The ACLU of Colorado last week posted the above video of an Aurora, Colorado police encounter with two black citizens last February.
The sequence, drawn from one of the officers’ body camera, shows Darsean Kelley and another man being stopped by police after they had received a call about a man allegedly pointing a gun on a child, but with no description of the man. Kelley and his companion were standing on the sidewalk in the vicinity of the alleged incident. Police asked the men to sit down, which Kelley said was impossible to do because he had a groin injury. Officers then told both men to put their hands behind their heads and turn around. As his friend remained silent and apparently compliant, Kelley kept his hands raised and asked why he was being detained. Immediately after he said, “I know my rights!” one of the officers shot him in the back with a stun gun. He fell backwards into the street.
The police then arrested Kelley on a charge of disorderly conduct for failing to obey a lawful order. In his report, the officer wrote that he thought he might be reaching for a weapon. The ACLU of Colorado then filed a motion to dismiss the case arguing that Kelley was unlawfully detained and arrested without probable cause or reasonable suspicion.
1. Kelley and the other man were unlawfully detained and arrested. Were they unlawfully stopped? No. The police could stop men in the vicinity of a complaint like the one they had received in order to investigate it. When people become belligerent or uncooperative during such legal stops, cops sometimes become suspicious, or decide to use their power to stick it to an individual who shows hostility when the officers feel they are just doing their jobs, or trying to. This is when such situations escalate.
I’m sure the officers regarded the “I can’t sit down” claim as suspicious and provocative. I would. Note that no harm befell the other man, who remained quiet and followed the officers’ instructions. This is the correct way to respond.
2. I’m sure Kelley felt that he was being “stopped for being black.” I would if I were him. How are police officers today supposed to allay this suspicion at the outset of a legitimate stop? (Or maybe they WERE stopped for being black…)
3. What is the policy for tasing? The typical hierarchy for the use of force in police departments used to be this:
|Table 1: Use-of-Force Continuum|
|Suspect resistance||Officer use of force|
|1. No resistance||1. Officer presence|
|2. Verbal noncompliance||2. Verbal commands|
|3. Passive resistance||3. Hands-on tactics, chemical spray|
|4. Active resistance||4. Intermediate weapons: baton, Taser, strikes, nondeadly force|
|5. Aggressive resistance||5. Intermediate weapons, intensified techniques, nondeadly force|
|6. Deadly-force resistance||6. Deadly force|
|(Adapted from the Orlando, Florida Police Department’s Resistance and Response Continuum)
After the introduction of more powerful electronic control devices, many departments changed their use-of-force directives for handling suspects who were only passively resisting the lawful orders of the officer, and increased the required level of resistance by suspects to warrant use of stun guns or tasers from passive resistance to active, physical resistance.
Table 2: Levels of Resistance Defined
|Passive Resistance||The subject fails to obey verbal direction, preventing the officer from taking lawful action.|
|Active Resistance||The subject’s actions are intended to facilitate an escape or prevent an arrest. The action is not likely to cause injury.|
|Aggressive Resistance||The subject has battered or is about to batter an officer, and the subject’s action is likely to cause injury.|
|Deadly-Force Resistance||The subject’s actions are likely to cause death or significant bodily harm to the officer or another person.|
|Adapted from the Orlando, Florida, Police Department’s Resistance and Response Continuum|
I don’t know what the Aurora police policy is, but certainly under the kinder, gentler, saner revised standards above, stunning Kelley was excessive. Police brutality is not an unfair description of what he experienced.
4. When Kelley reminded one of the officers that there were witnesses, the officer said, “It’s all on video, sweetheart.” Think about that. The officer either was certain that his actions were justified, or felt that he would not receive any sanctions for even if they were not. Or, in the alternative, he’s an idiot.
One way or the other, there is a training failure here.
5. It is troubling that even with this video, the officer still said that he fired the taser because he thought Kelley might have been going for a weapon. This is apparently the default “the dog ate my homework excuse”—or perhaps the “shot while trying to escape” line from prison movies is more apt— for police who know their use of force will be questioned. As a result, police who really did reasonable fear that they were in a life-threatening situation are assumed to be lying too.
6. Why is the ACLU intentionally escalating divisiveness and rhetoric with the snotty caption on the video, “Knew his rights, got tased anyway”? That tone is inappropriate, and impugns police generally by innuendo. That’s not professional, and it’s not helpful.
7. What are officers supposed to do when there is a report of a potentially dangerous man with a gun, and no description of him? This seems to me as exactly the kind of scenario that leads to the Ferguson effect, and passive policing. Why try to question anyone when the likelihood that any blacks stopped are going to be hostile and suspicious, and perhaps provoke an incident like this one? From the New York Times:
“Murder rates rose significantly in 25 of the nation’s 100 largest cities last year, according to an analysis by The New York Times of new data compiled from individual police departments.
The findings confirm a trend that was tracked recently in a study published by the National Institute of Justice. “The homicide increase in the nation’s large cities was real and nearly unprecedented,” wrote the study’s author, Richard Rosenfeld, a criminology professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis who explored homicide data in 56 large American cities.”
The Times went to great lengths not to attribute the increase to “passive policing,” while conservative sources saw confirmation of the theory that the nationwide vilification of police and presumption of misconduct and racism. Colin Kaepernick, recall, is protesting the National Anthem in part because he thinks the fact that police involved in shootings should be suspended without pay before any findings of malice or wrongdoing.
8. Does this seven-months-old episode from one city in Colorado with a peculiar set of circumstances prove that the country, as that renowned social critic and justice system expert asserts, “oppresses black people and people of color”?