Last month, dashcam video of a 23-year-old (Victoria) Texas cop throwing a 76-year-old man to the ground and tasing him emerged, leading to plenty of outrage across the web. The imagined “crime” was the lack of an inspection sticker on the vehicle the elderly man was driving. Of course, had the officer known the law, he would have known that inspection stickers aren’t needed on vehicles with dealer plates — something that could have been confirmed by anyone inside the car dealership where the incident occurred.
Here’s the video:
As a side note, Scott Greenfield notes that this is a good example of why the Supreme Court’s recent decision to cut law enforcement officers additional slack is a bad idea. Thanks to its Heien v. North Carolina decision, stops and searches predicated on nonexistent laws are perfectly legal, thanks to a very fluid interpretation of the word “reasonable.”
Reasonable suspicion arises from the combination of an officer’s understanding of the facts and his understanding of the relevant law. The officer may be reasonably mistaken on either ground. Whether the facts turn out to be not what was thought, or the law turns out to be not what was thought, the result is the same: the facts are outside the scope of the law. There is no reason, under the text of the Fourth Amendment or our precedents, why this same result should be acceptable when reached by way of a reasonable mistake of fact, but not when reached by way of a similarly reasonable mistake of law.
The young cop didn’t understand the law, but he wasn’t about to let a citizen who did explain it to him. So, he shoved, tased and threw the uncooperative citizen to the ground. He had no legal reason to make this stop (the law he enforced wasn’t actually a law) but he was “reasonable” in his belief that every Texas vehicle should have an inspection sticker.
But is it a good idea to tase elderly men who won’t immediately kowtow to someone who clearly isn’t interested in hearing the “illegal” act he’s getting all excited about isn’t actually legal?Photography Is Not A Crime tried to find out.
[W]e figured it couldn’t take that long to read through the use of force policy, so we made a public records request, only to be told by the city’s legal department that releasing the policy “could impair an officer’s ability to arrest a suspect by placing individuals at an advantage in confrontations with police.”
This rationale is deployed far too frequently in order to keep law enforcement documents locked up. PINAC points out that other police departments have released use of force policies to the public and somehow managed to still effectively enforce the law. Why not the Victoria PD? Perhaps it felt the release of the document would give the 76-year-old Pete Vasquez an unfair advantage the next time he’s approached by an officer for a crime he didn’t commit. Can’t have the public redefining the terms of engagement by using the police officer’s own terms of engagement against him.
And it’s not as if though policies are followed closely or strictly enforced. Past abuses show that police officers frequently use more force than is necessary and rarely, if ever, suffer any long-term consequences for these actions.
Despite the department’s stupid refusal to release the policy, it has at least manned up about the young officer’s behavior.
Chief Craig has determined based on the evidence, that Officer Robinson violated three areas of policy and sustained allegations regarding violations of the following departmental policies.
1) Policy 0.216 – Conduct and Performance, Section 2.15
2) Policy 03.03 – Use of Force Section 1
3) Policy 0.0305- Arrest without a Warrant Section 3
Based on the findings of the administrative investigation, Nathaniel Robinson’s employment with the Victoria Police Department has been terminated.
Now that he’s been dismissed, Robinson won’t be in any hurry to explain why he felt it necessary to resort to violence over a “missing” (but not really, according to the actual law) inspection tag. Is this really the sort of crime where use of force policies need to come into play, especially when the perp is four times the age of the officer? I guess we’ll never know. The Victoria PD doesn’t want to talk about its policies. It did the right thing by dumping a dangerous officer, but its accountability doesn’t end there. If those being policed are going to develop any further understanding of the PD’s use of force, they need to have access to that document. Pretending the release will help perps escape cops is a cheap dodge.