When Police Officers Commit Assault

by Jamison Koehler on May 26, 2010

It’s a little blurb on page two of today’s Washington Post sports page, so you know it’s not real news. It begins with a quote by the defendant’s public defender:  “It’s probable he consumed too much alcohol.”  Then the facts:  Some guy vomited on a police officer and the officer’s daughter at a Phillies-National game in Philadelphia.  Finally the news:  The defendant pled guilty to some unidentified offense.

Given the light tone of the blurb, you can assume the writer expects you to find this information interesting or even humorous.  Drinking too much and losing your lunch on a hapless police officer and his daughter.  Gross.  Disgusting.  Ha, ha, ha.

But what is interesting to me about the blurb is not the fact that the guy’s lawyer made an understatement.  It’s not that the police officer’s daughter was only 11 years old.  (Grosser?  More disgusting?)  It’s not that Philly fans drink too much and get rowdy at professional sporting events. We already know that.

What’s interesting to me about the blurb is the photograph that accompanies it.  In what is obviously a mug shot taken after his arrest, the defendant is pictured as a chubby, round-faced guy who looks to be no older than a teenager. And, with his left eye swollen shut, he has obviously been beaten up.

I have no idea who this guy is.  And I certainly wasn’t there at Citizens Bank Park when the whole thing happened.  Checking his name on the Internet, I find that there may have been more to the story than reported by the Post. From what I read, it certainly does not sound as if the guy is blameless. Hey, he may well have deserved what he got.

But I still cannot stop thinking about the guy’s swollen left eye.  How many mugshots have I now seen in which the subject looks out toward the camera with the confused look of a man who has just been beaten up and the cuts and bruises to prove it? How many young men I have encountered in a cramped, overheated interview room at the prison with missing teeth, gaping and oozing wounds, and a story of how they were beaten up – punched and kicked — by a group of overzealous police officers?  How many YouTube videos have we all seen of helpless citizens being victimized by law enforcement personnel?

I am not a bleeding heart, pacifistic, commie-loving liberal. I respect the police. I understand the dangers police officers subject themselves to during the course of duty. They run towards trouble when I want to run away.

But I have tried too many cases in which police misconduct has been twisted around into criminal charges against a client. As we used to say at the Philly PD’s office, the more serious the injuries on the client, the more serious the charges:  aggravated assault on a police officer, aggravated assault by a prisoner, resisting arrest, recklessly endangering another person, mayhem, and so forth.

I have also lost more of those cases than I would like to admit.  And, as always, it’s the ones you lose that stick with you. The problem is, no matter how many videos we see on YouTube, no matter how many times we see evidence to the contrary, we still want to believe in the goodness of all police officers.  So do many judges and juries.

So, yes, I too was grossed out by the thought of this guy’s vomit all over the poor police officer and his 11-year-old daughter.  And again, yes, maybe he deserved the whupping.  But I can’t help thinking about parents all over the ballpark taking their children to see a baseball game only to have them subjected first to the sight of the vomit and then to stand witness to this guy being beaten up.  Maybe next time they should watch the game on T.V.

4 Comments on “When Police Officers Commit Assault

  1. This may be little consolation, but brighter days are ahead, and there’s little the police can do about it. And by brighter, I mean for both honest police and those who are detained by them.

    My girlfriend recently got, as a graduation present, a new Flip HD video camer. It is about twice as thick as an iPhone and about as big. It shoots two hours of HD video and switches on in 1-2 seconds after you hit the power button.

    Psychologically, we like to think the police don’t commit crimes. We will hide that dirty truth behind closed doors, in shadows, in pixelated and grainy surveillance footage if need be.

    But as portable video cameras become even more popular, easier to carry, use and have better quality, judges and juries will soon find themselves face-to-face with high-quality footage of what REALLY happened.

    This will have a two-fold effect. As footage of police brutality becomes more apt to hit YouTube or another online services, the public relations issues that will surface among law enforcement higher-ups will bring downward pressure on the officers. Less beatings in the first place.

    Secondly, those officers who do choose to let their aggression get the better of them will more quickly be found out and removed from their position. The fewer bad apples in the force will spread to other areas, as the “good cops” will no longer have to turn a blind eye or worse to keep their jobs/status in the agency.

    And because I don’t think this comment is QUITE LONG ENOUGH … let me say this: if I was defending this guy, I’d do some internet searching for YouTube, blog or any other post I can find in reference to that particular day at the Phillies-National game. It’s not beyond belief that a random guy within view of the event has a blog, and he came home that night to make a post that said “Went to the Phillies game tonight, watched a guy get puked on, then the pukee got beaten and arrested.”

    To that random guy, he might have no idea the importance of what he saw, but to the chubby kid who drank too much, it could mean a fair trial.

  2. I read the article it said he was ‘hit’ as he was being subdued. But your post confuses me. If he deserves to be beat up, then what’s the problem? As far as the cops are concerned, they ALL deserve it.

  3. Yes, but I don’t disagree with it in the way that DA confidential does. He defends the police, which would be the reasonable and predictable thing for a DA to do (as I sit here and look at my old DA badge from years ago). I am confused by your post because I can’t figure out if you think its bad or good that this guy got hit squarely in the eye with such force that it looks like that while being ‘subdued’. I’d like to know what the other people looked like as well.

    So, on the one hand, it seems like you are saying its bad. But its not bad in this case since this guy deserved it. How do we figure out which is which?

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