Harvard Undergraduate Arrested, Sparking Allegations of Police Brutality

By Lucy Wang and Michael E. Xie, CRIMSON STAFF WRITERS

UPDATED: April 15, 2018 at 2:03 a.m.

Timeline of Student Arrest

A black Harvard College student was arrested Friday night after a physical confrontation with law enforcement for charges including indecent exposure, disorderly conduct, assault, and resisting arrest, according to information posted Saturday by the Cambridge Police Department.In response to the event, the Harvard Black Law Students Association posted a tweet calling the arrest of the student an incident of police brutality. BLSA also later posted a statement on its website calling CPD’s version of events—published on social media—”incorrect.” Members of BLSA, who wrote they videotaped the incident, wrote in the statement they saw the student, naked and unarmed, surrounded by at least three Cambridge Police Department officers.

In an unusual move, the police department tweeted a lengthy explanation of the arrest in direct response to BLSA’s tweet.

According to CPD’s tweet, officers arrived at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Waterhouse at around 9:09 p.m. last night in response to “a call from a woman who stated a male had thrown his clothes in her face” and six other reports of a “completely naked” man.

The CPD wrote in its tweet that officers “located and verbally engaged” the student, who was standing on a traffic island in the middle of Mass. Ave. Officers learned from the student’s acquaintances that he previously “took narcotics,” which “could have a hallucinogenic effect when ingested,” according to the tweet.

The officers and the student then engaged in a physical altercation, according to the tweet from the CPD.

“Numerous attempts made by officers to calm the male down were met with opposition and his hostility escalated while officers attempted to speak with him,” department officials wrote in the tweet. “After he was observed clinching both of his fists and started taking steps towards officers attempting to engage with the male, officers made the tactical decision to grab his legs and bring him to the ground.”

BLSA released a statement Saturday evening stating that the CPD’s accounting of events is “incorrect.” BLSA’s statement, signed by “Concerned Members of the Harvard Community,” states that a number of BLSA members and admitted Harvard students witnessed the incident April 13—an incident the statement calls “a brutal instance of police violence.”

“A naked, unarmed Black man, stood still on the median at the center of Massachusetts Avenue and Waterhouse Street,” the statement reads. “He was surrounded by at least four Cambridge Police Department (CPD) officers who, without provocation, lunged at him, tackled him and pinned him to the ground.”

“While on the ground, at least one officer repeatedly punched the student in his torso as he screamed for help,” the statement continues.

The CPD tweet states that three officers from Cambridge Police and another officer from Transit Police “were required to gain compliance from the male” and place him in handcuffs.

The student was subsequently transported to a local hospital for an evaluation, and, while in transit, spat “a mixture of blood and saliva at an EMT,” according to the tweet.

The BLSA statement notes that “a pool of blood remained on the pavement” as the ambulance departed.

The student is currently under arrest and is facing charges of “Indecent Exposure, Disorderly Conduct, Assault, Resisting Arrest, and Assault and Battery on an Ambulance Personnel,” according to the CPD tweet.

CPD spokesperson Jeremy Warnick elaborated on the department’s account of events in an emailed statement Saturday afternoon.

“Once on the ground, the individual party had pinned his arms under his body making it difficult for officers to handcuff him,” Warnick wrote. “Physical force was used to unpin his arms and gain compliance in order to handcuff the party.”

Late Saturday night, Warnick emailed The Crimson a copy of the full police report detailing the sequence of events Friday. The report elaborates on the account of events presented in the tweeted statement.

“We informed him that we were only there to help him and were concerned for his safety,” reads a portion of the report, written by one of the officers involved. “It was made very clear that our pleads were not going to be received.”

The reports adds that the student’s behavior became “aggressive, unreceptive, and intimidating almost immediately.”

After assessing that the student “could not be reasoned with,” one officer grabbed the student’s legs in order to bring him to the ground, according to the report.

Unable to pry the student’s “hands from underneath his body, I delivered approximately 5 strikes with a closed fists to the area of his stomach,” the report reads. “These seemed ineffective.”

In a statement sent to Cambridge City Councilors following the arrest, Cambridge Police Commissioner Branville G. Bard, Jr. described the arrest and specifically discussed the five punches the CPD officer delivered to the student’s stomach. Bard wrote he had received questions and concerns from “select members of the community” and that “the primary concern” centered on these punches.

“In a rapidly-evolving situation, as this was, the officers primary objective is to neutralize an incident to ensure the safety of the involved party(ies), officers, and members of the public,” Bard wrote. “To prevent the altercation from extending and leading to further injuries, particularly since the location of the engagement was next to a busy street with oncoming traffic, the officers utilized their discretion and struck the individual in the mid-section to gain his compliance and place him in handcuffs.”

The BLSA statement argues that other Harvard resources should have “been mobilized to come to the student’s aid prior to CPD getting involved.” In particular, the statement notes that Harvard University Health Services were contacted first—but that HUHS transferred the callers to CPD.

The department failed to “appropriately respond to the individual needs of the person concerned” by “resorting to violence unnecessarily and with impunity,” the statement reads. The statement further states that HUHS put the student “at great risk of being killed by the police” by choosing to involve CPD.

Harvard University Police Department spokesperson Steven G. Catalano said Saturday that HUPD was “aware” of the call.

“Officers responded, but when they arrived the suspect was already under arrest,” he said.

The BLSA statement makes several demands in the wake of the incident, including that the officers involved in the arrest be “investigated and held accountable” and that Harvard create an “internal crisis response team to support” affiliates that “does not involve CPD.” The statement calls on Harvard to offer “support from the school, fellow students and our instructors” to “put pressure on the CPD” to comply with BLSA’s demands.

The statement further demands that CPD respect the rights of civilians to record police conduct. CPD’s own policies recognize that individuals have the “right under the First Amendment to openly record police activity in public in a peaceful manner,” according to the statement.

“It was clear to our Harvard BLSA members that CPD officers were not following these procedures,” the statement reads. “But for our members’ persistence in defying police attempts to obstruct videotaping this incident, there would be no record.”

A Harvard Law student tweeted out what appeared to be a video record of the arrest over the weekend, but later deleted that video.

The BLSA statement calls CPD’s conduct on April 13 “unacceptable.”

“We are reminded, as soon-to-be-graduates of an elite law school that we cannot protect our bodies with our degrees—and that is why we also call our current students and alumni to embrace these demands as inclusive to all Black people, not just Harvardians,” the statement reads.

The statement notes the April 13 incident has “broader political implications” for students and for Bostonians. The statement explicitly states, though, that BLSA is not “contextualizing this event in the broader instances of police violence” out of respect for the privacy of the victim and his family “at this time.”

CPD plans to hold an “internal review” of the incident given “use of force was required to gain compliance” from the student to “avoid further injury to himself,” according to the police department’s tweet. The review will be conducted by the department’s leadership and by its Professional Standards unit, according to the tweet.

As a matter of policy, CPD conducts such internal reviews whenever officers use force.

“Because the police department carries an affirmative burden to demonstrate that the exercise of force was necessary and appropriate, the department must conduct a complete and thorough review of all such incidents,” the department’s 2011 policy reads.

Cambridge City Manager Louis A. DePasquale wrote in a statement to City Councillors over the weekend that he believes the outcome of the review will allow CPD to learn “lessons” from the arrest.

“I await the outcome of the internal review and analysis of this incident by the Professional Standards Unit,” DePasquale wrote. “I have great faith in Commissioner Bard and the men and women of Cambridge Police Department and I am confident that they will use this as an opportunity to reflect on lessons that can be learned from this incident.”

“I know that the Cambridge Police Department takes great pride in serving and protecting the City of Cambridge,” DePasquale wrote.

Roland S. Davis, the College’s associate dean for diversity and inclusion, addressed the incident in an email he sent to College students Saturday afternoon.

“Please know that our primary concern is for the student’s well-being and privacy, and that we will be working with them and their family to attend to these needs,” Davis said. “However, we are very much aware of the wider societal backdrop in which this has happened, and want to acknowledge that this incident may be upsetting to many of you.”

Davis held a gathering for College affiliates Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. in the Phillips Brooks House Parlor Room.

BLSA held a gathering in Wasserstein Hall at the Law School at 5:30 p.m. Saturday evening to discuss the incident.

Friday’s incident coincided with the night of Yardfest, the College’s annual outdoor spring concert.

University spokesperson Rachael Dane wrote in an emailed statement that the University is “aware of the forcible arrest of a Harvard student by the Cambridge police department last night.”

“We are concerned and gathering information about the facts and circumstances leading up to the arrest and understand that the city of Cambridge is reviewing the situation,” she wrote. “University officials are also working, as they always do, to care for and support our students.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: April 14, 2018

A previous version of this story indicated Harvard Black Law Students Association had released a public statement in response to the Cambridge Police Department’s lengthy explanatory tweet and quoted some erroneous information contained in that statement. In fact, the document originally referenced in this story was a draft letter being circulated internally by BLSA; the draft contained some incorrect information regarding CPD’s videotaping policies. CPD does not, in fact, have a policy requiring its officers to wear body cameras. After BLSA released its official statement Saturday evening, Crimson editors updated this article with the final statement.


Lucy Wang and Michael E. Xie, , Harvard Crimson, “Harvard Undergraduate Arrested, Sparking Allegations of Police Brutality”, https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2018/4/15/undergrad-arrested/


In 15 High-Profile Cases Involving Deaths of Blacks, One Officer Faces Prison Time

What happened in 15 recent cases in which blacks
were killed by the police or died in police custody:

5 cases
Indicted or charged
8 cases
Settlement reached
11 cases
Officer convicted/pleaded guilty
2 cases

Over the past three years, cases in which blacks were killed by the police or died in police custody have risen to national prominence and increased racial tensions, often prompting demonstrations around the country.

We tracked the outcomes of 15 high-profile deaths. In some of the cases, the police offered an explanation for their actions, but many viewers of raw footage concluded that their actions were unjustified.

Officers were indicted or charged in eight of the cases. A trial is pending in one case. One case resulted in a conviction and another led to a guilty plea and a prison sentence.

Cases in which an officer was indicted or charged:

Status of trial
Terence Crutcher
Tulsa, Okla.
No conviction

Officer found not guilty of manslaughter

Philando Castile
Falcon Heights, Minn.
Samuel DuBose
No conviction

Charges dropped after two mistrials

Sandra Bland
Prairie View, Tex.
No conviction

Perjury charge dropped

Freddie Gray
No conviction

Three acquitted, charges against three others dropped

Walter L. Scott
North Charleston, S.C.
Pleaded guilty

Officer sentenced to 20 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to civil rights charges

Akai Gurley

Officer convicted of manslaughter, judge later reduced to negligent homicide

Laquan McDonald
No trial yet
Note: The officer who arrested Ms. Bland was charged with perjury. None of the employees in the jail where she died were charged. In the DuBose case, the University of Cincinnati settlement also includes an on-campus memorial to Mr. DuBose, college educations for his 12 children and an apology from the university’s president.

After a mistrial for murder or voluntary manslaughter charges in December 2016, Michael T. Slager, the North Charleston, S.C., officer who fatally shot Walter L. Scott in the back as Mr. Scott was running away, pleaded guilty to civil rights charges in May. He was later sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Peter Liang was convicted of manslaughter after Akai Gurley was killed by a ricocheting bullet in a dark stairwell of a Brooklyn housing project. The judge later reduced the conviction to criminally negligent homicide.

After two mistrials, Cincinnati’s top prosecutor said in July that he would drop charges against a former University of Cincinnati police officer, Ray Tensing, who fatally shot Samuel DuBose in 2015 during a traffic stop. A judge later dropped the charges.

In May, Officer Betty Jo Shelby was found not guilty of first-degree manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black driver, in Tulsa, Okla.

In seven cases, no officers were charged, and may never be. For example, in the case of Keith L. Scott, 43, who was shot during a confrontation with the police in the parking lot of his apartment complex in Charlotte, N.C., the prosecutor decided not to charge Officer Brentley Vinson, saying that the officer’s use of deadly force was justified.

In another case, Timothy Loehmann, the officer who fatally shot Tamir Rice in Cleveland, was never criminally charged in the death of the 12-year-old boy. But two and a half years after the shooting, Mr. Loehmann was fired for providing false information when he had applied for the job.

Cases in which officers have not been charged:

Keith Lamont Scott
Charlotte, N.C.
Paul O’Neal
Alton B. Sterling
Baton Rouge, La.
Christian Taylor
Arlington, Tex.
Tamir Rice
Michael Brown
Ferguson, Mo.
Eric Garner
Staten Island

“Most police shootings are found to be legally justified,” said Philip M. Stinson, an associate professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University and a former police officer who tracks police crime.

“Under the relevant Supreme Court case law,” Mr. Stinson said, “if an officer has a reasonable apprehension of an imminent threat of serious bodily injury or deadly force being imposed against the officer or somebody else, then they’re justified in using deadly force.”

While criminal convictions are uncommon, many families of those who died have agreed to settlements of $850,000 to $6.5 million.

Bill Maher: We Need to Stop Saying Most Cops Are Good Until There’s More Evidence

Bill Maher suggested there should be a movement for people who have been victims of police brutality after a discussion on his show about police brutality.

During a segment on HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher, Maher called out abusive police officers and the people who protect him on Friday.

“We need to stop saying most cops are good like we know that to be true,” Maher said. “I hope it’s true, but I need some evidence, unlike cops.”

The HBO show host continued and said the violence exposed by the people who post the videos on social media is a problem. He questioned the kindness of police and questioned why there are so many body cam footage and other videos of them “being bad.”

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Bill Maher attends the Los Angeles Premiere of LBJ at ArcLight Hollywood on October 24, 2017 in Hollywood, California. During a segment on his show HBO Real Time with Bill Maher Friday night, Maher called out abusive police officers in viral videos of police brutality and slammed other officers for not reporting them. Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Electric Entertainment

“The bad ones, not the good ones. Problem is we don’t really know what that percentage is. That’s the question I’m asking tonight – if so many cops are good why are there so many videos of them being bad?” Maher questioned.

Maher said “the blue line stuff has got to go away” because police officers don’t often report abuse of fellow officers. One example he used was the viral video that surfaced earlier this month of a young woman who was beaten by cops while she was at a beach on New Jersey.

“Just in the last month we’ve seen ‘just a few bad ones’ beating the suntan lotion off a skinny girl in a bikini, ‘completely atypical officers’ mercilessly wailing on a homeless guy in Oregon and ‘totally non-representative policeman’ beating a black man in Arizona,” Maher said. “That’s a lot of videos of guys who barely exist doing shit that hardly ever happens.”

The HBO host suggested there should be a “#MeToo movement for the police,” for the amount of police brutality videos that keep surfacing the internet.

“We need a #MeToo movement for the police. If Garrison Keillor has to go away for putting his hand on a woman’s back, perhaps we should decide what should happen when two men pin a woman down in the sand and punch her in the face,” Maher said.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>We need a <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/MeToo?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#MeToo</a&gt; movement for the police. If Garrison Keillor has to go away for putting his hand on a woman’s back, perhaps we should decide what should happen when two men pin a woman down in the sand and punch her in the face.” – <a href=”https://twitter.com/billmaher?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@BillMaher</a&gt; <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/RealTime?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#RealTime</a&gt; <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/BlueToo?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#BlueToo</a&gt; <a href=”https://t.co/FB5tVBCWag”>pic.twitter.com/FB5tVBCWag</a></p>&mdash; Real Time (@RealTimers) <a href=”https://twitter.com/RealTimers/status/1007818666295955456?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>June 16, 2018</a></blockquote>

Maher also pointed out that this was the reason NFL players are taking a knee, not because they did not like the anthem itself. He joked that if anyone wanted to become a police officer, they should not expect for them to be nice.

“If you expect nice, don’t be a cop,” Maher said. “Be a Mountie. Police work is like proctology, assholes come with the job. It doesn’t give you the right to abuse people. You’re a cop, not a flight attendant.”

Maria Perez, , newsweek.com, “Bill Maher: We Need to Stop Saying Most Cops Are Good Until There’s More Evidence”, http://www.newsweek.com/bill-maher-police-brutality-hbo-real-time-bill-maher-980186

Civil rights leader suing NYPD, alleging police brutality during Manhattan march


A prominent civil rights leader is demanding justice after he says police went to far in what ended up being a violent arrest, and he believes video of the incident supports his claim.

Now, Walter ‘Hawk’ Newsome is suing New York City and the NYPD, and he wants those involved held accountable.

The claims of police brutality stem from a Black Lives Matter protest back in March on the Upper West Side.

Video shows one officer using his bicycle to subdue Newsome, while another is seen punching him twice. It is unclear exactly what led up to the violent confrontation, but Newsome insists the protest was peaceful.

“I was hit several times with a metal mountain bike, pushed into my chest, pushed into my neck, and hit in my groin with it,” Newsome said while announcing his lawsuit Friday. “I was punched in my head several times. I was slammed to the ground. A bike was thrown on top of me. From what I saw later in video, there was an officer who had his knee on the back of my skull.”

Other officers quickly formed a perimeter, obstructing the view of whatever transpired next.

“I thought they were going to kill him, they way that they were handling him,” said Nupol Kiazolu, with Black Lives Matter. “They were beating him, treating him like an animal, and I was just freaking out.”

Newsome said he suffered shoulder and back injuries during the arrest. He was charged with disorderly conduct and obstructing governmental administration.

The NYPD has not commented on the case.


Jim Dolan, “Civil rights leader suing NYPD, alleging police brutality during Manhattan march”, http://abc7ny.com/civil-rights-leader-suing-nypd-alleging-police-brutality/3606849/

At Least One Judge In Brooklyn Knows How To Stop Police Brutality

He’ll probably get smacked down by the Supreme Court though.

Two things need to happen to start the process of reducing police brutality. Well, three things, but “having police officers who are not racist” doesn’t seem like a thing worth hoping for. So, given the immutable dastardly makeup of our current police forces, two legal changes could bring them to heel: changing the subjective standard of reasonableness to a fact-based inquiry, and piercing the veil of qualified immunity.

I’ve discussed before the problem with cops who “fear for their life.” I think we should live in a world where the cops have to be reasonable in fact. It’s not enough to “think” you have a gun, you better actually have a gun before they start shooting, otherwise the cop should go to jail.

But for those who have never been slammed into the hood of their car, as I have, or represented someone who has, qualified immunity can seem a little trickier. It is the cops’ “get out of jail free” card. Even if agents of the state can be shown to have acted in violation of your Constitutional rights, qualified immunity says that they cannot be held accountable, unless they violate a “clearly established” law.

For reasons passing understanding, things like beating you or shooting you, do not count as “clearly established” violations.

The Supreme Court, both parties, have eagerly expanded the scope of qualified immunity in recent years. This doctrine makes the Constitution nearly unenforceable, after the fact. Why would an officer bother to get a warrant if he and his department can’t ever be held liable for failure to act within the strictures of the Fourth Amendment?

Well, Judge Jack Weinstein of the Eastern District of New York has had about enough of that.

In 2014, NYPD responded to a 911 call of child abuse. The call was unsubstantiated (and later found to be fabricated). A man, Larry Thompson, answered the door when the cops arrived. They asked to come in, he asked to see a warrant. They didn’t have one. Instead, they busted in his door, and started beating and kicking him. Judge Weinstein decided that the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity. From The New York Law Journal:

Qualified immunity has recently “come under attack” as being too protective of police officers and standing at odds with the original intent of Section 1983 of the federal civil rights statute, U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein of the Eastern District of New York said.

“The law, it is suggested, must return to a state where some effective remedy is available for serious infringement of constitutional rights,” Weinstein said.
Weinstein said he finds the U.S. Supreme Court’s expansion of the doctrine in police brutality cases “particularly troubling” and that it protects “all but the plainly incompetent.”

Cops will undoubtedly fight the ruling until they can get an appellate court to give them back their right to ignore the Constitution. They’ll take it right to the Supreme Court, on which sits an illegitimate 9th justice hand picked by conservative forces. Cops cannot afford for the veil of qualified immunity to be pierced, because then citizens would have a way to make them pay for their brutality.

I don’t think Judge Weinstein will win this battle, but it is the fight worth having. Getting at qualified immunity is a key want to stop the terror dispensed by American police officers.


Elie Mystal, Jun 12, 2018, “At Least One Judge In Brooklyn Knows How To Stop Police Brutality”, https://abovethelaw.com/2018/06/at-least-one-judge-in-brooklyn-knows-how-to-stop-police-brutality/

‘They Laughed’: Man Details Alleged Police Brutality in Mesa


Jose Conde says cops beat him, then mocked him during his January arrest
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 15, 2018 8:44 AM CDT

Jose Luis Conde speaks to the media at his attorney’s office in Phoenix on Thursday.   (AP Photo/Terry Tang)

(Newser) – “This is no laughing matter.” So said a 23-year-old Arizona man at a Thursday presser in which he detailed his January arrest by the Mesa Police Department, the Arizona Republic reports. Per CNN, Jose Conde says on Jan. 28 he was searched, then hurled to the ground, “heaved into a wall,” stun-gunned, and “punched over and over by multiple cops. I was gouged in the eye and I was hit in the head with a massive police flashlight.” And then, “they laughed at me while I lay in a pool of my own blood barely conscious.” A police bodycam video has now emerged from the night Conde was arrested, after the car he was a passenger in was pulled over for not having its headlights on. Conde is seen stepping out of the car in the video, which is when the confrontation with the cops began.

As Conde screams, an officer is seen punching him. In a later video taken at the hospital, an officer can be heard saying to a bloodied Conde, “Bless his little heart. Aww. Man up.” Conde’s videos come on the heels of two others involving Mesa officers apparently using force: one in the case of a 15-year-old boy, and one in the case of Robert Johnson, who was arrested in May. Charges against Johnson have since been dropped. In Conde’s case, the police report says he resisted arrest and threw swings at an officer who found cocaine in his sock. Police Chief Ramon Batista says his department is reviewing the case and has called for independent investigations, but that “simply put, the tape released … by media outlets does not tell the full story concerning this arrest.” Conde, who was charged with narcotics possession, escape, resisting arrest, and aggravated assault on police, goes on trial in July.


Jenn Gidman, Jun 15, 2018, Newser.com, “They Laughed’: Man Details Alleged Police Brutality in Mesa”, http://www.newser.com/story/260668/mesa-cops-under-fire-again-for-alleged-police-brutality.html

A New Law to Reduce Deadly Police Shootings



California lawmakers want to raise the legal threshold for officers’ use of lethal force. Will the idea catch on across America?

Stephon Clark’s encounter with Sacramento police officers two weeks ago lasted only about 20 seconds. Body-camera footage shows a frantic, tense scene: near-total darkness, a brief chase into a backyard, the overlapping din of officers’ barked instructions. Neither of the two cops identifies themselves as police, even as one of them shouts, “Show me your hands! Gun, gun, gun” Then they open fire on the 22-year-old man.

Clark did not have a gun. He died in his own backyard.

In its initial statement, Sacramento police said “the suspect turned and advanced towards the officers while holding an object which was extended in front of him. The officers believed the suspect was pointing a firearm at them. Fearing for their safety, the officers fired their duty weapons striking the suspect multiple times.”

Legally, this justification for deadly police shootings—that the cops’ feared for their safety—has consistently passed muster, in California and elsewhere. But in the wake of Clark’s death, which has sparked protests in Sacramento, state Democratic lawmakers have proposed major legislation to curtail such broad discretion for police. If the Police Accountability and Community Protection Act becomes law, it would be the first of its kind to raise the legal threshold for when officers can use deadly force and require police to use non-lethal options first. The American Civil Liberties Union and groups aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement support the legislation.

While a few states, such as Delaware and Tennessee, only allow officers to use deadly force “if all other reasonable means of apprehension have been exhausted,” most states only require that the use of force be “objectively reasonable,” a legal standard articulated by the Supreme Court in the 1989 case Graham v. Connor. That threshold almost always benefits the police, since judges and juries tend to be extremely deferential when assessing whether an officer was acting reasonably in the heat of the moment.

California’s current law on use of force dates back to 1872 and allows “all necessary means to effect the arrest,” although the state uses the Graham “reasonableness” standard in practice. The “necessity” standard being proposed by California lawmakers would rework that legal calculus to be less deferential, only allowing officers to use deadly force to prevent imminent physical injury. Otherwise, police would be required to use verbal warnings, Tasers, and other de-escalation tactics to defuse a situation before resorting to more lethal methods.

“We’re not saying officers can never use deadly force. I want to stress that,” Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, who co-wrote the proposed legislation, told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday. “Deadly force can be used, but only when it is completely necessary.”

The necessity requirement would be a major departure from American police practice, which typically defers to officers’ judgment in volatile situations. “Under the current standard, if there’s a threat, an officer can use deadly force even if there were alternatives to using deadly force,” Lizzie Buchen, a legislative advocate at the ACLU of California, told me. “This would shift [the legal standard] so that if an officer’s feeling a threat, and there are alternatives to deadly use of force, then they need to use those first.”

Unlike standards in Delaware and Tennessee, the legislation would also take into account whether officers placed themselves in unjustified danger before using deadly force. “Under current law, if an officer jumps in front of a moving vehicle, they can legally kill the driver because now they’re suddenly in harm’s way,” Buchen explained. “What this law would say is that that officer needs to be held accountable for creating the necessity of killing the driver.”

The Supreme Court often gives American police officers broad leeway in determining when they can use lethal force in civil lawsuits, although states can set even higher legal standards in criminal cases. The high court first addressed the issue in Tennessee v. Garner in 1985. The case arose from the 1974 death of Edward Garner, a 15-year-old black teenager who allegedly broke into a Memphis home and stole a wallet containing $10. A local police officer called by neighbors found Garner behind the house, who then tried to flee by jumping over a six-foot fence. The officer ordered him to halt and then shot Garner in the back of the head.

The justices ruled that the officer had gone too far. “It is no doubt unfortunate when a suspect who is in sight escapes, but the fact that the police arrive a little late or are a little slower afoot does not always justify killing the suspect,” Justice Byron White wrote for the court. “A police officer may not seize an unarmed, non-dangerous suspect by shooting him dead.” However, the justices left the door open to using lethal force if the officer believed the suspect would pose a threat to others.

Upon revisiting the issue in Graham, in 1989, the Supreme Court established what’s known as the “objective reasonableness” standard when weighing excessive-force claims. The justices rejected tests of intent or malice to assess whether an officer’s actions violated the Fourth Amendment, arguing they were too subjective. Instead, they established a high threshold for civil lawsuits by placing great value on an officer’s instincts in the heat of the moment.

“The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments—in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving—about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation,” Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote for the majority.

Graham dealt with civil lawsuits against officers, but most states have also adopted the “objectively reasonable” standard for criminal prosecutions. The phrase rose to prominence after the 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. A grand jury declined to indict Wilson, and a year after the killing, the Justice Department concluded that the multiple shots Wilson fired “were not objectively unreasonable uses of force” under federal law.

A Cleveland grand jury also declined to indict a white police officer who had fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice in a public park in 2015. Rice had been playing with a toy gun when the officer and his partner pulled up and shot him within a few seconds. Prosecutors gave jurors a report prepared by independent experts that concluded “that Officer [Timothy] Loehmann’s belief that Rice posed a threat of serious physical harm or death was objectively reasonable as was his response to that perceived threat.”

Dr. Bennet Omalu, a renowned forensic pathologist, stands by a diagram showing the results of his autopsy of Stephon Clark during a news conference on March 30. The independent autopsy showed that Clark was shot eight times. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In the summer of 2016, a 911 caller in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, claimed he had been threatened by a man selling CDs outside a convenience store. Two officers arrived, found 37-year-old Alton Sterling selling CDs outside, and shot and killed him after a brief struggle during a 90-second encounter. Body-cam footage from one of the officers doesn’t provide a clear visual account of what happened, but the audio captures Sterling asking “what did I do?” as officers scream instructions at him.

Louisiana prosecutors ultimately declined to prosecute the officers. The Justice Department also closed its investigation without bringing civil-rights charges, citing the “objectively reasonable” standard and the legal threshold to prove intent. “It is not enough to show that the officer made a mistake, acted negligently, acted by accident or mistake, or even exercised bad judgment,” the department concluded in 2017. “Although Sterling’s death is tragic, the evidence does not meet these substantial evidentiary requirements.”

California’s proposed bill stands a chance of becoming law, as the state legislature and governor’s office are both controlled by Democrats. But the legislation will meet stiff resistance from police unions, which traditionally resist stricter controls on when their members can use force against suspects. Craig Lally, a union president for rank-and-file cops in Los Angeles, told the Los Angeles Times that the bill “will either get cops killed or allow criminals to terrorize our streets unchecked.”

California is often a national leader in progressive legislation, so it’s not hard to imagine that successful implementation there could inspire Democratic-led legislatures in other states to consider a “necessity” threshold. Changing legal standards like these would also alter how police departments handle disciplinary complaints and training for new officers, effectively transforming California into something of an experiment for a new way of policing.

“This would certainly be unique,” Buchen said. “There’s no other state that has a state law with this kind of protection for civilians.”


Matt Ford, A New Law to Reduce Deadly Police Shootings“, https://newrepublic.com/article/147760/new-law-reduce-deadly-police-shootings

Supreme Court Deals Major Blow to Fight Against Police Brutality

Anne Branigin,


In a decision handed down Monday, the Supreme Court made it even more difficult for victims of police violence to bring action against police officers who use excessive force.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, the high court ruled in favor of an Arizona police officer who shot a woman outside her home because she was carrying a knife. In doing so, the Times notes, the court “effectively advises courts to rely more heavily on the officer’s view of such incidents, rather than the victims.”

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were the lone dissenters in the ruling, with Sotomayor delivering an impassioned opinion. Wrote Sotomayor about the court’s decision:

Its decision is not just wrong on the law; it also sends an alarming signal to law enforcement officers and the public. It tells officers that they can shoot first and think later, and it tells the public that palpably unreasonable conduct will go unpunished.

The case stems from a 2010 incident in which Tucson, Ariz., police were called to do a welfare check on a home after a neighbor called to report a woman acting erratically and hacking at a tree with a knife.

According to the New York Times, when officers arrived, they encountered Sharon Chadwick standing in the home’s driveway. Moments later, Amy Hughes came out of the house, holding a kitchen knife.

Officers weren’t aware at the time that Hughes and Chadwick were roommates. Hughes stopped about 6 feet from Chadwick, “not moving, [and she] spoke calmly, held the knife at her side and made no aggressive movements,” the Times reports. Chadwick herself later said that she didn’t feel threatened by Hughes, who seemed composed.

Nevertheless, police drew their weapons and ordered Hughes to drop the knife. When she didn’t (the Times notes that it’s not clear whether Hughes heard the officers’ commands), she was shot four times by Officer Andrew Kisela.

Hughes survived and sued the officer for excessive force. The Supreme Court decision, however, ultimately found that Kisela was entitled to “qualified immunity,” meaning that he was protected from being sued because Hughes couldn’t cite a similar case in which the officer’s actions were deemed unconstitutionally excessive.

In other words, unless a court finds a specific course of action—shooting a person in his or her driveway while that person is holding a knife, for example—to be unconstitutional, cops cannot be sued for taking those actions.

“Police officers are entitled to qualified immunity unless existing precedent squarely governs the specific facts at issue,” the court wrote.

Sotomayor, in her dissent, wrote that the court’s decision was “one-sided” and transformed qualified immunity into “an absolute shield for law enforcement officers.”

This, she wrote, was in keeping with a disturbing trend at the high court. In her opinion, Sotomayor included the following 2015 quote from former U.S. Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, who died last week: “Nearly all of the Supreme Court’s qualified immunity cases come out the same way—by finding immunity for the officials.”


Anne Branigin, , theroot.com, “Supreme Court Deals Major Blow to Fight Against Police Brutality”, https://www.theroot.com/supreme-court-deals-major-blow-to-fight-against-police-1824289532

‘At first glance this looks like a mistake’: Video shows Arizona officers beating unarmed man

June 6

The Mesa Police Department released surveillance video on June 6 that shows three officers beating an unarmed man in the hallway of an apartment building.

Four police officers from a Phoenix suburb have been put on paid administrative leave after video showed them beating an unarmed man last month, the Mesa Police Department said.

On Tuesday, the department released a 15-minute video of the incident, which took place May 23, in an effort to be transparent after recent high-profile cases where its officers’ use of force was questioned.

The footage shows four men in uniform frisking a man in a gray shirt as he stands near a railing on the upper floor of an apartment complex, holding a phone to his ear. The officers appear to give direction to the man — later identified as 33-year-old Robert Johnson — at which point he walks toward a wall.

Moments later, the officers have Johnson backed up into a corner near an elevator, then take him down. Johnson does not appear to resist. In the video, at least two officers are shown punching Johnson several times in the head; one officer pummels him on the left side of his face five times in rapid succession, before landing a final right hook that causes Johnson to slump down to the ground.

While this is happening, the elevator door opens and two more officers emerge and surround Johnson.

Mesa Police Chief Ramon Batista told several local news outlets Tuesday night that he first became aware of the video after a civilian reported it to him about a week after the incident, and that four of the officers involved were placed on leave immediately pending an investigation. He did not identify the officers placed on leave or specify whether the others in the video were also under investigation.

The officers had been responding to a call about a woman in distress and found Johnson and 20-year-old Erick Reyes, Batista told the Arizona Republic. While police were questioning Reyes, they asked Johnson to stay behind; the incident escalated after Johnson didn’t sit down when he was told, he added.

“When the person didn’t sit down, our officers then engaged in use of force to make him sit down,” Batista told the newspaper. “I don’t feel that our officers were at their best. I don’t feel that this situation needed to go in the way that it went.”

Johnson was arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct and hindering, and Reyes was arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct and possessing drug paraphernalia, the Republic reported.

The video released Tuesday was recorded by a surveillance camera in the apartment complex and does not contain audio. Mesa police have not released any body-camera video that might also have been recorded.

Advocates for Johnson blasted the officers’ actions, as well as what they called “the culture of violence at the Mesa Police Department,” in a statement released Tuesday night by pastor Andre Miller and attorneys Benjamin Taylor and Joel Robbins. They said Johnson had been cooperative and following police instructions when officers began assaulting him — and that the incident would have gone unnoticed if surveillance cameras had not recorded video.

“We hope and pray that the Mesa Police Department will accept responsibility for the misconduct of these officers,” the statement read. “Mesa must take concrete steps to ensure that culpable officers are disciplined, retrained, or dismissed. The Mesa Police Department must develop a law enforcement culture that meets community and constitutional norms and ensures that police and citizens go home safely after police interactions.”

Mesa City Council member Jeremy Whittaker said the video was “appalling” at first glance.

“It would be irresponsible of me to convict these officers in the court of public opinion before they are guaranteed their constitutional right to a fair trial as I understand there is a criminal investigation,” Whittaker wrote. “I am eager for due process to take place. We hired Chief Batista last year to focus on making sure our police department is fairly serving the public. Leadership change takes time and I have full faith he is focusing on the issues that plague our community.”

The Mesa Police Department was thrust into the national spotlight recently after a high-profile incident involving questionable use of force. In December, former Mesa police officer Philip Brailsford was acquitted of second-degree murder charges in the January 2016 shooting of Daniel Shaver. After the ruling, a judge released graphic video from Brailsford’s body camera that showed Shaver sobbing, crawling on his hands and knees and begging for his life in the moments before Brailsford shot him multiple times.

In February, the department was also criticized after body-camera footage showed Mesa police violently taking down an 84-year-old grandmother, causing bruises and a black eye.

On Tuesday, Batista said he had instituted new policy that would prohibit officers from striking a person’s face or head unless that person is fighting them.

“This is no way represents the whole work that is done every day,” Batista told 12 News, of the newly released video. “They’re human beings. Certainly, at first glance this looks like a mistake. And it doesn’t look right and it’s my job — it’s our job — to collectively investigate and find the answers to this.”

June 6, The Washington Post, “‘At first glance this looks like a mistake’: Video shows Arizona officers beating unarmed man”