No, I’m not talking about James Bond. I’m talking about laws that make prosecuting and convicting police for excessive force, even force that put Kelly Thomas, a 37 year old homeless and schizophrenic man into a coma that ultimately led to his death difficult if not impossible in many jurisdictions:
Broad legal protections make prosecuting law enforcement officers extremely difficult. A handful of cases are filed across Southern California annually. Many of Southern California’s most notorious incidents of the last decade did not result in criminal charges.
In 2004, Los Angeles police officers were recorded pummeling a car-theft suspect along Compton Creek. One officer who hit the man with a flashlight was fired — metal lights were subsequently banned — but none faced criminal charges. In 2002, two Inglewood police were captured on video punching a developmentally disabled 16-year-old in the face and slamming him onto the hood of a patrol car. After two juries deadlocked in the criminal case, it was dropped. A civil jury later awarded the officers $2.4 million for being unfairly disciplined.
Take a look at this picture of Kelly Thomas below the fold (warning gruesome image inappropriate for children and possibly NSFW) and ask yourself if maybe, just maybe we need to change those laws.
By the way, here’s conservative Christopher Orlet’s
view of the Kelly Thomas affair from the American Spectator (no I;m not providing the link – find it on your own if you want to give them traffic). Frankly, it’s nauseating and incredibly insensitive:
The pattern never varied. Thomas would be arrested and serve a brief jail sentence, after which he would be transferred to a treatment center. He would respond well to medication, at which point he would be released onto the streets. Or he would simply escape, since, as he told his father, he “hated” the treatment centers.
Inevitably Thomas, who was often heard saying he preferred the life of a drifter, would go off his medication. (He did not appear to have a similar aversion to illegal drugs, a probation report stated.)
This time when officers tried to search Thomas’ backpack for weapons, drugs or stolen items, he made a run for it. Police easily caught up with him and, when he resisted, they allegedly zapped him with a stun gun. Perhaps as many as six times. It was reported that officers savagely beat and kicked Thomas until, at length, he slipped into a coma.
Five days later Kelly Thomas was dead. […]
But if Kelly Thomas was too dangerous to live at home with his mother or father, why was it okay for him to roam the streets where he might harm innocent passersby? Another newspaper account noted that, “in the nearly two decades since his son descended into madness, Ron Thomas has worried every day that the schizophrenic 37-year-old would die of exposure or illness on the streets.” Was there nothing Mr. Thomas could have done for his son except to “worry”? (Rather than opprobrium, Thomas père received an offer for nearly $1 million in compensation from city officials, which he turned down. No doubt, he intends to sue for much more.)
One woman, interviewed by a television crew at a candlelight vigil, choked back tears as she recalled how she used to wave to Thomas and bring him breakfast. That doubtless made her feel better, and may even have made Thomas feel better for a bit, but it hardly addressed the problem of the mentally ill languishing on our streets. Indeed, no one seemed to be addressing the problem, or even giving it much thought. Perhaps because for society to actually do something helpful like involuntarily commit a violent schizophrenic in order that he can be treated — would be considered cruel and a violation of his civil rights.
In a statement, Fullerton police noted that officers receive training on how to deal with the mentally ill and the homeless. But police are not psychiatric nurses or orderlies. And unless a police officer has a specialized medical degree, how is he to know whether this or that transient is mentally ill? It is unlikely a veteran psychiatrist could make that kind of diagnosis under such circumstances. It seems to me the job of police should not be to “deal with the mentally ill,” but to arrest criminals. To expect otherwise is like asking social workers to arrest carjackers.
I guess Orlet didn’t see the video or didn’t care what all the witnesses said about the police behavior they witnessed. I do know this, if these officers are not prosecuted for murder (at a minimum manslaughter) then there is no justice. I frankly suspect they won’t be, though maybe they will lose their jobs and the city will have to pay something to their family for wrongful death. Maybe.
And let’s be honest, if Kelly Thomas wan;t white and the son of a former law enforcement officer, would we even have heard about his case? How many minorities — African Americans, Hispanics, LGBT people, etc. are routinely beaten or harassed by police officers and it never gets any national attention much less local attention?
In any event, with the wave of excessive force cases mounting in which police and other law enforcement officers have used tasers and other weapons to torture and assault civilians, isn’t it time we revisited and revised at the laws that shield the people who are supposed to protect and serve from beating the crap out of so many people with impunity?