In the latest incident of a police leader abandoning his leadership role in favor of political expediency, the Sheriff of Richland County, SC, has handed over what would normally be a routine internal use-of-force investigation to the U.S. Department of Justice making it into the proverbial federal case.
Because of a few seconds of video shot in a classroom of an arrest of a black female high school student by a white police officer, the anti-police rhetoric machine has been thrust into overdrive. It’s amazing how easily the public can be manipulated by a social media savvy cartel of behind the scenes political organizations. By bombarding the public with a snippet of inflammatory video along with “shocked and outraged” commentary by ill-informed and/or biased “experts," the mainstream media becomes complicit in pouring gasoline onto the flames of misinformation. And once again, it is the police who have to swim upstream into a current flooded by anti-blue bias, manipulated narratives and little comprehension of police use of force. It is the classic no-win situation for law enforcement, similar to the “when did you stop beating your wife” question designed to portray the person answering the question in the worst possible light.
In the case at hand, a 16-year-old female student (who the media reported as a young girl) was asked by her teacher to do the “unthinkable" and put her cellphone away while class was in session. The student refused because after all she apparently has the inalienable right to do whatever she pleases and has no need to allow other students in her class to actually try and learn something.
After repeated attempts to gain the student's acceptance of what she clearly felt to be such an unusual and unreasonable request, the teacher summoned a school administrator for help. A negotiation ensued in which the oh-so-put-upon student refused to cooperate and when told to leave the classroom refused to do that as well. By this time, having exhausted all their options, the frustrated teacher and administrator asked for help from the deputy assigned to the school as a school resource officer. He came in and once again politely asked the student to leave and explained her options, including that she would be arrested if she did not comply. The student, apparently afflicted by the virus of non-compliance infecting a number of people throughout the country, refused. The Officer then placed her under arrest, forcibly put her on the floor and handcuffed her as she grabbed and punched him. Another female student knowing that half the class was videotaping this confrontation had to get herself involved and was also arrested while interfering with the arrest.
When this took place, there were no complaints of injuries. But within days, the 16-year-old was in a cast and her attorney (I’m shocked to report) claimed she suffered neck, back, and psychological injuries.
It should have ended there, but not in today’s reality of police vilification. The video was picked up by several groups who amazingly, have been waging an active social media campaign against police and once again the media circus had come to another town. Now that the storm of controversy has brought forth gale force winds of anti-police hysteria, the school district whose employees tried and failed to negotiate with the self-entitled and non-compliant student to begin with has publically condemned the officer and announced an investigation into his conduct, also banning him from the school where he also happened to be a volunteer football coach. The sheriff, within hours and before any investigation was completed, came out publically and condemned the officer, and in a complete abdication of his role as head of the organization, asked the FBI to conduct an investigation. Worse, before the investigation was complete, he suspended the deputy without pay immediately and then fired him within days, publically denouncing the deputy for not following policy as he caved into the political firestorm.
For those who are not familiar with the way internal use-of-force investigations normally take place at most law enforcement agencies, I will explain why this is so egregious. In the normal process, a complaint is made against an officer by anyone, the person against whom the use of force was applied, a witness, a loved one of that person or even another officer. Statements are taken, witnesses are interviewed, evidence is gathered, and a conclusion is reached by the investigators. It is a time-consuming endeavor in the best of circumstances because even a police officer is generally accorded some rights and the conclusion of the investigation may have life-changing ramifications. So when the sheriff announced that this investigation would be completed within 24 hours, I and anyone familiar with the way these investigations should be conducted knew that this was going to be a witch hunt and this officer’s fate was sealed.
Police use of force is the most misunderstood and misrepresented aspect of policing. It is a product of training, experience, supervision, department policy and judgment. Officers are given latitude in the application of use of force because there is no magic bullet to gain compliance through its use. There are so many factors that must be considered that King Solomon himself would be challenged when weighing how much force is appropriate when taking a combative suspect into custody. Use of force is always ugly to watch. And every time an officer goes hands-on with someone, the possibility of injury up to and including death is present. If it is determined that the use of force was excessive, then a number of factors are normally taken into consideration for the punishment. The officer's past record of conduct, his or her training record, the mindset of the officer at the time are also taken into consideration and, usually at the end of the day, “progressive discipline" is applied should it be found that the use of force was excessive.
Imagine this. If the deputy had decided to use pepper spray or a TASER to take the student into custody, I believe the optics of that would have led to exactly the same results. Not because the use of force was excessive but because it has become politically expedient to sacrifice officers and publically burn them at the stake for the sake of appeasement.
It is ironic that the same week that this debacle took place, the director of the FBI addressed the largest organization of law enforcement leaders in the nation, the International Association of Chiefs of Police at the IACP conference in Chicago. During that speech, he addressed the increase in murders and violent crime in many of America’s cities and cited as one of the causes, the pullback of police officers who are afraid for their careers should they be videotaped doing anything that could be perceived as excessive. This is a concept that pretty much every street cop knows. Amazingly, many of the chiefs and even Department of Justice representatives came out publically denying that this was a factor in the rise of violent crime, a clear illustration of either the ostrich effect of simple denial or the all-too-present political gamesmanship that is spreading among America's law enforcement leadership.
At the end of the day, the South Carolina school incident will become another rallying cry for those whose political and racial agendas plague our nation and our police.