Few aspects of policing attract more scrutiny than an officer’s use of force. And as people around the nation continue to voice concerns about the sometimes contentious relationship between citizens and law enforcement, it’s become clear that police and the policed often have drastically different interpretations of the same incidents.
In some cases, this disagreement may stem from an honest difference of opinion. Police violence — and violence in general — typically looks repulsive, whether you’re watching it unfold in person or on video. It regularly leads to questions about whether a situation truly called for the level of force used, and whether anyone’s civil rights were violated in the process. But when the question of what’s “excessive” is left to an internal review process that tends to give officers a great deal of leeway, what might appear improper to the average citizen is often found to be justified in the eyes of the law.
[This story includes videos that contain explicit language and graphic depictions of violence. They may be upsetting for some readers.]
A number of high-profile cases over the past few years suggest that something even more disturbing can happen when police are given the responsibility of self-reporting violence. The instances below offer clear evidence of cops — and in some cases, their superiors — attempting to sanitize, mischaracterize or simply lie about the use of force. They raise disquieting questions about what might have happened if videos of the incidents had never surfaced — and how many similar incidents never become known to the public.
“The shackles accidentally hit one of her arms.”
New Orleans police Officer Terrance Saulny was fired earlier this year after an internal investigation concluded that he had used “unauthorized force” in the 2014 incident captured in the above surveillance video. Saulny can be seen repeatedly striking a 16-year-old girl who was in a holding cell following an arrest. Saulny reportedly informed his supervisor immediately following the encounter, which left the girl with minor injuries, according to a police report. In a later interview with investigators, Saulny explained his decision to use force. “[Saulny] stated he felt threatened, so he just pushed her to the left,” investigators wrote,according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “He attempted to grab her arm and tried to put shackles on her and when she resisted by pulling away he tried grabbing her again and her arms went up and the shackles accidentally hit one of her arms.” Saulny’s attorney has said his client plans to appeal his termination.
“The officer ‘escorted [the suspect] to the floor.'”
The November 2013 incident seen above is now at the center of a federal civil rights lawsuit being filed by the victim, Alexis Acker, against the Colorado Springs Police Department. In the surveillance video, first obtained by the Colorado Springs Independent, a handcuffed Acker, then 19 and at a hospital for medical clearance following an arrest, is seen kicking Officer Tyler Walker, who responds by slamming her to the ground.
In the words of an officer who filed a police report on the incident, Walker “escorted Ms. Acker to the floor.” According to another officer’s report, he “rolled her out of the chair to the floor.” In his own report, Walker wrote that he “forcefully threw Ms. Acker … face down on the ground.”
He claimed that Acker was intoxicated and combative prior to arriving at the hospital, and said the kick was valid cause for him to respond with force. The lawsuit claims Acker sustained significant injuries from the takedown, including facial trauma, a concussion and problems with memory and cognitive function, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Walker is still employed by the Colorado Springs Police Department.
“A physical altercation ensued.”
In July 2014, a passing motorist filmed as California Highway Patrol Officer Daniel Andrew rained blows down on Marlene Pinnock, a 51-year-old grandmother who was walking along a freeway. A CHP incident summary of the incident claimed that Pinnock became “physically combative” when Andrew attempted to pull her away from traffic, at which time “a physical altercation ensued.”
In September, Andrew agreed to resign from the CHP. Pinnock accepted $1.5 million from the agency to settle the civil rights lawsuit she’d filed.
Officer “placed his arm around” a teen and tried to “console” him.
In the video above, first obtained by WFAA, Dallas police Officer Terigi Rossi is seen in October 2014 talking to a 14-year-old boy who, seemingly unbeknownst to Rossi, is recording the encounter on a cell phone. Rossi and his partner were responding to a 911 hang-up, which led to one woman, reportedly the boy’s stepmother, being briefly detained. Rossi can be heard trying to get information from the boy, whom he apparently considers uncooperative. At one point, Rossi leans in and grabs the teen, before verbally assaulting him. “If I were you, son, I’d shut the fuck up, cause I’ll break your fucking neck. You understand me?” Rossi says, later adding: “You’re just like your mother. You’re a piece of fucking shit.” According to WFAA, Rossi’s official police report claimed the boy had started to cry, and that Rossi had placed his arm around the boy to “console” him. The report didn’t mention his threat to the teen. Rossi later faced an internal investigation and described his remarks as a “verbal technique that I’ve used to try to calm down people or suspects in my career with no intention of ever meaning the words I say.” He also denied making false statements on his initial report. Rossi is still employed by the Dallas Police Department.
Officer hit suspect “several times with a closed right fist.”
In the video above, police in Inkster, Michigan, are seen beating 57-year-old Floyd Dent during a January traffic stop. Officer William Melendez, the cop seen pummeling Dent, later suggested in an official report that Dent looked like he was on drugs at the time and that he’d verbally threatened officers before the altercation. Melendez also claimed that he hit Dent “several times with a closed right fist” after Dent bit him on the arm. In this case, “several” means 16.
Melendez was fired in April from the Inkster and Highland Park police departments following an internal investigation of the incident. He is set to stand trial on felony charges of misconduct in office, assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder and a new count of assault by strangulation.
In May, Dent settled his suit with the city of Inkster for $1.4 million. He claims that the incident has left him with significant injuries and memory loss.