We don’t have a full recording (i.e., from the beginning of this stop) but it apparently began with a seat-belt violation. By the time the recording begins, the passenger has already been asked to show some ID. He doesn’t have any on him, much to the officers’ apparent unease. At one point, his hand goes towards the center console, prompting one officer to pull his gun.
The driver (Lisa Mahone) is on the phone with a 911 dispatcher, trying to get some help because she has two cops going after her passenger, one of whom has already pulled a gun. The operator tells her to calm down (and why wouldn’t she suggest that — after all, the driver is “safely” in the hands of law enforcement) but Mahone points out something that should be equally obvious, especially post-Ferguson.
“I am scared. And the man–pulled a gun out. A gun! Why do my kids have to see that,” Mahone told the 9-1-1 operator.
Jamal Jones, the passenger at whom the gun is being pointed makes the same point.
Mr. Jones expressed reluctance to get out of the vehicle due to the officers’ aggressiveness and mentioned that “People are getting shot by the police.”
Also true. Case in point: seatbelt violation greeted with a handful of bullets rather than a citation. But these police officers have apparently gone too far by the point the recording starts. They can’t de-escalate, not after a weapon has been unholstered. So, they take it further.
“You’re going to come out of the car one way or another,” the officer menaced. “You want your kids to see you come out through the window?”
Apparently afraid Jones has a gun (because why else would another gun be out), the officer approaches the vehicle with an ax and smashes the window, sending glass flying into the back seat where Mahone’s two children are sitting. Almost immediately, Jamal Jones is tasered and dragged from the vehicle.
The seven-year-old begins crying. The fourteen-year-old continues to record with his cellphone.
Now, it’s a lawsuit.
Jamal Jones was officially charged with resisting law enforcement and “refusal to aid an officer.” The last charge makes no sense. Here’s the law itself:
A person who, when ordered by a law enforcement officer to assist the officer in the execution of the officer’s duties, knowingly or intentionally, and without a reasonable cause, refuses to assist commits refusal to aid an officer, a Class B misdemeanor.
This is officers piling on charges because they were inconvenienced. Refusing to exit a vehicle may be “resisting law enforcement” but this law isn’t supposed to be read as another means of forcing citizens into complete compliance. It’s meant to direct citizens to assist law enforcement officers when their help is requested. Being ordered out of a car under threats of violence isn’t the same thing as being asked to give an eyewitness statement or use a cell phone to call dispatch/911 for backup. (That this law is on the books is itself questionable, considering it effectively directs citizens to protect and serve police officers who are under no legal obligation to return the favor. It also would seem to put citizens directly in the path of civil lawsuits, should they injure someone or assist officers in violating their rights.)
As the PoliceMisconduct.net story notes, Mahone told police dispatch that she had been “pulled over like a bank robber.” Once again, we have to wonder what was actually on the officers’ minds when they deployed a spike strip in front of the vehicle they had allegedly pulled over because of seatbelt violations.
The police release said that another officer car with video equipment was called for and “considerable time” had passed. It added that Mahone at one point put the vehicle into drive, which is when they were told about the spike strips.
So, the spike strips preceded the supposed attempt to escape.
Here’s what the PD has to say in defense of its officers’ actions.
The officers… called for backup and at some point saw Jones’ hands drop to the center console. That’s when police ordered Jones to show his hands and exit the vehicle because of fear for officer safety, according to the release.
Jones also feared for his safety, but had no laws backing up his refusal to exit the vehicle. For two officers “fearing for their safety,” they sure move with a lot of confidence.
At what point does the mental math add up to “he might have a gun so I’d better move towards the window armed only with an ax?” Or, for that matter, when Jones asks for a “white shirt” (supervisor), why does the fearful officer (remember a gun has already been pulled at this point) say, “Look at my shoulder, dumbass. I’ve got bars?” These don’t seem to be the actions of officers fearing for their lives. These seem to the actions of officers who are now looking to prove a point after coming up empty in their demands for ID.
The police report also says that 13 minutes had elapsed between the beginning of the stop and the shattering of the window/tasering of Jamal Jones. What were they looking for? They had two people effectively detained for a minor traffic violation and yet deployed a spike strip in front of the vehicle and finally forced their way inside. They then had one person in custody and another cited. With all of this information and time, they still couldn’t come up with heftier charges than those thrown at people when cops can’t find anything more damning: variations on resisting arrest.
So, you can cut the cops some slack (but not much considering both accused officers have been named in excessive force lawsuits in the past) since they were dealing with an unknown person and the perception of danger. But then what? Here’s more of the police statement:
“In general, police officers who make legal traffic stops are allowed to ask passengers inside of a stopped vehicle for identification and to request that they exit a stopped vehicle for the officer’s safety without a requirement of reasonable suspicion,” the release says. “When the passenger displayed movements inside of the stopped vehicle that included placing his hand in places where the officer could not see, officers’ concerns for their safety were heightened.”
The statement claims officers were concerned about multiple movements inside the vehicle and yet they never made an attempt to search it for weapons, drugs or anything else that might “heighten safety concerns.” They deploy a spike strip in front a stopped vehicle but don’t bother trying to justify this tactic until after the fact.
What it looks like — and yes, appearances can be deceiving, especially if several minutes elapsed between the beginning of the stop and the violent conclusion — is another case of officers not knowing how, or just being unwilling to de-escalate a situation when immediate compliance isn’t forthcoming. It’s at minimum a training issue. But it’s also an attitude issue. You want to use a seatbelt violation as an excuse to run names for warrants? Fine. But where do you go when someone has no ID, or refuses to produce it? This is one answer. And it’s the wrong one.