as POBR (the Police Officers Bill of Rights) in California that hides the records of bad police officers from the general public and everyone else but the police chiefs does not help the situation one little bit.

Finally, obvious cases of police officers using excessive force and not being punished — criminally, civilly or even suspended without pay for their actions — has given the bad officer a virtual green light to continue to mete out their form of street justice on an unsuspecting public.

Police Misconduct Reporting Project

Therefore, the real problem may not be whether there is more police abuse now than in the past. The real problem may be that the criminal justice system is ill-equipped to rein in and properly punish those bad officers’ acts.

It’s clear that a growing segment of the public has become aware of this problem, and it could become dangerous for our society to test the public’s patience on this matter.

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2 Responses to Why incidents like the Kelly Thomas beating death by Fullerton police won’t go away

  1. Conrad DeWitte says:

    Mr. Levinson addresses every essential aspect of this huge problem; a problem that touches each of us.

    The concept of individuals having the wrong Temperament to be involved in Police work is crucial to understand, and Mr. Levinson explains it exactly: “If an officer likes to hurt people, training will do absolutely nothing to stop his bad behavior. ”

    It is the crystal clear fault of police department Leadership when the (dis)tempered individual is recruited, transferred into, or retained in the department.

    And such problematic individuals are kept on duty only within an organization where there is a “culture” of corruption (i.e. covering up and condoning bad behavior leads directly to criminal actions by police).

    The POBR law, Police Officers Bill of Rights, operates “perfectly” to keep a perverse culture in operation, unless our City Council rejects such laws which hide the facts about city government operation and all (e.g. Police Union) contract negotiations.

  2. Barry Levinson says:

    The following is a reprint of an article written by Constitutional scholar and George Washington law professor, Jonathan Turley. His comments are very much worth noting with regards to the above penned article.

    Eight Police Officers Fire 103 Times At Two Unarmed Women Delivering Newspapers . . . Commission Rejects Calls For Any Officer To Be Fired Or Even Suspended February 12, 2014 by Jonathan Turley

    We recently discussed the decision by the Los Angeles district attorney not to charge officers who shot up a vehicle of an innocent man because they were acting in “an atmosphere of fear and extreme anticipation.”Officers were on edge in the search for cop-killer Christopher Dorner (right). We now have a decision in the shooting that proceeded the McGee case where eight Los Angeles police officers fired over 100 times. Margie Carranza, then 47, was cut by flying glass while her then 71-year-old mother, Emma Hernandez was shot in the back. You guessed it. No one will be fired or even suspended.

    Let’s recap what these officers did and will now only be required to take a little more training. Police were searching for Dorner. Two women happened by the police delivering newspapers in a blue Toyota Tacoma pickup truck. (Dorner was driving a charcoal Nissan Titan pickup truck). Without clear identification and without any appearance of a weapon, the police fired 103 times at the truck.

    A Commission has now completed its investigation of the officers and found that the officers were not at serious fault in trying to kill two innocent unarmed women and unleashing a wall of lead on a vehicle.

    The Commission found that the officers did find that eight officers violated Los Angeles Police Department policy. However, a violation that results in gunning down an innocent elderly lady does not appear to be a firing or even suspending act of misconduct.

    Chief Charlie Beck insisted that this shooting was simply the result of “a tragic cascade of circumstances that led to an inaccurate conclusion by the officers.”

    Of course, these women were hit by 103 “inaccurate conclusions.” Both could easily have been killed but that would not have changed the result.

    The decisions in these two investigations will only reaffirm view of many that police are beyond increasingly beyond accountability while police powers are on the rise in our society. I find these decisions to be perfectly otherworldly. Both opinions tend to justify the actions on the basis for the fear and anticipation that existed at the time. However, police are supposed to be professionals trained to deal with such pressure. It is also worth noting that, if this were Dorner in the truck, it would have been highly questionable as a justified shooting since no weapon was present or shown to the officers. None of that seems to matter. It leaves a chilling message that police are at greater liberty to use lethal force (without positive identification or appearance of a weapon) when searching for a cop killer.

    It is also worth noting that citizens are regularly charged when they shoot at officers by mistake under the same chaotic circumstances. They have also been cleared in shooting citizens who appear with a weapon in response to commotion. In the meantime, we have seen officers cleared and even honored in mistaken raids or shootings.

    The increasing police powers in the United States and the absence of serious deterrent over misconduct or mistakes by some officers makes for a deadly combination. What is fascinating is the relative timidity of citizens in the face of even the most egregious abuse as we discussed recently with regard to New Mexico police officers. Likewise, there was no outcry recently with the incredible decision by the Dallas Police Chief that officers will no longer be allowed to give their accounts of shootings for the first 48 hours after officers were found to have lied in past cases. They will now be allowed to get their accounts straight before going on the record.

    The final conclusions from the Dorner investigations sends a message to officers and citizens alike that even the most outrageous and potentially lethal misconduct by officers can be forgiven.

    A great and insightful article by this constitutional scholar. To complete the story I must report that these two women were awarded $4.2 million dollars of our tax money and given a new $40,000 truck as well.

    Police Chief Beck stated that all eight officers involved would receive extensive …… you guessed it — training.

    Question? Why is the innocent taxpayer held to account, but not the 8 officers who committed this dimwitted act? Why do the taxpayers have to reach into their pockets and not those officers? Why weren’t they all fired?

    The answer is that society allows them to get away with this egregious behavior. This must change — hopefully sooner rather than later.