On what was presumably a hot, sweltering night in the nation’s Texas’ capital, a senator’s epic filibuster temporarily derailed an abortion bill. This all went far from smoothly as time stamps were changed post-vote, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (whose pet legislation was being talked over) briefly threatened to have media members arrested for “inciting a riot” and a 74-year-old woman was arrested for assaulting an officer.
According to the Probable Cause Affidavit, the Lt. Governor order that the gallery be cleared and the Troopers were enforcing that order. When they got to Martha Northington and told her to leave, there was a problem.
What kind of “problem?” Well, the kind of problem posed by 74-year-old women who just don’t move as fast as the trooper thought she should. Here’s video of the incident.
According to the arrest affidavit, Northington resisted by grabbing her seat. Unfortunately for the Trooper, the scene was being videotaped. At 0:02 in the video, you can clearly see Northington reach down to pick up her purse and newspaper. Almost immediately after this the Trooper on her right grabs her arm and you hear Northington protest that he’s hurting her. You can see that the black Trooper is not concerned by her picking up the purse, but the white officer has a death grip on her right wrist.
She attempted to resist by grabbing the chair, not standing, and pulling back from me. We broke her hold of the chair and got her up and as I escorted her up the gallery steps Trooper Hall released her. I was escorting her by the arm up the steps by myself and she continued to try and pull away from me. At the top of the stairs, she spun and slapped my face with her open hand and told me to let her go. The intentional slap to the face by Northington was offensive and I was currently wearing a State Trooper uniform…At this point i spun her around and proceeded to handcuff her for the assault. While trying to handcuff her she continued to resist by pulling her arms and attempted to twist away from me…Ms. Northington was transported to Travis County SO without further incident…
As was already pointed out, Northington was gathering her belongings rather than holding on to her chair. In fact, it looks as if she’s voluntarily leaving, right up to the point that the trooper ups his aggression level.
At the 11-second mark, she does hit the trooper in the face, but with her purse (and that from an angle where she didn’t have much of a wind-up). But the officer refers to it as an “open hand slap,” something that sounds undeniably more threatening (and “offensive”) than “At the top of the stairs, the 74-year-old woman hit me with her purse…”
After hustling an obviously dangerous elderly woman out of the building, the trooper attempted to book her on a felony charge.
Northington was apparently originally charged with Assault on a Public Servant, a third degree felony, but the arraigning magistrate reduced the charges to Resisting Arrest and Assault by Contact, Class A and Class C misdemeanors, respectively.
Because Contempt of Cop has yet to be codified into our criminal statutes, the trooper allegedly drew a blank at first when filling out his report. But even the final reduced charges are ridiculous, especially the resisting arrest charge. If you’re going to charge someone with resisting arrest, it should logically follow that an arrest was already in progress.
OK, even if we give the trooper the benefit of the doubt, if she is resisting arrest, there has to be an underlying charge. What was she being arrested for in the first place?
Second, any assault on a peace officer is a felony, even if that is just by contact (i.e., an offensive touch)… Here, Northington supposedly slapped the trooper with an open hand. Yet the black trooper does not make a move to help the trooper who was just “assaulted” by Northington.
An assault charge should only cover actual threats to officer safety, rather than just be used to add additional charges to the arrest, one for every unapproved bit of contact between the arrestee and the officer. Even if it was technically assault, shouldn’t a trained officer be willing and able to “walk off” being hit by a woman’s swung purse, especially if the person swinging it is elderly?
Apparently not. Once you’ve overreacted, the only way to save face in the law enforcement world is to push forward, trumping up charges and rewriting the narrative. And if you think that might be problematic, don’t worry. The cleanup crew will be right behind you, ready to condemn the public for thinking bad thoughts about law enforcement.
In response to criticism, [DPS spokesperson Katherine] Cesinger wrote in a statement that troopers only took “actions they deemed appropriate” when responding to protesters that night.
“Our DPS troopers work every day to ensure that all visitors and staff at the Texas Capitol remain safe and that order is maintained,” Cesinger wrote. “It’s unfortunate that some find it is easy to pass judgment on the officers who are risking their lives every day to protect and serve Texas.”
The lesson is: because law enforcement members perform a dangerous but necessary job, they are never to be questioned or criticized for their tactics, actions or words.
That’s very simply a complete load of self-serving crap. The badges these officers wear aren’t a shield against criticism or permission slips to perform their jobs however they see fit. There are oaths to uphold, rights to protect and policies to follow, all of which seem to be ignored once someone triggers the very low threshold to unofficial “contempt of cop” charges. The statement from the DPS is profoundly wrongheaded and only serves to widen the gulf between law enforcement and the people they serve.