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Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).
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Kicking Up a Stink Over California Incident

A suspect kicked by a California officer will get rich and stay free despite a long rap sheet and charges of endangering the public. Something is wrong with this picture.

May 15, 2009  |  by - Also by this author

Mark Twain once said, “If I had more time, I’d have written you a shorter note.”

That pretty much sums up my predicament as I type while under the influence of adrenaline, a looming deadline, and a situation that’s got me really pissed off.

So let me lead off by saying that whatever comes of this week’s use of force by one of his officers, kudos to El Monte, Calif., Police Chief Tom Armstrong.

Only four months into his tenure as chief of this mid-sized Los Angeles-area agency, Armstrong was very much put on the spot Wednesday afternoon while interviewed at the back of a KNBC Channel 4 news van. Reviewing footage of a force incident captured by a news copter monitoring the situation overhead, Armstrong watched as one of his own officers used a boot to kick the head of a 23-year-old suspect named Richard Rodriguez, who was lying face down in the backyard of a residence, his arms extended to his sides. On camera himself, the chief paused for a second and considered his words.

“I don’t have all the facts yet,” Chief Armstrong said. “This is going to be looked into, and it should be. But I‘m not here to make a decision or tell you what that officer did was overtly wrong until I know all the facts.”

The chief’s intelligent and temperate response becomes all the more conspicuous when contrasted with “sell ‘em out” sentiments displayed by other administrators in the aftermath of other controversial incidents elsewhere.

For its part, Channel 4 (KNBC-Los Angeles) is sticking to script—milking the story for all it’s worth, with the top of each newscast repeatedly showing the image of the officer’s kick to the suspect’s head while glossing over the allegations of absurdly dangerous driving by the suspect, including a near head-on collision with another motorist at high speed during the pursuit.

KNBC isn’t alone.

I click on the LA Times Web page.

The first image that pops up?

Boot to the head!

And so on.

When Mark Lindsay sang “Kicks just keep getting harder to find,” he obviously wasn’t checking out the news.

The accompanying headlines allude to damning indictments from various “authorities” and “professionals”: “The ACLU Wants Officer Who Kicked Suspect Suspended.” (Boy, I didn’t see that one coming).

Suffice to say, the situation has gotten me dander up. Oh, I'm not talking about the cop's kick to the reputed gang member head. I'm talking about the f___ing news media that's putting the boot to our collective heads because of it!

The way the local news media have played up one kick to the head, you’d expect to find an abusive cop around every corner, a salivating leer in place and nightstick at the ready. Yet despite the ubiquitous nature of video technology, you don’t.

The sad irony is that’s what makes this incident news! And once in possession of some coveted eye poison, the news media spins it every which way but good, interviewing any subliterate moron they happen upon for some relevant insight (“Dude, what that cop did—that was gangsta!”), interspersing the pertinent quote with the boot shot and looping the shit ad nauseum.

Some part of me wanted to believe that the news media aren’t just trying to embolden the next dirtbag, inhibit the next cop, and enrich the next attorney, so I decided to get someone else’s take on the matter.

Despite being up to his ass in alligators, Lt. Dan Berlingham of the El Monte PD proved generous in sharing with me his take on the matter.

“Money is what motivates everything,” noted Berlingham. “That’s the bottom line. And as outraged as individuals or law enforcement can get about it, there’s not much else that can be done about it. [Regarding the force], it’s sellable to them—and that’s why it’s there. It’s always been that way.”

And with that, the even-tempered and realistic Lt. Berlingham was off to deal with another annoying phone call.

I wondered if Lt. Dan had a leg to stand on (sorry, couldn’t resist). So I tried looking at it from KNBC’s point of view. 

Print media is dying. Broadcast news ratings are dropping. We're dumping our overpaid anchors. Let’s just stir the pot over here…

At some mercenary and totally screwed up level, it actually did make sense.

By any estimation, the video in question doesn’t look good: One can only hope that there’s some mitigating justification for the use of force.

Absent any such validation, part of me still understands the desire to pound the living crap out of some deserving SOB. Any cop that’s been in a dangerous vehicle or foot pursuit knows all too well how difficult it is to pull the reins on one’s self, to ALWAYS conduct one’s self in an exemplary and professional manner.

That’s why I smirk when I see professional news anchors and reporters who never lose their cool and never cuss one another out and never flub their lines cry abuse and express shock and dismay at an officer’s split-second action that may or may not have been justified. (And the proof that they never lose control is readily available on the internet. Why look! It’s former KNBC anchor Paul Moyer raving like a lunatic at one of his coworkers.)

Have any of them ever experienced an adrenaline dump? Have they ever been so pumped up at having been put at the threshold of death because of some moron’s actions that they needed to take it out on something, even if it was a car hood, or door, and at the expense of their own hand?

There is one thing the cop is unquestionably guilty of: Working in the wrong era.

There was a time when post pursuit ass-kickings were obligatory. Cops knew it, suspects knew it, and there are enough old timers on both sides of the fence that will verify the assertion when I say that what this officer did was NOTHING compared to what would have happened in another place and time. This might account for why back in the day punks thought twice before running. Nowadays, they’ll flip off a cop and run for the hell of it with little fear of reprisal (unless, perhaps, it's El Monte PD doin' the pursuin').

If asked if I think if the old ways were preferable, I'd have to pause.

For years, I’ve read all manner of philosophizing about our having to rise above the violence we confront. I’ve listened to simplistic arguments that all life—however vile, wicked, or inconsequential it might actually be—is valuable. I’ve heard how we must be more humane in the execution of our duties even as so many about us degenerate further into the abyss.

And I am forced to ask if we’re being practical.

Perhaps matters of practicality shouldn’t even be considered in a profession that embraces terms like “war on drugs,” “war on organized crime,” and “war on gangs,” but is not allowed the means to fight them as such. These are our domestic Vietnams. They are wars we could win, if only we could really fight them.

In many ways, this generation of cops is better trained and equipped to do the job than any of its predecessors. But however humane they are in the performance of their duties, I don’t believe that they or the citizens they serve are necessarily safer these days.

No need to throw stats my way. I know how numbers get crunched and fudged, and no matter how creative one gets, they still can’t reconcile the difference in homicide clearance rates over the past four decades. Preservation of human life in these times is largely attributable to ever greater acts of self-limiting behavior and vigilance of individuals.

Who has society made safer?

The criminal.

Who has been made more vulnerable?

The law abiding. Indeed, many of our elderly—the very people who fought to protect this country’s illusory rights—cocoon themselves for fear of being victimized.

Where is the outrage?

Reserved for the likes of Richard Rodriguez, whose defenders express horror that this suspect—this human being—could come to such terrible harm as to be kicked in the face by an officer of the law.

Come again?

Look at this tattooed mug! A parolee at large with a long rap sheet , his face is a cartographer’s wet dream, charting his ongoing descent into hell. He should have a tat on his forehead that reads: "Here There be Monsters." In manner, deed, and appearance, he has done everything he could to subvert his own humanity and now his metamorphosis is complete. He has become an animal and, in that backyard, he was a cornered one.

Should bad law enforcement officers be held accountable for their conduct? Of course. Maybe this cop is one of them. Maybe he isn't. (See my column on bad cops.) Now that the employing agency has been made aware of the incident, it is doing the right thing in seeing that it is thoroughly investigated. 

But does that mean the news media has to continually rub our nose in the matter? Where are its priorities? Did the officer’s possible stupidity really eclipse any one of the myriad actions allegedly perpetrated by the suspect? Why aren’t we seeing the truly offensive footage, that of motorists forced to take last second evasive actions to avoid being maimed and killed during the pursuit Rodriguez allegedly triggered ?

Well, thanks to Lt. Berlingham, we know the answer: It’s all about the money.
To stay on the air, you need advertising revenue; to get that revenue, you need ratings; to get ratings, you’ve got to get viewers; to get viewers, you have to give them something more timely and more controversial than what can be found on YouTube or And by God, if it isn’t inherently controversial enough, you can always make it so.

There’ll be little novelty to this circus, a cautionary parable with a rotating cast and performances yearly. Nonetheless, its lessons about videotaped actions, hitting the brakes instead of prisoners, and pulling the reins of our adrenaline will remain timely.

But frankly, I’m nostalgic for the days when the pursued feared the judicial system if for nothing but the inevitable ass-kicking and street justice. H.L. Mencken would call it cathartic; Twain might find it comparable to his allegorical man who carries a cat by the tail (thereby learning “something he can learn in no other way”).

As it stands, this latest ass-kicking will be just one more thing that puts us on our heels and sees new and stricter policies when it comes to rules of engagement.

Typing these words so soon in the aftermath of the viewing colors my own take. Perhaps I’ll look back later and regret what I’ve said herein. But as of now, I don’t.

In fact, I’m booting prudence to the curb and saying the hell with any news journalist party to this ongoing conspiracy. For as any number of critics among them would say, justice denied becomes justice subverted.

And ain’t that a kick in the head?



El Monte Kicking Incident, Excessive Force, Excessive Force Allegations, Vehicle Pursuit

Comments (7)

Displaying 1 - 7 of 7

David Moore S-55 @ 5/15/2009 10:39 PM

Gee the media all these conclusions just based on video W/out even investigation-things alway look bad on camera! Ye old media spin? The Chief did the right thing lead- (Xenagogue). Yes wait until all the facts are in...Quote here "Looking back on the words you have spoken today, how many of those words were spoken with purpose? The greater question then becomes, "What were the purposes?" - Tom Painter. All this Reminds me of a saying Apache: He wanted his sons to learn not to judge things too quickly. The man then explained to his sons that they were all right, because they had each seen but only one season in the tree's life. He told them that you cannot judge a tree, or a person, by only one season. If you give up when it's winter, you will miss the promise of your spring, the beauty of your summer, fulfillment of your fall. Will they (Media) publicly apologize if they are wrong)??

stealth1 @ 5/15/2009 11:13 PM

I could not have said it better myself. Media portraying the poor defenseless criminal as the victim instead of the perp. This rotten piece of S%$t showed no regard for the safety or well being of anyone including himself. He clearly demonstrates (shown by the same video that attempts to crucify this officer)a reckless and downright criminal disregard of the law. Part of the problem today is you have the media not only portraying this piece of crap as the victim, but also plays on the sympothy of its viewers and ACLU to demand his termination. Let one of these cameramen or their families get maimed or killed by the likes of one these gangbanging non productive idiots and see how quick next time they are to collect and scream brutality. Our lawmakers also need to make it illegal to follow these pursuits as it seems more to be only promulgating more people to attempt celebrity status. It needs also to be made more serious in the light of our judges as well. I hope that the officer did not scuff his shoe in the process of only one kick to the head. It's sad when the criminal wins over more rights than the laws that all officers attempt to uphold and get slapped in the face for. I have rambled on enough in the disgusted frame of mind I try to avoid. Lady Justice is waiting to weigh even the scales so we can put things back into check where they belong.

TomL238 @ 5/16/2009 12:41 PM

The way I've seen the ability of Police Officers to do their jobs devolve over the past few years, I'm reminded of words I heard so long ago. Policemen, who were more senior to me as a rookie, often referred to the way Cops' hands were being tied. I don't know how much more erosion can take place in effective law enforcement before anarchy reins. The Cop is always the bad guy and dumb guy. Another senior cop once suggested to me NOT to pursue anyone for anything....that is, UNTIL the brass and the town fathers come up the decision to find a way to capture the scumbags safely. As it stands now, the brass use words like "May" and "at the Officer's discretion" in their policies for police pursuits. So, since the young road dogs are always going to pursue, the brass just sit by and watch...usually. Then, when the trouble starts, brass will normally throw the cop under the proverbial bus. In the case of the 'kick in the head', it will have to be investigated. I appreciate the Chief's calm decision to wait until all the facts have been weighed. I support the Chief's decision. Wait and see before judging the Police Officer harshly. Then, how much of a truly brutal incident was this??!? Our society has become so intensely confused and dysfunctional that they don't even know who the good guys are anymore. If Cops show human emotion of a kind which causes "upset'' to the citizens, the Cops are the bad guys. They (citizens) immediately forget all about the real bad guy and his life-threatening behaviors. Next, how does the real bad guy get handed a free pass and a fortune after all he's done, while the Police Officer gets hung out to dry for ''the boot''?

karl holmstrom @ 5/17/2009 12:31 PM

I am very pleased to see the Chief stand up for his troops. One second of video is one dimensional only tells part of the story. Does Rodney King bring back in memories? We should have more chiefs like him. Karl Holmstrom LAPD Detective retired.

David Moore S-55 @ 5/18/2009 6:21 PM

I had trouble sleeping last night and this one has inflamed a nerve that won’t quit pulsing. What bothers me most is the media has an “agenda” in their reporting even before an investigation or facts are in or completed. The offender’s second round of running via a 4000 pound deadly weapon. Where is the public outrage here? If a small child had been killed or a pedestrian then they the public be called for action. What does the public want a Policy for Officers to DO NOTHING? That way, they will never be forced to look the other way and all the anti-police folks will be happy. Where is the Officer’s due process under law when (tried and convicted in media)?? A wise Sgt taught me unless you were on-scene you truly don’t know or have the right to judge make unfounded a comment on anything until investigation is complete. I have had enough of agenda reporting “Bad news sells papers” and make the news but does that really have to be true. Constant bombardment of negative stories has turned much of the public views against the biased and agenda based media. To be honest it appears to me in NBCLA video frames the officer’s foot may have meant to push down on shoulder and due to adrenal dump pushed down on members head rather than kick him in face as his face is downward and kick would have to be upward - and he may have told offender (Stay there don’t Move). Let the department do their job if action is deemed warranted after Investigation, not the media!

yogi2012 @ 5/31/2009 7:31 PM

Wow! I am truly disgusted by this article! How a man kicks some one in the head like this amazes me. And to think he would only be possibly suspended... In my mind as a nurse that is attempted murder and his ass should be in jail with the other criminals. Yes the criminal was obviously wrong and should be in jail. Everyone knows criminals behave in this manner. That's why that part of the story isn't news. Why do cops take it on themselves to deliver punishment? That's why we have a judicial system. There are far too many instances of brutality on the part of law enforcement. The ones caught on tape probably only only represent about 1%. As not everyone carries a camera we don't often catch you thugs on tape. If you can't contain your emotions and act like you have some ethics then find a new career. You should be tried the same as any other citizen would be for crimes like this. The only time it's appropriate for you to use violence is if you or someone else is being attacked. You have lost the respect of the public long before this video, and articles like this don't help any. It is my opinion that if courts aren't going to appropriately punish violent crimes like this then citizens should start doing it (kinda like you guys do). See the videos after the Bart shooting in Oakland. People are tired of your violence. It's about time we take our freedom back.

PresidentDon @ 7/5/2009 9:44 AM

If Police abuse were not reported by the Press, how much more abuse would there be? We have a system in this nation, that the police apprehend a suspect, then the suspect goes to court and guilt or innocence is decided, and punishment delt with. If we allow the police to be judge, jury and punisher, we have lost control of our nation. I know, it must be hard to see so much crime happening, especially when it's the same offenders time after time, but YOU the police keep saying "Do not take the Law in to your own Hands".
If you do not follow that policy, why should the Citizens of America?
I believe there is more police abuse than reported, and this has to stop, or the Citizens may rise up in revolt, and RE Vote. I have reports of many instances, beyond Rodney King, (by the way that happened in my police patrolled area as I lived in Sun Valley, CA at that time, only blocks from the Foothill Division, and I did visit the station to express my shock at their unprofessional conduct). If we allow uncontrolled police abuse, where do we stop? I have to take a critical look at abuse, to protect our citizens. I explain this in my website and I know there are too many examples all over our nation, to report on more than a few flagrant cases. Lets restore our police behavour to restore the publics respect for the job you have to do, and yet, follow our Constitution and Bill of Rights, before we surrender to the New World Order, with Martial Law for all.

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