Who Polices The Police?

Willow Kinloch, a 15 year old Victoria, B.C girl is suing the local police department over treatment she says amounted to assault and a denial of her basic rights. This is before the courts right now, and as usual in these cases, her version – and that of the police who apprehended her – differ widely:

Constable Brian Asmussen testified he helped wrestle Kinloch to the ground, handcuff and tether her because she attacked the prison matron in the cell.

A videotape of the incident shows Kinloch kicking off her shoe, which hit the matron’s shin. The matron, Merle Edmonds, then grabbed the teen by the throat and pushed her against the wall before three other officers entered the cell to tether Kinloch.

The teen remained tethered on the ground of the padded cell for more than three hours before anyone checked on her.

Victoria police surveillance tape shows Willow Kinloch tethered to a cell door with her hands and feet bound.
Victoria police surveillance tape shows Willow Kinloch tethered to a cell door with her hands and feet bound

The trial continues Thursday in Victoria.

This is not the first time British Columbia police have been under the microscope, or the first time that videos presented into evidence show a different story from the official version.

Frank Paul was a 47 year old Mi’kMaq native who was dumped in a back alley by Vancouver Police in December 1998. He died of hypothermia and for years nobody was really sure what happened to him; until an official enquiry was called into the circumstances surrounding his death.

Vancouver Police Dept cell video of Frank Paul.
Vancouver Police Dept cell video of Frank Paul

That picture is literally a snapshot of the litany of mistakes which took place from the beginning of this whole sorry incident until years later, when coroner, police and natives took part in an “independent commission of enquiry to examine the circumstances surrounding the death of Frank Joseph Paul. Mr. Paul, a Mi’kmaq from New Brunswick, was removed from the Vancouver Police Department lockup at about 8:30 p.m. on December 5, 1998, and was left in a nearby alley by a police officer. His body was found in the alley early the next morning. An autopsy concluded he had died from hypothermia due to exposure/alcohol intoxication.” [ www.frankpaulinquiry.ca ]

The story of Frank Paul’s death has been a topic of contention for years in BC, and it is not the only case within the BC community to cast a shadow on the actions of law enforcement departments.

At this date, a coroner’s inquest is underway into the death of Polish would-be immigrant Robert Dziekanski. Mr. Dziekanski was tasered to death in the Vancouver International Airport last October 14. In the days immediately following Mr. Dziekanski’s death, the police department released an official version of events that had four officers called to the airport to deal with an agitated, perhaps dangerous man.

Robert Dziekanski minutes before his death, holding a table at the YVR customs gate.
Robert Dziekanski minutes before his death, holding a table at the YVR customs gate.

Since that fateful day, the media – local and international – has been awash in stories, theories, speculation. The only constant in ALL the various version of events is this outcome:

Paul Pritchard just happened to be in YVR at the time this was all happening, and he videotaped the whole incident. He eventually did hand over his tape to the RCMP in good faith that it would be returned to him in a timely manner.

Screenshot from video taken by Paul Pritchard showing Robert Dziekanski shortly after being tasered by RCMP officers at Vancouver airport.
14 October 2007: Screenshot from video taken by Paul Pritchard showing Robert Dziekanski shortly after being tasered by RCMP officers at Vancouver airport.

Pritchard ultimately went to the media when the RCMP began dragging their heels and seeming to renege on their agreement about the return of the tape, but Pritchard DID get his tape back. The rest, as they say, is history. The tape became a hit on YouTube, and was viewed around the world, as it seemed to refute the RCMP’s version of what took place as Mr. Dziekanski died.

There is a synopsis of events on Wikipedia, and what seems clear in all the news reports thus far is that case was bungled from beginning to end. Yes, hindsight is always 20/20, but here we have a potential immigrant to Canada who hardly speaks a word of English, obviously frustrated after hours of traveling to a foreign land, tired, stressed – being confronted by four burly police officers. A scary sight, I would think, for anyone from a country with a history like Poland. There were eyewitnesses that night, and the consensus seems to be that the RCMP tasered Mr. Dziekanski almost immediately after they met him.

Lorne Meltzer was one such witness. In a story on the CBC.ca site headlined “Witness blames RCMP, Vancouver airport for death of tasered man,” the story has this to say:

A man who witnessed a Taser incident at Vancouver International Airport last Sunday said security at the facility and RCMP are to blame for the death of a distraught man in the terminal who didn’t understand English….

He said he tried to calm an agitated Dziekanski, 40, in the public arrivals area…”I think the responsible parties are the Vancouver Airport and the RCMP for not having other negotiating tactics once he’s at the heightened state,” said Meltzer, who was the person who called in RCMP.

He said he clearly warned them the man didn’t speak English.

Meltzer claimed the officers gave Dziekanski two commands in English and within seconds Tasered him after he held a stapler in an apparent threatening manner …

It may sound as if I am suggesting that ALL law enforcement officers are rogue cops run amok. Not at all. I have the greatest respect for police officers, whose jobs are hazardous at the best of times. I am not suggesting that all Canadian police trample roughshod over the rights of citizens. I AM suggesting that in these specific examples something went badly wrong, and the citizens who bore the brunt of bad decisions on the part of the police, all paid a price – two of them with their lives. And I have to wonder if, perhaps, the truth might not have been laid bare without the video evidence to hand. How many other incidents, unrecorded, bore the consequences of bad judgment calls that we may never know about?

Is this kind of incident restricted to the west coast of Canada? No, obviously not. Following the tube bombings in London, all of England was on edge. That day – 7/7 – had the police on high alert, especially in London. Suspicion was the norm. It was in that climate that police shot and killed Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell Tube station on 22 July.

Menezes, according to leaked documents, was restrained before he was shot.
Menezes, according to leaked documents, was restrained before he was shot

Mr. Menezes family called for a public enquiry, a call which BBC says:

.” ..comes after leaked documents contradicted previous accounts of the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell Tube station on 22 July.

Investigation papers, leaked to ITV, suggest the Brazilian was restrained before being shot eight times….The documents contradict initial eyewitness reports that suggested Mr. Menezes hurdled a barrier at Stockwell Tube station and was wearing a padded jacket that could have concealed a bomb…Scotland Yard said on the day of the shooting – 24 hours after the 21 July failed attacks – that “his clothing and his behaviour at the station added to their suspicions.” [ news.bbc.co.uk ]

An image leaked to ITV shows Mr. de Menezes lying dead on the tube.
An image leaked to ITV shows Mr. de Menezes lying dead on the tube

Not all London or British police are running around the streets of the country like trigger-happy Rambos on steroids. I know that is not the case. I am suggesting that in the climate that now seems to prevail, it could be understandable that stresses are heightened and bad judgment calls result. That acknowledgement, however, is surely cold comfort for this family.

What about the United States of America? Rodney King, anyone? In March 1991, an incident took place in LA which, to this day, resonates across the country. Six white police officers pulled over African-American King, and then proceeded to beat the stuffing out of him. Lucky for King – and the cause of justice – a witness videotaped the whole incident. Riots ensued upon the initial acquittal at the original trial of those six officers, (during which 54 people had been killed, 2382 injured (including 228 critically), 7000 fires were set, over 12 000 people were arrested, over 1 billion dollars of damage had been done). Following examination of the facts by the FBI, a federal grand jury was struck to investigate whether King’s civil rights had been violated.


.” ..The jury’s verdict was announced in April 1993: Officers Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell were guilty. In deciding the length of their sentences, Judge Davies determined that the beating constituted aggravated assault – assault using a dangerous weapon – which carried a longer prison sentence. However, he also took into account other circumstances such as “the extraordinary notoriety and national media coverage” of the case. In the end, Koon and Powell were each sentenced to 30 months in prison. There was no repeat of the rioting that followed the first trial.

The following year, Rodney King was awarded $3.8 million in his civil trial against six of the officers present at the beating. The videotape was introduced as evidence in that trial as well. Today, none of the four officers who stood trial remains with the LAPD….”

You would think that police, especially, would be aware that videos may well be introduced as evidence in instances where their conduct is in dispute. Apparently not so much. In 2000, Atlanta police were caught on tape beating someone. Filmed by TV news cameras, the video shot gives clear evidence of what happened to drunk driving suspect Marshall Dwight Studdard.

Clips from the videotape of the Jones beating.
Clips from the videotape of the Jones beating

Same kind of story, different city. And so it goes. Read the rest of this story here: [ news.bbc.co.uk ]

And it seems many cities across America have been dealt blows to their credibility. Of course, if allegations of police brutality can be proved by videotaped evidence, so much the better. Again, I am certainly not suggesting for one minute that all US law enforcement officers are renegades abusing innocent citizens, but I have to wonder how the climate of such pictorial evidence might have changed the way the police do their business. Taking a look at the largest State in the country, there are stories galore of police overstepping their authority, and treating people with less than regard for the laws they are hired to uphold. In Orange County, just as one random example, the law enforcement officials have had a few allegations leveled against them. Last October, Sheriff Michael S. Carona was indicted on federal corruption charges stemming from a lengthy investigation. On the Free Republic site was this:

But even as he [Carona] gained attention in the political realm, Carona was coming under attack from critics who accused him of improper management and ethical lapses. His conduct had hurt the morale and integrity. [ www.freerepublic.com ]

In a column titled “DA’s Report Is a Stunning Indictment of the Mike Carona-Run Jails-Sort Of” just last week, a writer at the OC Weekly had this to say about the Sheriff’s department:

Cell Blockhead The DA’s report is a stunning indictment of the Mike Carona-run jails-well, except for the indictment part

During their work in 2006…Orange County jail deputies routinely slept on the job, played electronic games, watched television and movies, operated personal businesses, unnecessarily fired weapons at inmates sitting on toilets, chatted on the telephone, left to work out at gyms, surfed the Internet, read books, sent text messages to girlfriends, allowed-no, encouraged-inmate-on-inmate violence, ignored medical emergencies, refused to perform basic inspections for entire shifts, and routinely doctored official logs to mask incompetence.

Deputies weren’t lazy all the time. They occasionally awoke to pulverize handcuffed citizens entering jail on misdemeanor charges-insisting the bloody, bone-cracking events were always self-defense. They had to do something, I guess, to feel like they’d earned their publicly financed paychecks…

Three years ago, I wrote a series of articles alerting the public to the jailhouse mess. Establishment players hissed. Deputies booed. Then-Sheriff Mike Carona literally rolled his eyes. But this week, we learned I hadn’t gone far enough. …Much of the discussion at Rackauckas’ press conference focused on the DA’s “disappointment” about jail deputy work habits; his “shock” at jail culture; and convoluted explanations as to why tainted deputies narrowly escaped murder, perjury, assault, dereliction-of-duty or gross-negligence charges.[ www.ocweekly.com ]

To get a chilling sense of what happens within just this one judiciary of the US, another column in the OC Weekly deals with the death of an inmate named John Chamberlain. It is too long to even excerpt here, but it does define the climate of the relationship that law enforcement has with citizens. That column is called “I Lit the Fire” and is by the same writer as above. [ www.ocweekly.com ]

To Google just this one department is to see a culture of violence, and disregard for the rule of law. Back in 2005, Michael Hampton, in a piece called “Orange County, Calif. sheriff’s deputies continue assaults, battery,” wrote:

“Deputies at the Orange County jail in California have a long history of assaulting and battering people brought into the jail for even the most minor offenses…The latest victim was Joshua Dominic Wilson, 20, a defensive back for semi-pro football team the Southern California Smash.

Unlike football, which has rules of conduct and penalties for cheaters, beatings in the jail are one-sided contests… despicable acts routinely go unpunished. Beating prisoners doesn’t require any skill; any group of 9-year-olds armed with high-voltage taser guns and pepper spray can torture someone who is handcuffed and confined. The home team always wins.

Wilson learned this lesson on Sept. 24, after Huntington Beach police transported him to the OC Jail because he’d failed to resolve an old traffic ticket. He was stripping for a body search when he says an irritable deputy provoked an incident. [ www.homelandstupidity.us ]

There are other stories in the public domain, but you get the idea. Again, am I saying that ALL law enforcement officers within this one area of the US are lawless lunatics? No, of course not. Am I saying that California is the only state in the US where this kind of stuff happens? No, sadly, I cannot make that assertion. Proof of that surfaced this week. Again, courtesy of the video camera, (a TV news camera crew – again! And yes – it has made it on to YouTube) comes a story out of Philadelphia.

Philadelphia a half dozen officers held two men on the ground, kicking them repeatedly, while one was punched; one also appeared to be struck with a baton.
About a halfdozen officers held two men on the ground, kicking them repeatedly, while one was punched; one also appeared to be struck with a baton.

More than a dozen officers were involved, but Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said investigators were having the videotape enhanced to help determine how many of them were actually striking the suspects…”We certainly are concerned about what we saw on the tape,” Ramsey said at a news conference. “The behavior that at least was exhibited on the tape is unacceptable..” ..”We do expect them to maintain a level of conduct on the street that is beyond reproach,” the commissioner said. “The sergeant should have taken some kind of action to intervene..” ..

The mother of one of the suspects said she was outraged.

“I’m horrified to see that our city cops would beat some human being like they did, like a gang-style fight,” Leomia Dyches said. She added, “I’d like to see them tried for what they did.” [ www.latimes.com ]

To read stories like this IS to be outraged. In civilised society, we are not expecting too much to have our law enforcement officers behave within the rule of laws that they are sworn to uphold. If we are to maintain this semblance of a civilised society, we really DO need to hold officers who go off the rails to account for their actions. If we are to continue to raise our children to have respect for the police in our communities, those same police need to live that same respect for the law. Just as in the Rodney King case, the case in London, the cases in Orange County, the cases in Canada, ALL law enforcement officials need to be reminded they are upholders of the laws of the land. Yes, every police officer IS human, and in the Philadelphia case, this specific department was understandably upset about one of their own being fatally shot just days prior to this incident. However, no officer should be ABOVE the law. Period.

Ros Prynn
Ros Prynn is a NewsBlaze investigative reporter and editor, who writes on a range of topics. Contact her by writing to NewsBlaze, or at her milblog assolutatranquillita.blogspot.com