WATCH: Police Tip Wheelchair User Out of His Chair in San Francisco

1 Mar 2015

Devaugh Frierson, known to his friends as “Bo,” was out with friends in San Francisco when police responded to a call claiming that a group of people were involved in an altercation, though those on the scene claim they were joking around and may have been racially profiled.

When police arrived, they cited four people, but Bo, concerned about his friends, wheeled over to find out what was happening and offer assistance, a common reaction among people concerned about police interactions. What happened next was almost unbelievable, but it was captured on surveillance and cellphone video: Multiple officers pushed Bo’s chair and then attempted to pitch him into the street.

Frierson, who uses an electric wheelchair for mobility because of a spinal cord injury, wasn’t injured, and his expensive chair wasn’t damaged either, but the situation could have been much worse. It’s also sparked anger and commentary throughout the Bay Area, known as a bastion of disability rights and activism, where many disabled people are angry about the incident. Bo’s assault has also attracted the attention of the black community, as he’s a black man and it comes in the midst of a troubling time when it comes to police-involved assaults on people of color. In a city where protests over police brutality have recently shut down freeways and closed streets, the assault couldn’t have come at a worse time.

The video, which is not of the highest quality, shows the group talking with police and Bo approaching the scene; some observers claim that he was interfering or attempting to block police officers from issuing citations, a claim that’s difficult to determine from the video alone. A police officer appears to be telling him to move away, and then begins “berating” him for running over his foot — the SFPD maintains that Bo was impeding the scene and that he injured the officer. Witnesses and Bo say otherwise, but no matter which side of the debate is right, the response from officers on scene was inappropriate. Police officers first attempted to push his chair, a maneuver that electric wheelchairs are not designed to sustain, and then officers are seen trying to tip him out into the street.

Fortunately, Bo was wearing his seatbelt, which kept him secure in his seat, and a witness ran over to right his chair and assist him. Had he fallen, he could have incurred a serious injury that might have exacerbated his existing disability or necessitated weeks and possibly months of rehabilitation. His chair could also have been damaged — electric wheelchairs cost thousands of dollars and can be difficult to replace or repair. Damaging or destroying a wheelchair takes away a disabled person’s mobility and independence — it’s akin to cutting a bipedal person’s legs off. If a disabled person lacks good insurance or coverage from state agencies, it may be necessarily to bear all or part of the cost of replacing a chair, which can be prohibitively expensive.

Officer Grace Gatpandan, spokeswoman of the SFPD, says the agency intends to investigate the incident in light of the multiple videos and complaints, though no officers have been suspended pending investigation. Bo also indicates that he plans to file a civil rights complaint against the SFPD. In a region where disability rights are taken very seriously by residents, the police department may be facing not just a public relations crisis but serious consequences as the disability community rallies around Frierson.


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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 5618 posts

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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