So, NJ.com, an aggregator of content from semi-major newspapers all over New Jersey, has details of a couple of instances of police beating folks without even a decent pretext. The stories are in two separate articles, but they’re entirely routine. In the first a child who took the family car for a drive before getting a driver’s license spooked when a cop wanted to pull him over and drove into a cable:
The teen, who was unlicensed and driving his parent’s car, crashed a sedan into a suspension wire at the corner of Edwin and Bergen streets following a brief police chase.
It’s not entirely clear to me, but my best (although imperfect) understanding of the situation after reading the sources I could get was that the “chase” amounted to something between half a block or up to a few blocks, where the teen, spooked after a cop wanted to pull the car over (probably legitimately, an unlicensed kid is likely to be making many unsafe mistakes in driving) but drove into the wire before any real “chase” could be said to begin.
What happened next was a vicious beating of the teen by the first responding officer – probably also the officer that first attempted to pull over the teen’s car. That officer, Joseph Reiman, is a brother of the mayor of the same city, Carteret, in which the beating took place.
Reiman denies beating the teen and maintains that the injuries were as a result of the crash into the wire. However, his dash cam and body cam were turned off, and even his fellow officers simply don’t believe that bullshit. They were captured on their own dash cam’s audio recorder expressing their disbelief:
They said they knew their now-indicted fellow officer had pummeled the teen, but believed the department would cover for Officer Joseph Reiman, according to a previously unreleased dashboard-camera video.
In a later separate conversation, as two officers are driving back to the borough after following the teen to the hospital, one asks, “If he does this as a cop, what did he do before actually when he was in war?”
“Uh, huh. I was thinking the same thing the other day,” another responds.
“Holy s–t…. there was probably a wave of freakin’ innocent victims,” the officer says.
Yeah. There probably were.
But this case is actually uncommon in several ways. For one, Reiman is actually being prosecuted. For another, his defense is that the injuries were sustained in the car crash, however unbelievable that might be:
The official narrative to explain the events, according to the officers, started at the scene and continued at headquarters: One recalls, “When I was there, they were like, ‘Well, he was in a car accident. He was in a car accident.’ I’m looking at this kid’s face, I’m like, “that ain’t a f—–g car accident… the whole side of his face has to be away from his skull and it’s like repeated… lump… lump… lump.”
But there is a familiar refrain. Despite asserting (ridiculously) that the teen had been injured by striking his head and face against the windshield several separate times in the brief accident, Reiman and the Carteret department also wanted to throw as many allegations at the kid as possible, apparently just to muddy the waters. In this case they went to an old standby, that the child did not obey a legitimate police order (at least not quickly enough):
Officer Charles Reiman, the middle Reiman brother who was the second on scene, had repeated, “He wouldn’t show his hands,” the same officer recalls.
“Charlie’s already, ya know, writing his thesis,” he says.
Another officer can be heard later in a separate recorded conversation,”They are going to blame it on the car accident… Nothin’s gonna happen. They’re gonna say nothing happen… he didn’t have his body camera on.”
Oh, the Reiman brother who beat the kid up is brothers with not only the mayor, but also with the second officer on the scene. Did I mention that? No corrupt nepotism here, I’m sure.
What I find most interesting in all this, though, is capturing unimplicated cops on tape asserting their certainty that both the behavior was outrageous and that nothing would be done. Note that in part this certainty is based on the lack of video evidence of the beating.
The other story involves a cop in Camden punching a man 12 times in the face.
Edward Minguela was leaving a liquor store located in the same general area where 911 had been informed a man was present. This wouldn’t be surprising or relevant except the man was alleged to have been in possession of a gun. Weirdly, the NRA has not yet spoken up in outrage that exercising one’s constitution right to possession of a firearm was treated by Camden police as suspicious activity. In a wild coincidence, the very vague description of the gun-haver actually matched someone who didn’t possess a gun. In this case, that was Minguela. His case
came to light in late February, when Minguela posted the surveillance video of his own beating on his Facebook page. …
The surveillance video, which Minguela said he obtained from the liquor store, shows him holding his hands up as an officer approaches him and takes him to the ground. He then punches Minguela 12 times in the head while two other officers appear to hold him down, and others look on.
Keep in mind what actually happened here: the cops received a call that there was someone with a gun in the area. The cops pulled weapons on someone who fit a description that clearly wasn’t nearly specific enough (the exact description hasn’t been released, though the county insists Minguela was a “match”). The target put his hands in the air, complying with police requests. Instead of asking if Minguela had a weapon and if so had a permit for it, or patting Minguela down, or taking any number of other actions which might be consistent with approaching a non-violent, compliant citizen who looks similar to someone who is alleged to be behaving perfectly legally (by carrying a gun) but who might be armed, the police perform a physical takedown and then beat Minguela despite the success of that takedown.
This is worse than Joe Biden-level thuggery.
Since Minguela was entirely innocent of any crime, you might expect the police to apologize for something like that, but no. As we learn next:
Police never found a gun on Minguela, but they charged him in municipal court with resisting arrest and obstruction.
He claims officers took him to the hospital but told him there that if he told hospital staff he needed treatment, they would also charge him with the more serious offense of assaulting a police officer. Minguela said he followed officers’ instructions and declined medical care, but he went back to the hospital the following morning.
It turned out that Minguela actually had a broken wrist and a concussion. I’ve had concussions. Unless you’ve had more than one, it can be hard to recognize that this is something that needs serious attention as the effects are not always that different from those of a head-impact without a concussion. But a broken wrist? Yeah, anyone would know that needs attention. You don’t walk away from medical treatment for a broken wrist without a damn good reason. I’m finding very plausible Minguela’s assertion that the cops followed up their unjustified and criminal beating with unjustified and criminal extortion and denial of right under color of law.
What is happening here is that police are using objectively horrible and arguably criminal tactics in their first engagement with an innocent citizen. The cops don’t want any negative consequences to befall them, however, so they convert the innocent citizen into a criminal by alleging “resisting arrest”. Now, what might seem weird here is that there’s no underlying charge and the cops had no probable cause to arrest Minguela. But that doesn’t stop these cops. In fact, they’re willing to go even further by charging an innocent man with a felony of aggravated assault (NJ Rev Stat § 2C:12-1 subsection (b)(5)(a) (2013): a simple assault where the victim is an on duty law enforcement officer).
In another article I read recently, someone in New York – the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the Mayor’s office, a DA’s office, or the PD themselves, I can’t remember for sure – asserted that lying among police officers had become considerably more common, and that they knew this because of a large number of cases where officers’ accounts were contradicted by video evidence.*1
Bwahahahahahahahhaha. Yeah. Sure. Cops started lying exactly when nearly-ubiquitous video became available to catch them at it.
In any case, the fact is that cops lie. They lie routinely. They lie so badly that other cops find their lies ridiculous. And they lie in ways that allow them to escape accountability for efforts to imprison people (deny them liberty), steal from people (deny them property), and even kill people. As I’ve said in other places, as a practical matter we can’t hold accountable the lying, kidnapping, thieving, and murdering cops unless we hold ourselves accountable. We elect the politicians that permit these injustices to continue. We consistently respond negatively to “weak on crime” messages and positively to “strong/tough on crime” messages. We consistently conflate believing anything a cop says with being tough on crime. As long as our lawmakers and the mayors, county commissioners, and others that provide law-enforcement oversight see evidence that this lying, thuggish regime is what we want to continue, they will decline to hold cops accountable. And why would they, if unaccountable cops are what voters want?
But we can choose to behave differently, and even if we can’t immediately reverse the tendency of juries to allow the few cops actually indicted to get away with virtually any wrongdoing, we can limit the ability of lying, thuggish cops to damage our lives.
To that end, I suggest four modest proposals:
First, resisting arrest should be made legal. In a regime where non-violent non-cooperation (e.g. “going limp”) can be prosecuted as resisting arrest, the term is made meaningless and ripe for abuse. Given that it is also routinely abused, the crime should be entirely removed from the books.
Second, assault on a police officer is typically treated as aggravated assault where directed against civilians the same behavior would constitute only simple assault. I propose that escalation to aggravated assault be limited to those situations in which the assault and all relevant preceding context is captured on an officer’s body cam. It need not be the body cam of the officer assaulted, but it has to be on body cam.
Third, currently civilian review boards and similar oversight bodies are frequently given responsibility for determining if an officer has lied in the course of official duties. Some boards are then able to impose discipline, but most (as in NYC) refer these findings back to the relevant police department (in larger departments, usually to the internal affairs division). Typically even findings that an officer lied do not result in firings and frequently are not even the basis for discipline as the internal affairs division rules the conclusion based on the evidence to be of insufficient certainty. We should add a new category: the existence of sufficient evidence to call into question the officer’s honesty. If the officer’s on-duty honesty is impugned or the officer is determined conclusively to have lied in the course of duties, that finding is sufficient to merit dismissal, and in the later case requires dismissal. In addition, those findings will be published openly so that if the subject is ever rehired as a law enforcement officer, defense attorneys will have access to this important information for addressing witness credibility at trial.
Fourth, and finally, if an officer justifies the use of force based on a mistaken perception or conclusion – for instance firing at someone holding a phone instead of gun – the officer will be fired immediately and decertified irrevocably (for lethal force) or fired immediately and decertified for 1-5 years (for injurious force). Yes, in your dangerous job you’re allowed to protect yourself. But if you honestly can’t tell the difference between an iPhone and a Glock, giving you a gun and placing you in a dangerous job clearly creates a threat to the public. We, as the public, don’t have to tolerate the risk imposed by someone with that level of (in)competence, and if in fact you are competent to make the distinction and you simply lied, well, someone who shoots unarmed persons knowingly also deserves to be removed from any law enforcement job. You also deserve to go to jail, but that’s a question for prosecutors and the courts, not the local personnel department.
I don’t think that any department in the country should be allowed to persist as is. The culture of law enforcement, particularly but not only the militarization of law enforcement, must change. I also don’t believe that LEOs should be able to carry lethal weapons while on duty for a period of time at the beginning of employment. Twelve months might be enough, but I’m open to the evidence and maybe it has to be something closer to sixty. Although most police shootings are committed by officers with far more than twelve months’ experience, if you learn from the beginning to handle difficult situations without a gun, officers would hopefully retain those skills (and further develop them!) during the remainder of their careers. SWAT teams and senior or supervising officers with guns would be available for the smaller number of calls that require an armed response (and some will, even if we removed the second amendment). Other changes will also be necessary, and I support the idea of spending the money necessary to transform law enforcement dramatically. I think it will be easily made back with savings on incarceration, abuse of force settlements, unneeded military equipment (and the expensive training necessary to use such equipment competently) and other expenses.
However, I *do* think that LEO unions and law enforcement agencies would be strongly opposed to every single one of my proposals. It’s up to all of us – the good officers, the good politicians, and the general public – to exert the pressure necessary to implement reforms, and taking steps like eliminating the crime of resisting arrest can reduce current harms while the time required to transform law enforcement passes.
*1: … and, weirdly, in trying to find a reliable source for both of my readers, I find out that the NY Times has just this week published an article on the problem I’m trying to address. It’s here. …
Edited Sun, March 25, 2:30pm PDT for typo and to clarify one garbled sentence.