[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Obviously I don’t have all of the information, but here is my personal opinion based on the videos released and the statements made to the media at this time.
Obviously this incident should have never escalated the way that it did. There is no doubt in my mind that this officer was tired of kids walking in his lawn. Anyone who owns a home in the path of a school deals with this problem. Kids throw trash, damage plants, and fences as they laugh and joke with their friends walking home. Apparently this officer has been complaining and trying to get them to stop for a long time, but he has not received any relief. I truly believe that he waited on them to get out of school and he made the decision to confront them aggressively. He allegedly called a girl a “cunt” as she walked across his grass. We did not hear him say that on video, but I believe that he did call her a derogatory name based on his demeanor and the fact that he was obviously upset. The young boy probably said something derogatory to the officer to defend the girl, but we don’t have video of that either. You may feel that it is horrible for a man to say that in general or specifically to a child, but as far as this situation is concerned, the name calling and cursing from both parties is irrelevant.
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Why did the officer pursue them after they walked passed his property? We don’t know for sure, but we can all safely guess that he was pissed and tired of telling the kids to stay out of his yard. He heard the kids cursing and talking back to him so he probably made the decision to pursue them. This officer was having an “I am the big bad police” moment and he decided to pursue them. The officer alleged that the boy said he would “shoot him” and that is why he pursued them. The boy claims that the officer pursued them because he was angry that they were in his yard. We don’t have video of the immediate exchange and that is obviously the most important exchange. It sounds like neither party will be able to prove who started the situation.
If the boy and his counsel are smart, they will probably say that the officer said threatening things to the boy and that is why he got into a skirmish with the officer, who continued to follow them after they passed his property. The officer is smart and knows that he shouldn’t make a citizen’s arrest for trespassing or any other minuscule offense because the kids pissed him off. There is no doubt in my mind that he wanted a reason to put his hands on the kid.
The boy is Latino and he does have a slight accent. The boy said that he told the officer that he was going to “sue him” and the officer claimed that he heard the boy say that he was going to “shoot him.” If you listen to the two of them argue about that, it is logical that a person could believe that the boy said “shoot” instead of “sue.” Regardless of who you believe, we can’t hear that initial comment to decide definitively for ourselves.
Obviously, the officer escalated the situation by pursuing the kids in the first place. He should have handled it differently. He could have recorded the kids in his lawn and reported it to the school or anything else besides walking after them. Even if the boy said that he would shoot the officer, the kids continued to walk away. How can the officer argue that he feared for his safety at that point? It is a stretch and that argument can be reasonably made, but it is my opinion that he did not fear for his safety even if he thought the boy may have said “shoot” instead of “sue.” He should have let the kids walk away since they already passed his home. Nothing good can result from one person approaching a group of people. That is a form of escalation because he knew he was outnumbered and it didn’t make any sense for him to pursue them.
If the officer heard the boy say that he was going to “shoot” him, there really isn’t anything that anyone can say about that. It would be difficult to prove otherwise.
California Penal Code 422 PC defines the crime of “criminal threats” (formerly known as terrorist threats).
A “criminal threat” is when you threaten to kill or physically harm someone and
1. that person is thereby placed in a state of reasonably sustained fear for his/her safety or for the safety of his/her immediate family,
2. the threat is specific and unequivocal and
3. you communicate the threat verbally, in writing, or via an electronically transmitted device.1
4. Criminal threats can be charged whether or not you have the ability to carry out the threat…and even if you don’t actually intend to execute the threat.2
As you can read, the officer now has a reason to enforce something against the boy. Do I believe that the officer actually believed that the boy would actually shoot him? No. It does not matter what a person believes. The only thing that matters is what a person can prove. The officer didn’t check the boy for a gun, which is the first thing that I would do if I thought someone had the ability to harm me. The boy said that the officer hit him in “the nuts” and maybe that was the officer trying to check the boy for weapons. Maybe the officer couldn’t check him because he had to watch all the other kids. I don’t know. Again, I think the cop was mad that the kids were in his lawn and he used the law to remedy his problem.
837. A private person may arrest another:
1. For a public offense committed or attempted in his presence.
2. When the person arrested has committed a felony, although not in his presence.
3. When a felony has been in fact committed, and he has reasonable cause for believing the person arrested to have committed it.
This is the California penal code and it clearly states that a citizen can arrest for a public offense committed in their presence. That is what the officer decided to do and he had the right to do so although we all know the real reason why he made the decision to do so.
Now that we have established that the officer has the right to do what he did, turn your attention to the other kids. When a crowd approaches and they are trying to tackle a person and throwing punches, there is nothing wrong with producing a gun in self-defense. It isn’t smart to wrestle with an individual with a gun in hand. A person generally can’t safely operate the gun and wrestle at the same time. If you watch the video, he has the gun in his left hand and he has the boy in his right hand. It appears that he tried to pull the boy over the bush with his left hand, even though he had his pistol in that same hand. Obviously, that isn’t a good idea. My law enforcement experience leads me to believe that the officer accidentally fired his weapon into the ground because he was wrestling with the boy and trying to handle the gun at the same time. I don’t think he had any intention to shoot the kids, he just wanted them to get back until the other officers arrived. He may have intended to shoot the kids as well, I don’t know. You can’t get a free pass for shooting a weapon with people around just because it was an accident. The officer knew that. Stating that he intentionally fired the gun will likely provide him with a better justification for his actions, even though his actions were a stretch. The officer’s attorney stated that the officer feared for his life. I know most people hate that statement because it can almost apply in any situation. The officer knows that he probably has a better defense to say that he intentionally fired his weapon because he feared for his life and that of his handicapped father who would not be able to escape the large group of teenagers who approached him aggressively. His attorney stated that the officer was hit in the face and he was bleeding as a result of the other teenagers who struck him.
Again, I believe that the officer handled this situation terribly, but it appears that he was still within the boundaries of the law. The teenagers felt like their friend was being “kidnapped” when he was actually being legally held until the uniformed officers arrived. They wanted the officer to leave their friend alone so they began to do what they felt they needed to do in order to retrieve their friend from the officer’s grip. As a result of the injury to his face, the officer knew he had a better chance of defense by saying that he intentionally fired his gun to defend himself and his father. It is permissible to produce a weapon against a group of people that have not been proven to be armed. There are also circumstances that it isn’t justified to produce a gun on a crowd of people. This was not that situation. The kids were swinging at him and approaching him. Regardless of how you feel about the overall situation, they still committed those actions. Officers/ people have been killed by getting punched in the head and collapsing to the ground. You may not agree with this, but it is true and logical.
Teenagers are annoying, but he could have handled the situation better. He is the adult and should have acted as such. He should not have pursued the kids in my opinion. I can’t imagine any circumstance where I would detain a kid in that situation while off-duty. Although he could legally do so, it just wasn’t necessary in my opinion. The officer totally escalated the situation by his actions. I understand why he produced his gun because he had already been assaulted and he would definitely be outnumbered if they all rushed him at the same time, which is what it appeared that the kids were getting ready to do. He should have let the boy go, but his ego would not allow him to do so. Although we can’t prove it, we all know the real reason he detained that boy was because he was pissed that they wouldn’t stay out of his lawn and because they exchanged words. I don’t believe that there will be enough evidence to charge the officer unless someone else produces evidence that will change the facts already known. There may be something administratively that the department can do to him, but I think the boy’s attorney will struggle to prove a different narrative based on the officer’s known actions and how they relate to the California Penal Code. I believe that the boy may be able to receive a settlement civilly, but I don’t think the officer will be charged criminally. Due to the officer’s behavior, I hope that the charges are dropped against the kids because I would hate for them to have a record, when a grown man contributed to the escalation of this incident.
An officer’s most powerful tool is his mouth. Officers have a large amount of discretion and it is absolutely necessary to effectively do police work. It infuriates citizens when officers enforce things that aren’t necessary and gives people a feeling of being powerless. If he went through the situation again, I don’t believe he would respond the same way. He caused protests, destruction of property and assaults as a result of his actions. As officers, we have to do a better job of communicating with people as opposed to ego tripping. We all were jerks as teenagers at some point in our lives and we all have teenage children or love someone else’s teenage children. We would not want anyone to handle our loved ones in that manner that he handled this child.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_video link=”https://youtu.be/vm6qEwDNQy8″][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Chelsea Whitaker is a Dallas Area Police Officer and member of the 2005 Baylor Bear Basketball Team that won the National Championship. Her desire is to give others #perspective in order to #bridgethegap. She is a frequent contributor to Law Officer.