You Should Be Able to Talk Back to the Police Without Getting Assaulted

An Arizona State University professor was thrown to the ground by a rookie cop after a routine interaction got out of hand—and it's the civilian getting charged with assault in the aftermath.

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Jun 30 2014, 8:20pm

Photo of a man getting arrested by Flickr user A Gude

Last month, Arizona State University English professor Ersula Ore was slammed to the ground and arrested after she argued with the campus cops about showing them her ID. Last week, dashcam video from the incident was released, and though it shows Ore arguing with the cops, the arresting officer still used a great deal of force for what should have been a non-incident.

Ore (who, incidentally, is black) claims she was walking in the middle of the street because of construction work, and that other people were doing the same thing, so she was peeved about being singled out by police. Nevertheless, rookie ASU security officer Stewart Ferrin demanded she show ID, and she argued, then asked if he had to speak to her “in such a disrespectful manner.” (The university initially said the officers acted properly, though media attention has pressured it to take a second look.)

From an AZFamily.com write-up of the confrontation:

“I never once saw a single solitary individual get pulled over by a cop for walking across a street on a campus, in a campus location. Everybody has been doing this because it is all obstructed. That’s the reason why,” Ore said to the officer. “But you stop me in the middle of the street to pull me over and ask me, 'Do you know what this is? This is a street.' ”

“Are you aware that this is a street?” Ferrin asked.

“Let me finish,” Ore said.

“OK, put your hands behind your back,” Ferrin said.

“Don't touch me,” Ore said. “Get your hands off me.”

After several minutes of argument, Ferrin told Ore he was going to throw her on the ground and then did so. During the struggle—which looked bad enough that a passerby called 911 to report the officer’s actions—Ore’s dress was hiked up, and she also kicked Ferrin in the shin. The official charges against her are now “assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest, refusing to provide identification when requested to do so by an officer, and obstructing a highway or public thoroughfare,” but the video suggests the main crime this out-of-control professor is guilty of is questioning a cop’s authority.

Sometimes an encounter with the police can go to a drastic place merely based on the officer’s mood in the moment, and you’re never sure how his day is going. This is not to suggest that Ore gained anything by talking back to the police, or that she shouldn’t have just pulled out her ID, which would have at least proven that she worked on campus. But her noncompliance shouldn’t have led her to face assault charges—though this sort of thing happens far too often.

Sometimes people don’t follow orders from police because they’re mentally ill, as seen in the deaths of homeless schizophrenic men like Kelly Thomas and James Boyd at the hands of impatient cops. Or the officers may be dealing with a frightened teenager who runs instead of being slapped with a graffiti citation, leading to a deadly Tasering. In protest situations demonstrators may decline to obey for political reasons; occasionally they get in trouble for not dispersing quickly enough. These sorts of incidents always provoke flurried excuses from not just police, but civilian law-and-order types who say, invariably, "Yeah, well, they shouldn’t have run; they shouldn’t have resisted."

That all-too-common line of thinking implies that assaults on the noncompliant, which sometimes lead to their deaths, are legitimate, and that officers aren’t responsible for their actions in those cases. Cops, we’re often told, are a special category of citizen—braver, more selfless, more prone to heroism than ordinary people. If that’s true, they should be able to deal with a little bit of back talk or a sticky situation without resorting to violence. And when situations do turn violent, the civilian shouldn’t automatically be blamed for it.

Now on to this week’s bad cops:

–A woman in Mason County, West Virginia, claims her dog was unjustly killed by police on Tuesday. According to 32-year-old Ginger Sweat, state troopers were after a neighbor who had threatened his wife and fired a shot at police, then driven away. Some hours later, a team in tactical gear with a police dog approached her home, and Sweat’s dog Willy Pete, a six-year-old Basset Hound/Beagle mix, ran toward them. Sweat says she yelled at them not to fire at her dog, but readers of this column will know what happened next: Willy Pete was shot once as he ran from cops, who Sweat says then fired two or three more shots in the direction of her home. She’s understandably infuriated because her pet is dead and she was potentially endangered by the shots. The official West Virginia state trooper page called Willy Pete “aggressive” but called the shooting “unfortunate.”

–In other dog-shooting news: On June 18, officer Brett Olsen of the Salt Lake City Police Department entered Sean Kendall’s fenced-in yard during a search for a missing toddler, and then shot Kendall’s 100-pound dog. What makes this story stand out (to me, at least) was that the dog-shooting officer’s boss, Chief Chris Burbank, has been pretty unsympathetic in his response—and Burbank was my Good Cop of the Year in 2013. Nobody’s perfect, but I thought he would have said the right thing here. What's wrong with saying, “We’re sorry the dog died,” and leaving it at that?

–A pair of men in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, had guns pulled on them by the cops on June 20 because they were joking about a shitty Canadian band. The two deputies who confronted the men say the duo were chatting about a drug deal and said somethingabout a “nickel sack” (presumably of weed) and holding some money—but the suspects claim they were talking about Nickelback and the cash was from a paycheck. No charges were filed against the budding young music critics.

–Drunk driving is a horrible, dangerous thing to do, but often DUI checkpoints can get very invasive—state and local police in Oregon are going to spend the Fourth of July weekend drawing blood from drivers who refuse to take breathalyzer tests, assisted by judges who will hastily provide the necessary warrants. Oregon is an “implied consent” state, meaning you sign up for this sort of treatment when you get your driver’s license. Georgia has a similar law, which was memorably demonstrated last year in some unnerving videos of uncooperative DUI suspects having their blood drawn. This makes me and the Fourth Amendment uncomfortable.

–Last Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union released a new study on the militarization of law enforcement that focused on 20 local, state, and federal agencies’ deployment of SWAT teams between 2011 and 2013. Some of the damning highlights include the fact that 62 percent of SWAT raids were because of narcotics investigations, 65 percent involved forced entry into a home, and, duh—minorities mysteriously seem to suffer the brunt of such operations. Check out the full report over here, it’s definitely worth at least a scan.

–A Richmond, Texas, police officer pulled an apparently suicidal woman off of some railroad tracks just a few seconds before a train ran her over on the night of June 22. After a passerby flagged him down, rookie cop (and former Marine) Ramon Morales dragged the crying woman to safety, then held on to her until backup arrived and she could be taken to a hospital. Our Good Cop of the Week was both modest—crediting the bystander who told him about the distressed woman—and seemingly camera-shy, as he didn’t appear on the local news report of the incident. The woman is reportedly doing fine, thanks to Morales’s quick thinking and brave conduct.

Lucy Steigerwald is a freelance writer and photographer. Read her blog here and follow her on Twitter: @lucystag.

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