Dash Cam Footage Highlights Blurred Line Between Excessive Force and Typical Policing


The city’s independent police watchdog last week released body-camera video of Chicago police officers arresting a 20-year-old driver at a South Side gas station, a confrontation that included the man being forced roughly to the pavement, pinned and handcuffed.

After stopping his car, two plainclothes officers on the new video can be heard telling the driver, who is black, they had noticed he didn’t use a turn signal and that the light over his license plate was out. But once he was out of his car, an attempt to search him ended with two officers pushing him down, kneeling on him and cuffing his hands as the man yelled in protest.

On the list of videos made public by the Independent Police Review Authority in recent years, the footage barely registered a blip in a city long used to controversies over how officers treat citizens. The images depict no shocking shooting of an unarmed person, and no protests or marches followed its release.

But the video is notable for other reasons, according to experts and others who viewed it at the Tribune’s request. Police body cameras have proliferated in Chicago in recent years and now capture scenes of routine police activity in neighborhoods struggling with crime — images that can spur opposing reactions depending on who is viewing them.

The reaction to the video release from the city’s largest police union, for example, focused on the difficult job officers have in being proactive about potential crime.

“We believe the video illustrates the hard work and pressure police officers face every day in trying to protect Chicago’s citizens,” Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham said in a statement Thursday. “We also believe most citizens are grateful for their service.”

It’s a common police tactic for officers to make stops for minor infractions as they probe for more significant targets such as guns and narcotics. Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson has said he wants his officers to stay aggressive while also being mindful of citizens’ rights and the fact that their actions are often caught on video.

Others, however, complained about what they saw on the newly released footage as unequal treatment of a young black man in Chicago, questioning why he was stopped in the first place. A far cry from footage of the fatal police shooting of African-American teenager Laquan McDonald, the tape, they said, shows problems with Chicago police’s approach to everyday policing.

Locke Bowman, a civil rights law professor at Northwestern University, questioned whether race could have played a role and why the driver was questioned. The officers who took him into custody were Hispanic.

The driver, Corey Williams of Richton Park, recently had been a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and told the officers he was home on break, though a school representative told the Tribune he was not enrolled at the time of his arrest on the night of Nov. 21, 2016. Williams was charged with resisting arrest, a misdemeanor, and he was ticketed for not having a functioning license plate light, failing to use a turn signal, failing to show a valid driver’s license and failing to show proof of insurance.

The criminal charge and the traffic tickets all were dropped the following month.

“I’m a 63-year-old white guy,” said Bowman, a frequent critic of the Chicago Police Department. “I drive all the time. No police officer in all my years of driving since I was 16 has ever pulled me over for failure to signal. Ever. I’ve never been pulled over for having a light out.”

“The whole thing is remarkably stupid,” he said. “It’s evident that the officers’ interpersonal skills, their diplomacy, their management of their own emotions, their skills in de-escalation are very poor. And this rapidly turns into an arrest that didn’t have to happen.”

The Rev. Marshall Hatch, a pastor who heads the New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church on the West Side, thought the police shown in the footage were “way over the top” for the reasons they gave for stopping the young driver. People in the African-American community experience this kind of treatment from the police every day, Hatch said.

“No way in the world that should have ended with that kind of physical abuse,” he said. “Very disturbing to watch, to be honest.”
I’m just thinking to myself, ‘Are they really treating me like this over a light on a car?’ — Corey Williams

A Chicago police spokesman said the officers involved in the confrontation are on full duty, but he declined to comment on the specifics of the incident pending the outcome of an IPRA investigation of the complaint that officers used unnecessary force on Williams.

IPRA, which also declined to comment on the complaint investigation, released the footage and the accompanying police reports Tuesday under a new city policy that requires the agency to release materials from complaints within a few months of any incident.

Shortly before 10 p.m. the night of the arrest, two officers from the Gresham patrol district stopped Williams at a gas station at 87th Street and King Drive in the Burnside neighborhood while he was behind the wheel of a silver Dodge Charger.

“You got a driver’s license?” an officer asked while shining a flashlight toward the 20-year-old from outside his driver’s side window.

“Why?” Williams asked, sounding bewildered.

“Because you didn’t use your turn signal to come in here, and your plate light is out,” the officer replied.

“And my plate light is out?” Williams asked, seconds later noticing another officer had started shining a flashlight into the car.

“Oh my God,” the driver said, sounding surprised. “Are you serious right now?”

The first officer then told Williams repeatedly that he was being recorded on audio and video, asking him to lower one of his windows before the man pulled the keys from the car’s ignition. The driver’s door opened and Williams got out.

The situation then quickly escalated, as one officer tried to search Williams, who spun away. A second officer moved in to grab one of the man’s arms before he was forced to the ground.

They restrained him, put his hands behind his back and at least one of the officers knelt on top of him. One of the officers can be heard suggesting during the struggle that a Taser be used on Williams, before one officer said, “I got him, dude,” and placed him in handcuffs.

“Now you’re going to jail,” one said.

Williams yelled that he was being harassed as officers countered that he was not.

“He slammed me to the ground and tried to break my (expletive) arm!” Williams shouted.

In a police report on the incident, officers said they searched the driver’s car after they smelled marijuana during the traffic stop. The report makes no mention that Williams was charged with any drug possession.

Reached by the Tribune late Monday, Williams said he thinks the officers overreacted, treating him as if he were a murder suspect and not someone they had supposedly pulled over for a minor traffic violation.

“I literally hadn’t broken any, like, life-endangering laws, anything that’s really serious,” said Williams, now 21. “I’m just thinking to myself, ‘Are they really treating me like this over a light on a car?'”

Looking back, Williams said he believes he was was profiled by police in part because of the car he was driving, calling it a typical “hood” car.

“So after they pulled me over, they were trying to find something, like, ‘OK, maybe this is the reason we pulled him over,'” Williams said.

One expert who viewed the video said he thought the officers acted within established laws and procedures when it came to restraining Williams.

David Klinger, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, viewed the footage and said there’s no indication the officers’ use of force against the driver was illegal.

“No punches are thrown that I can see. No kicks. There’s no foul language,” said Klinger, a former police officer in Los Angeles and Washington state. “They’re simply using what we call ’empty-handed soft control,’ that is grabbing and twisting. Get him to the ground and get him handcuffed.”

But veteran criminal defense lawyer Sam Adam Jr., who also has represented many people who sued Chicago police over claims of excessive force, said the video captured an example of why some people living in minority communities view the police as an occupying force.

“Do we want (police) pulling a kid over and slamming him on the ground because he might have had a pocket full of weed?” Adam asked. “And are we willing to sacrifice that because one out of five times you’re going to find a gun? We just have to answer that as a community.”
More stories: Chicago’s Cop Crisis

In the wake of an officer-involved shooting in Ferguson, Mo., that left an unarmed African-American teen dead in 2014, the Chicago Police Department began requiring some officers to wear body cameras. The department has been phasing them in ever since, with officers in about half of the city’s 22 patrol districts now wearing them on the street.

But even as the cameras multiply here, Stephen Rushin, a police accountability expert who teaches criminal law at Loyola University Chicago, said they often don’t tell the whole story of an officer’s interaction with the public.

“It’s one thing for us to look at a video,” said Rushin, whose father is a police officer. It’s another thing “for a cop who has to deal with the day-to-day realities of working in certain neighborhoods in Chicago, how that can change their perspective and their views on what they have to do to keep themselves safe and, in their mind, try to proactively police the streets.”

For the full article visit: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-chicago-police-video-release-met-20170731-story.html

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Filming Cops
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Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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