Friday, October 26, 2007


Presumptions of innocence
Presumptions of danger

While dressing this morning, the ABC news was on. There was a bit about the police and how they forced this pregnant woman to the ground and how they (the police) then decided to “cover it up”.

I was unaware until I looked the incident up online that it occurred in July.

I am sure that this woman was frightened, shocked, and scared. She has my sympathy.

So do the officers involved.

What I know after listening to the GMA coverage:
JC Penney called the police dept and told the dispatcher that a green jeep was just leaving that had been involved in stealing cars from the JCP lot. The caller gave the license plate and the owner’s name. The officers pulled the vehicle over and forced the woman at gunpoint to lie on the ground. When they realized that the vehicle they had stopped was not the suspect vehicle for which they were looking, they helped her up, apologized profusely, engaged her in conversation, and assisted her until such time as she was calm enough to drive. They then got in their patrol car and began plotting a cover-up.

What I know after reading the newspaper accounts and listening to the 911 recordings:
An employee of JCPenney called the Police Department and told the dispatcher that a green jeep was just leaving that had been involved in stealing cars from the JCP lot. The caller gave the license plate. The dispatcher ran the plate for wants, warrants, and registration. She dispatched the call and provided the officers with the registration information. The officers saw the vehicle, activated their emergency lights and affected a stop on the vehicle. Per procedure on any felony stop that I have EVER heard about, the officers, for their own safety, did not approach the vehicle. They directed the driver to get out and, again for their own protection from a suspected felon (and yes, pregnant women have committed felonies), directed the driver to assume a prone position on the shoulder of the road.

This is an audio clip of the original call to dispatch and the dispatch of the call to the officers:

This is an audio/video clip of the traffic stop from the video camera in the officer's patrol vehicle:

They checked the vehicle for other occupants and determined that there were two children in the backseat. The officer was very polite and attempted to comfort the children. As soon as he determined that he had the wrong vehicle, he apologized, more than once.

At no time did the officers involved display any other than professional conduct.

They did NOT stop the vehicle because the driver was black.
They did NOT have the driver assume a prone position because she was black.

They stopped the vehicle because they had information, through their dispatcher, that the vehicle was possibly involved in a felony.

They had the driver assume a prone position because they had reason to believe that she was possibly involved in a felony.

Yes, one of the officers made a comment, once in the patrol car, about covering their ass. CYA, as it is commonly known in police and other circles, is NOT the same as a cover-up. It is beyond me how anyone, given the existence of dispatch tapes and video from the patrol car, can even begin to believe that there is, or was, a cover-up.

Now for the soapbox:

The public hears these stories and assumes that the citizen is right. We all, and I include myself for the most part, look at people with a perception of goodness. We presume that most people are good.

The police must, for their own safety and for ours, look at people a little differently. They must, for their own safety and for ours, presume, especially during a felony traffic stop, that there is danger.

I actually speak from personal experience in this case and from both sides simultaneously.

In 1976, I was pregnant with my youngest child. I was employed, as a dispatcher, by a Police Department. I was traveling with my husband, in our pickup truck, on the freeway. Unbeknownst to us, a bank robbery had occurred about 70 miles north. The suspect vehicle description matched ours. We were pulled over on the highway. My husband (the son of a highway patrolman and a reserve police officer for the same department for which I worked) was, exactly as in the above referenced video, directed to keep his hands in view, drop the keys, exit the vehicle, back toward the officer and assume a prone position on the ground. I was directed likewise (minus the key deal) once he was on the ground. Only when we were both secured and identified did the officers release us and apologize.

We did not sue.

We did drive our other car for about a week!

My point is that the police are not always wrong. They are not always right. Just because they stop a driver, who is black, does not mean that they stopped a driver because he/she is black. They can only do the best that they can do, which is usually damn good, based on the information that they have. I think, in this case, that is exactly what they did.


Catwoman said...

I couldn't agree with you more.

It's unfortunate, but officers have no other choice than treat every car they stop, even for a simple traffic violation like someone who will potentially kill them.

My Husband Calls Me Weird said...

Good point. Too bad not everyone will think like you do.

wolfbaby said...

Well it dosn't look like they got physical with her so I agree. I mean if they had gotten physical with her and hurt her in some way that would be different but they didn't. She is actually sueing them? what aload of crock

laurie said...

i agree with you, in most cases.

there's a case here in minnesota that was just settled (because the man DID sue) where a black man was gassing up his car when the police came tearing into the gas station lot, surrounded him, forced him to the ground, cuffed him, stuffed him in the squad car, left him there for quite some time, then took him downtown and threw him in jail.

this, even though the man kept protesting his innocence. (one cop sneered, "yeah, they all say that.')

this, even though the gas station owner kept saying, 'you have the wrong guy! this guy is a regular!'

this, even though the police were actually looking for a white guy.

so i try to judge on a case-by-case basis, myself.

that one seemed particularly egregious. the jury agreed, and awarded him a hefty settlement.

AnGlOpHiLe FoOtBaLl FaNaTiC said...

My father's aunt was manic depressive (actually suffering from post partum depression). In the 50s, apparently, you just got shock therapy to "cure" yourself. The Dr gave her a little too much juice & electrocuted her. The following day, her husband, now the father of an infant and a little girl, shot himself. My great-grandfather, a widower, that now has just lost one of his own children, is forced to raise his grandkids & does so happily. Accidents happen in life. Despite having amazing grounds, they never sued. This is why I want to go to law school. TO stop crazy lawsuits. People wonder why all American jobs are moving out? If they only knew how much the big companies are forced to shell out in legal fees and stupid suits, they'd figure it out pretty quickly!

lisa's chaos said...

Very interesting. Of course I agree that they do the best they can with the info they have (my dad was a cop).

However, I hate to visit Milwaukee. I have heard too many reports of police shooting citizens while pulling them over. It seems the cops in that area are a little trigger happy and that scares me.

My neighbor/landlord is a cop and I feel safer knowing he's there. :)

Karmyn R said...

Right now the police can do no right anywhere - in the media's eyes.

I would have been frightened and scared too, but as long as the police had acted appropriately afterwards by apologizing and hadn't hurt me physically, I think It would be easy to forgive - and what a story I'd have to blog about.

ChrisB said...

Interesting video. I think the police have a difficult job-damned if they do and damned if they don't by the media.

Beckie said...

I agree with ChrisB - damned if they do, damned if they don't.

Sandy, that was a good, thought provoking post!

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