Photo via Flickr user fdecomite
Welcome back to Bad Cop Blotter, our weekly news roundup that compiles instances of cops behaving like assholes and the occasional instance of an officer actually serving and protecting the community.
On the night of April 11, 20-year-old Elizabeth Daly and her roommates were “terrified” by seven agents of Virginia's Alcohol Beverage Control. These cops ran at her waving badges she couldn’t identify, jumped on the hood of her car, and one even drew his gun—all because they apparently believed Elizabeth’s just-purchased six-pack of water was beer. Elizabeth, who attends the University of Virginia, later said in a statement that she was so scared of the plainclothes officers she tried to drive away, at which point the agents tried to break her car windows while yelling at her to stop. Elizabeth’s instinct for self-preservation in the face of strange people accosting her resulted in her being charged with three felonies—two for assaulting a police officer, one for eluding police—and a day and half a night in jail. The charges against Elizabeth were dropped this week, but so far the agents involved in the confrontation have not been identified, much less reprimanded.
Like many a tale of police brutality or absurdity, this one has gone viral, which may shame someone into apologizing. But there are similar incidents that suggest cops often unreasonably expect people to know who they are. Back in 2010, a high school senior from Pittsburgh named Jordan Miles fled from cops he thought were robbers and got brutally beaten when they caught up with him (the officers claim they properly identified themselves). Other situations in which civilians arguably didn’t realize cops were cops have resulted in deaths: Georgia pastor Jonathan Ayers was killed by police in 2009, New Yorker John Collado suffered the same fate in 2011, and 92-year-old Atlantan Kathryn Johnston was murdered by cops (who ended up in prison) in 2006.
There are 300 million guns in the US and 150 SWAT raids a day—it’s surprising there aren’t more incidents where police or homeowners are injured or killed. What happened to Daly was less dramatic and thankfully less tragic than it could have been, but it was also preventable. In many cases, police officers seem to assume that the civilians they approach should know they are cops even in the absence of proof.
In the case of Elizabeth and her roommates, the women had attended a “take back the night” rally earlier in the day and listened to survivors of sexual assault telling their stories. But even without that added excuse for jumpiness, they had a lot of reason to freak out when strangers approached them screaming and waving guns. It shouldn’t need to be said, but had Daly been guilty of the awful crime of buying alcohol while being underage, that still wouldn’t excuse the officers approaching her and her friends with such a baffling level of aggression.
Now on to our other bad cops of the week:
- A 66-year-old man who allegedly “played some role” in illicit pharmaceutical-drug trafficking was fatally shot on June 27 in Clay County, West Virginia, after DEA agents and state police attempted to serve a warrant on his trailer at six in the goddamn morning. Cops say Richard Dale Kohler refused to open the door—though they don’t mention how long they gave him—and when they entered, he was pointing a rifle at them, so several officers fired.
- Across the country on the same day, Los Angeles County deputies killed an armed 80-year-old man during a drug raid. The cops broke his door down at 7:30 AM and found Eugene Mallory in a bedroom holding a handgun, they say, and you can guess the rest.
- Two women who were pulled over in July 2012 for throwing cigarette butts out their car window just won a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Police Safety. State Troopers David Farrell and Kelly Helleson stopped Angela and Ashley Dobbs, searched their car, and then Helleson gave the women a cavity search, meaning she put on a latex glove and inserted her fingers into both their vaginas and anuses (even worse, she used the same glove for both of them). Helleson was later fired and charged with two counts of sexual assault, and Farrell is under investigation for allegedly stealing a bottle of prescription drugs from the women. Angela and Ashley were awarded $185,000 for their suffering.
- A Sheridan, Pennsylvania, woman was the victim of a state police SWAT raid on June 25. Agents handcuffed Jessica Earnest in front of her two children, deployed some kind of nonlethal grenades (she called them “smoke bombs”) and ransacked her house. The not-particularly-funny punchline is Jessica had never heard of the man listed on the search warrant.
- A local news station in Atlanta just revealed that police in Gwinnett County, Georgia, are permitted by state law to, with a search warrant, forcibly draw blood from DUI suspects if they refuse a breathalyzer test. The video of this is pretty disturbing.
- Two Los Angeles Police Department officers found guilty of perjury and conspiracy to obstruct justice (the charges stem from a 2008 drug search) were sentenced to... community service on Tuesday.
- On June 17, a cop in Concord, California, shot a 13-year-old cocker spaniel mix named Kirby while running through his owner’s yard in pursuit of a suspect. Now the dog’s owner wants an apology and for the police to pay the vet bills. The cops, of course, claim that the shooting was justified because the officer felt he was in danger. From an ancient cocker spaniel.
- Pittsburgh’s official response to an American Civil Liberties Union Freedom of Information Act request for data on how often the city deploys its SWAT team was not very friendly: “[T]he requested records, to the extent they exist, are not public and your request is denied in its entirety."
- A 53-year-old man who jumped out of a third-story window last week when a SWAT team raided an illegal casino in Norwalk, Connecticut, has died. No doubt stopping the scourge of illicit Texas hold 'em games is worth it to some officials.
- This time around, our Good Cop of the Week award goes out to the police department of Whitewater, Wisconsin, where all the officers are now equipped with helmet cams. If there’s an arrest or something noteworthy, cops upload the interaction into evidence, where only a supervisor can delete it. Cameras protect cops and citizens both and they should be part of every single police encounter.
Previously: Yet Another “Justified” Police Shooting