Today in the news a video showed a rookie officer from Jacksonville punching a handcuffed woman. Let’s get this out of the way early: I do not believe that officers should never punch a handcuffed prisoner, regardless of gender. I’ve punched handcuffed prisoners a couple times in my career. It depends upon the situation. My trainers always cautioned us that the most dangerous moment is when the handcuffs come out. When that person realizes they are about to lose their freedom, the fight or flight instinct is at its most powerful. So, yes, I’ve had situations where I’ve been attempting to handcuff a suspect who then begins to struggle and fight. Procedures and state law allow me to use “the necessary force to affect the arrest”. I looked at the video from Jacksonville with this experience in mind. What I saw was a vastly different scenario playing out.
The video does not show what happened at the beginning of the call. I know many of my law enforcement peers will point to that as a suspicious and important point. No, my friends, that is irrelevant. A statement released by the JSO says, according to the officer, the woman “refused to be handcuffed and was kicking and trying to bite the officer, even in the back of the police car”. She may very well have been struggling or fighting when the officer was applying handcuffs, but if so, then why is she standing on the sidewalk with handcuffs already applied? Four officers stand a few feet away, with their hands in their pockets, not exactly appearing concerned for their safety. Also, of note, another handcuffed person, a male, stands to the left of the officers. He’s also apparently of no safety concern.
Back to the woman. We don’t see the application of handcuffs. The video opens with her walking toward the officer already in handcuffs. She’s saying something, probably upset by the situation. No newsflash, nobody likes to get arrested. In response, the young officer takes the woman by the arms, pushing her back toward the exterior wall of the business and appears to push her against the wall with some force. The woman responds with a kick. The officer then delivers several full swing punches to her midsection.
The debate will rage. The first response from a former officer I spoke to was, “She kicked him!” Her kick is not in dispute. Nor is any possibility of her bad behavior or resisting at the time of handcuffing, which we don’t see. So, I want to be clear on what we’re seeing and saying about the events. Are we saying that her resistance during handcuffing justified escalating force? If so, why is she standing on the sidewalk with no one near her, ensuring she doesn’t do anything else? The three other officers are clearly not concerned. Nobody makes any move to secure either individual who is presumably under arrest. If she was combative, why isn’t she in their patrol car? Why isn’t anybody at least hanging onto her?
Next, the woman walks toward the officer, probably verbally challenging whatever he’s doing. He moves her back to the wall. No problem. The shove against the wall? Probably not necessary and ill advised. That was the first anger response. The woman’s anger response is a kick in return. She’s wrong. No doubt. However, police officers are charged with using force for defense, and that force should be balanced by the threat. Her kick, although factually criminal and wrong, was not an action justifying the flurry of roundhouse punches that he threw. He got mad and lashed out. While I agree, he’s human, and humans react badly sometimes, that does not make him right.
The overall problem I have seen many times in cases like this (some even worse) is unfortunate because it is so preventable and the prevention is the responsibility of the officer(s). We too often jump right to the defense of “that person shouldn’t have done whatever”. I get it. That’s true. What is more important is that we really have to change our thinking from action/reaction, force/escalation to controlling our space in the first place. It’s a form of de-escalation that aims to prevent the escalation before it starts. Again, she struggled against cuffing? Okay, put her in the back of the police car. That’s what it’s for. The officer chose not to do that. Everything else that occurred developed from that poor decision. I think the term for that is officer induced danger or threat. Secure her and she won’t keep fighting you. Period.
What makes matters worse is the other three officers on scene. Shame on them. They stand there, hands in their pockets, proving no real threat is perceived, and showing no reaction whatsoever to the punches thrown by the rookie. One older officer does finally stroll over after the punches and speak to the woman or officer, we can’t tell. The rookie then walks away and the woman collapses to the sidewalk. Still, no one makes any move to place her into a patrol car. I can’t stress this enough—if a suspect like her is so violent, why not? Folks, whether we like it or not, once we arrest someone, they are now our responsibility. Too often, mistakes such as this—not securing a suspect—result in unnecessary escalation and sometimes tragedy. Not just suspects dying, but cops injured and killed. It’s true.
This case is a classic example of ways that police have to get back to basics and do their job properly. Officer safety and prisoner handling training are very specific on how we should handle arrestees and it’s not the way they did it on this video. One last point is about the three other officers. Your responsibility was to intervene. If the rookie was getting pissed off, step in and tell him to relax. What would that hurt? Or what about one of you saying, hey let’s put her in the car? Is that so hard?
The video is a sad reminder that following our training and being responsible for each other at a call is important. Policing by nature is defined by dealing with people at their worst. We’ve all been there. The yelling, screaming. We should already be prepared to hear tirades and endure the inevitable verbal onslaught. It will happen and officers have the tools to deal with it before it gets out of hand. These JSO officers had many opportunities to control this situation. Sadly, they didn’t. Their inaction allowed a woman to be punched, caused the JSO and all cops embarrassment, and cost a rookie cop his badge.
5 thoughts on “JSO Rookie Firing Could Have Been Prevented”
Finally saw the video. You are correct. Lots of things wrong from the beginning. Complacency has always been the enemy of law enforcement and this is another example of how the profession suffers from the result. Thankfully, it wasn’t at the cost of a life. However, it’s one more incident that makes our profession look bad and could have been prevented from the beginning. Even if they didn’t want to place these people in a patrol car, they could have sat them on the curb. I agree, there are times to deliver strikes to a hundcuffed subject but it should only be to the point of control. This was obvious angry retaliation. We need to remind ourselves that we deal with bad people and sometimes these people do bad things. Therefore, we should expect to be kicked, hit or spat on. I’m not saying we should excuse it but if we expect it we can respond professionally and not out of anger or a out of control. You know defensive tactics is my passion and incidents like this make me cringe. How to respond is just as important as the response during all of our training. I’m sure that this officer’s youth and lack of maturity influenced his response. Unfortunately for him he will not be able to grow as an officer because it was caught on video. In years past he may have completely gotten away with it or had discipline and additional training.
The actual incident did happen rather quickly so the other officers didn’t have much time to react. However, again it could have been prevented if things had been set up differently. Also, the officer was responding to her with purpose. One of the other officers could have approached the female also. Then they may have been able to respond and calm the officer down.
Great observation as always Sarge
Thanks, Steve. You have always been an example of professionalism in dealing with even the most combative and infuriating subjects. That’s the point I’m trying to make. We are the ones charged with professionalism. Increasingly, I hear bad behavior excused by saying we’re human, too. I’d like to see a renewed emphasis in police training on officer’s responsibility to control situations and be professional in the face of adversity, because that is what the police are paid to do.
Wow. I think the other officers not responding or even looking like they care is the biggest shocker for me. Also, it looks like she completely misses her kick, and he has a second to process what happens, then just unloads. Absolutely terrible.
Hi, Chris. Thankfully, the punches are shocking because that is not how good cops behave. The other officers should have stepped up. Turning a blind eye to bad behavior isn’t fitting of the honor of the profession. Thanks for your comments.
Was looking for some takes regarding this topic and I found your article quite informative. It has given me a fresh perspective on the topic tackled. Thanks!
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