Internet Videos Expose the Dark Side of the Badge

Is it just Youtube or are cops just more cruel today? It seems like videos are popping up once a week showing downright sadistic and cruel law enforcement officials abusing, bullying and berating citizens. This month we’ve not only seen the Stark County Sheriff’s Department r

Is it just YouTube or are cops just more cruel today?

It seems like videos are popping up once a week showing downright sadistic and cruel law enforcement officials abusing, bullying and berating citizens.

This month, we’ve not only seen the Stark County Sheriff’s Department ripping the clothes off a woman in a jail cell in Ohio, but a Hillsborough County detention officer dumping a quadriplegic man on the floor from his wheelchair in Florida.

Last week, a Baltimore police officer was suspended after a video surfaced on the Internet, showing him grabbing a 14-year-old boy in a headlock and slamming him to the ground.

Officer Salvatore Rivieri, who outweighed the boy by at least 150 pounds, spent several minutes berating and threatening the boy. He also confiscated his skateboard. The boy’s crime: he was skateboarding in the wrong area.

We’re not talking violent criminals here.

In the case of Steffey Hope, the woman who had her clothes ripped off, she was actually the victim in an assault case, but ended up getting arrested on disorderly conduct charges.

Perhaps she was distraught when the deputy arrived, but considering she just had a patch of her hair ripped out by her cousin, who could really blame her?

And in the case of Brian Sterner, the quadriplegic, detention officer Charlette Marshall-Jones ended up spending one night in jail on a felony count of abuse of a disabled person.

But even then, the circumstances of his arrest are extremely questionable. I have yet to read an article that fully addressed the actual arrest, even though there are currently more than a thousand articles on the Internet of the incident (no, I did not read them all but most are AP wire stories).

Tampa police arrested him on Jan. 29th on a warrant for fleeing an officer. But that warrant stems from an incident on Oct. 25 where police actually stopped Sterner and wrote him a citation. They even went as far as testing his blood for drugs.

The following is from the St. Petersburg Times:

His Jan. 29 arrest was on a charge of fleeing and attempting to elude law enforcement officers, which apparently stemmed from a traffic stop three months earlier.

Sterner was driving a 2005 silver Mini Cooper fitted with hand pedals Oct. 25 when Tampa police officers on patrol in Ybor City saw him waving his arms and shaking his head from side to side as if dancing, police say.

He had been driving 5 mph in a 30 mph zone. But police lost sight of him until another officer spotted him at Florida Avenue and Columbus Drive. Their reports noted that he made “foolish” statements.

“Although I did not detect an odor of an alcoholic beverage emitting from Sterner’s breath, based on his irrational behavior, I suspected the possibility he was under the influence of some type of illegal substance,” wrote Tampa police Officer Peter Charbonneau.

Sterner allowed police to take a blood sample. No illegal drugs were found, police reported. But he was still arrested on a charge of fleeing law enforcement officers.

Unfortunately, the reporters (there are actually four reporters that contributed to this article) fail to report what were the officer’s definition of “foolish” statements. As far as I can see, foolish statements are protected under the First Amendment.

The article states that Sterner allowed the officers to take a blood sample, but of course it doesn’t say whether this was done at the site of the traffic stop or did Sterner have to accompany the cops to another location.

And it doesn’t explain why cops waited three months to issue a warrant for fleeing an officer. At 5 mph.

And the other thing that strikes me is that although police spotted him in Ybor City driving 5 pm in a 30 mph zone, waving his arms and shaking his head as if he were dancing (as if you’ve never done that before), there is no clear indication that they actually ordered him to stop.

So here we have a disabled man getting arrested under questionable circumstances three months after it actually happened, only to have a detention officer dump him from his wheelchair.

Her defense? She thought he was faking not being able to walk. Never mind the fact that the car in which he allegedly fled from officers – at 5 mph – was specially equipped with hand controls.

Thankfully, Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee had the common sense to condemn the action and publicly apologize to Sterner.

Unfortunately, Stark County Sheriff Timothy Swanson doesn’t have that much sense. He keeps claiming that his deputies are innocent, even though departmental policy forbids male deputies from strip searching female inmates.

His defense? It wasn’t a strip search.

He’s actually right. It was more of a rape. A “rape without penetration” as Hope’s husband put it.

The Baltimore Police Commissioner is reportedly “disappointed” in officer Rivieri, the 17-year veteran who body slammed a 14-year-old boy for illegal skateboarding. But Riveiri’s lawyer said he had every right to abuse the boy.

“Police officers have a hard job. in this particular video, you don’t see what happened before the officer took the boy down to the ground,” Henry Belsky said. “Until you see the totality of what happened, one really does not know what really happened down there.”

Yes, Belsky, but we’ve seen enough of what actually happened, thanks to a video camera that one of the boy’s friends was carrying.

These incidents were only exposed because they were caught on video. Imagine how police are acting when the cameras are not rolling?

Here are some headlines that ran last week that do not involve a Youtube video:

Trooper who arrested journalist was subject of previous complaints
I blogged about this trooper when he first arrested an Arkansas photojournalist in December. Charges against the journalist were immediately dropped and the trooper was moved to a desk job. It turns out, Arkansas State Trooper Thomas Weindruch had nine citizen complaints against him since 2004, when he became a trooper.

Witnesses: Shackled man hit with taser
Lauderhill police encountered a mentally ill man drinking from a puddle. There was a struggle. Police handcuffed him. They shackled his feet. Officer Joseph Yasko continued using his taser gun on the suspect. Witnesses were shocked, no pun intended, as they heard the mentally ill man scream in pain.

Ex-Miami cop heads to jail for ten years in rapes
Michael Ragusa was a Miami police officer and in uniform when he raped two women and attempted to rape a third.

If this is not an alarming trend, then that means this has been going on forever and it is only now that it is beginning to surface, thanks to websites like Youtube and the Internet itself, which allow us to read news from other communities that would never make our newspapers or local news. The Internet also allows us to share news and research past articles that would otherwise wind up in a newspaper morgue.

Case in point, the video tape of deputies ripping the clothes off Hope has only been broadcast on one network news station. But it has been seen all over the world because of the Internet.

One of the misfortunes that arises from these continual videos and articles is that the law-abiding public develops a general mistrust of police.

But from the years I covered law enforcement for newspapers in Southern California, Arizona and New Mexico, I know that most cops are just working-class people who look forward to a few beers on their own time.

Perhaps there needs to be better training. Or more emphasis on reducing stress among officers. Or maybe just better pay and benefits.

The fact is, many police agencies across the country have been forced to lower their standards because they have had trouble recruiting new officers.

Traditionally, police departments were able to recruit military veterans but today, many veterans have received computer training in the military, which enable them to expand their employment horizons for better paying, not to mention safer, jobs.

So police departments are forced to recruit people who once did not qualify.

Perhaps these are people who are unable to handle stress well. Or people who are unable to cordially deal with the general public. Or even people who were bullies in school.

Which is even more reason why we need to protect our right to photograph and videotape police in the line of duty.

Which is even more reason why we need to police the police.