Brown-shirted Utah Highway Patrol Officers stand in solidarity with Officer Jon Gardner during a November 30 press conference announcing that an internal inquiry found that his use of a Taser on motorist Jared Massey was "lawful."
The suspense was hardly unbearable when the Utah Highway Patrol (UHP) announced that it would “review” the criminal assault committed by Trooper Jon Gardner last September 14, when he attacked Jared Massey – an agitated motorist whose behavior was non-threatening – with a Taser.
A “review” of this kind is almost always an exercise in ratifying the illegal use of force by a police officer. The UHP performed as expected, announcing at a press conference yesterday (November 30) that Gardner's attack was “lawful and justified under the circumstances” -- despite the fact that the department's policy does not authorize the use of a Taser against someone who does not pose a threat.
The now-notorious video of the incident demonstrates beyond dispute that Massey posed no actual or potential threat to Gardner. The video record also shows that it was Gardner who needlessly escalated the encounter by ordering the driver from the vehicle, rather than handing him the unsigned ticket and scurrying off to wherever it is that malodorous revenue farmers like himself go after committing their acts of highway robbery.
Massey, who had admitted to driving 68 miles per hour in what he thought was a 65 mph zone, believed that Gardner was inviting him out of the car to show him a sign announcing the beginning of a 40 mph construction zone. Gardner apparently ordered Massey from the car for the purpose of arresting him for refusing to sign the citation, which isn't a crime since in Utah a signature is unnecessary.
(Here's something else to consider. Go back and look at the opening seconds of that video; notice how Officer Gardner pulled to the side of the road directly in front of the 40 MPH sign just before Massey passed him. It's clear to me that by doing so Gardner most likely obstructed Massey's view of the sign. At the very least, he would have distracted the driver, whose logical reaction would have been to pay attention to the UHP patrol car rather than the speed limit sign. I'm cynical enough to suspect that this is one of the oh-so-clever tricks patrolmen sometimes pull in order to pull in revenue.)
No citizen has the legal, let alone moral, obligation to submit to an unwarranted arrest. And no police officer has the legal, let alone moral, authority to use a Taser to punish a citizen for displaying a bad attitude. The Taser is supposedly a non-lethal weapon; it can – and has – served that role by immobilizing violent suspects without killing them or putting bystanders at risk. However, a better description of that device as typically used would be: “Frequently lethal instrument of torture” -- at least as it's being employed by police departments that routinely ignore guidelines supposedly intended to prevent it from being used as a means of “pain compliance.”
The only reason Gardner's attack came under review (however perfunctory) by the UHP was the global furor that erupted when Massey posted the video on YouTube. Now Gardner is in hiding, cringing and terrified by random acts of blogosphere bluster and the occasional threatening telephone call. To his considerable credit, Massey has condemned the threats and urged people to leave Gardner alone.
In this we see a useful contrast between Massey, who displays the character of a principled adult man, and the swaggering tax-supported adolescent bully who attacked him and now cowers behind the Big Brown Wall thrown up by his fellow brown-shirts of the UHP.
Does Gardner fear for his life? I certainly hope so, even as I pray that those fears prove to be unwarranted. The least we can hope for is that bullies occasionally know the visceral fear of the hunted.
In urging the public to lay off Gardner, Jared Massey points out that the State Trooper has a family. So does Massey, of course – a small child and a pregnant wife, both of whom saw him brutally attacked and needlessly humiliated. The pregnant wife was also threatened with arrest for the supposed crime of coming to Massey's aid.
At this point in our nation's descent into unalloyed tyranny, those responsible for inflicting needless violence on the citizenry need to be intimidated. They need to suffer the sting of disrepute, the cold loneliness of ostracism, the gut-churning and sleep-dispelling unease that comes from wondering if there will be retaliation for their acts of officially sanctioned violence. This is particularly true in cases of this kind in which the government isn't willing to punish such conduct.
In a qualified defense of Officer Gardner, the Provo Daily Herald – which has taken a seriously statist turn since I wrote for it a decade and a half ago – made an ironically useful point when it criticized Massey for being “argumentative ... and rather dense about some obvious social mores.”
“Here's a tip: when a uniformed man with a badge and a gun tells you to do something, shut up and do exactly what he says,” opined the Herald, a newspaper that serves the reddest community in Red-State America, and expressing the defining sentiment of what Lew Rockwell calls “Red-State Fascism.”
The Herald editorial collective elaborated:
“On the video, we don't see him [Massey] threatening the officer or getting out of control. But still, the officer has a badge and a gun -- and also a rule book. You can cooperate with the cops and save yourself a lot of trouble, or you can make them go by the book, as Massey apparently did without introspection. We have sympathy for law officers making traffic stops. They can turn deadly fast. Cops should not be hampered by excessive rules or second-guessing. They need the freedom to respond to each unique situation, within reason.”
The problem here, as noted above, is that Massey didn't force Gardner to “go by the book”; the “book” in this case dictated that Gardner simply hand Massey the ticket and walk away, and it certainly didn't authorize the use of a Taser in this situation. What is really interesting here is that in correctly describing a traffic stop as a situation that can “turn deadly fast,” the Herald reserved its sympathy and concern for the heavily-armed State agent – not the unarmed citizen. This is a question of “social mores,” the paper instructs us.
It is those “mores” that must change, and soon. It is the citizen who is owed reflexive deference, not the agent of the State. Even today, many police officers remember that principle and comport themselves accordingly. But when the not-so-exceptional exception occurs, the institutional bias of nearly every police agency is to defend those officers whose behavior is clearly illegal -- while quietly dismissing criminal charges, such as “resisting arrest” or “obstruction,” that result when a citizen makes a futile effort to defend himself.
In an ironic and instructive juxtaposition, Gardner's attack on Massey came at about the same time the Austin Police Department (APD) began to make amends for a remarkably similar assault by one of their own on a motorist on Thanksgiving 2006.
Officer Thomas O'Connor stopped 32-year-old Eugene Snelling (who was driving with his mother to a family Thanksgiving celebration) for driving five miles per hour faster than the posted speed limit and not having a rear license plate. Forty-five seconds later, O'Connor – who had dragged Snelling from the vehicle – shot the motorist with his Taser, despite the fact that Snelling did nothing that could be reasonably construed as a threat.
As the dashcam video of the incident documents, O'Connor was brusque and threatening when he approached Snelling's vehicle. Although he would later tell an internal affairs panel (.pdf) that Snelling refused to hand over his license and insurance information, the time index on the video proves that less than a second transpired between O'Connor's initial request and a second demand, which was delivered in a barking “command voice.”
Understandably put off by O'Connor's truculence, Snelling said, “Whoah, whoah, whoah” as he reached for his documents to comply with the demand. (As Snelling would later recount, O'Connor was "yelling from the get-go."
Salting his bellicosity with mockery, O'Connor shouted, “Not `whoa, whoa, whoa,'” reiterating the demand again. Fishing around for his documents, Snelling was simultaneously dealing with his agitated mother. Oh-- forgive me; did I mention that they're black, and that the APD has a reputation for needless brutality directed against minority citizens, and was under federal scrutiny at the time for the same?
Roughly twenty seconds after stopping Snelling, O'Connor ordered him out of the car, opening the door himself (something he was not legally authorized to do) and physically pulling the driver from his seat. At the same time, his hand went directly to his Taser before Snelling was clear of the vehicle.
Although he would later claim that he pulled the Taser because Snelling seemed to “reach his hand toward me” and “I felt threatened” -- oh, the poor dear! -- the video makes it clear that it was O'Connor's behavior that was needlessly aggressive and unmistakably threatening.
Forty-five seconds after stopping Eugene Snelling, Thomas O'Connor gives him a "ride on the Taser," while Snelling's mother watches in horror.
Predictably enough, O'Connor's immediate supervisor and the internal affairs panel initially exonerated him of wrongful use of the Taser because he “perceived a threat.” He was subsequently suspended for three days by Cathy Ellison, the interim chief of the embattled APD. O'Connor, a former Army MP (scroll down) who has reportedly used a Taser unnecessarily on at least one previous occasion, complained that his suspension was brutally unfair. (He sought to justify his aggressive attitude toward Snelling by saying, inter alia, that he has a "medical condition" -- I'm betting it's hypoglycemia -- that makes him "edgy" when he doesn't eat, as he hadn't on that day.)
Art Acevedo – who, unlike Ellison, appears to be a competent, professional officer – subsequently took over as Chief of the APD, and he recognized in O'Connor's behavior a clearly illicit and unnecessary use of potentially lethal force.
In a video message to APD officers, Acevedo put the matter quite plainly, urging them to ask themselves the following question:
“If a member of my family was stopped by a member of this police department, or any other police department, would I want them [sic] treated in the manner this suspect was treated?”
“Take a really hard look inside [yourself] and ask, `Am I really that officer?'” Acevedo continued, referring to O'Connor's conduct. “Am I treating people that way for a minor traffic violation? If you are, change your behavior.”
At least some Austin police officers – most likely, those who take seriously the idea that they are supposed to be peace officers, rather than an occupying army – responded to Chief Acevedo's challenge by apologizing to Snelling and his family.I grant that this was a highly qualified gesture (the penitent officers emphasized that they spoke as individuals, not as representatives of the department), and one largely dictated by PR concerns. And one measure of the APD's internal sickness is found in the fact that this is the same department that fired the exemplary police officer Ramon Perez because Officer Perez, a devout Christian and stalwart Constitutionalist, refused to carry out an illegal order to use his Taser against a non-violent elderly suspect.
A complimentary caricature: Officer Ramon Perez, as depicted by an Austin cartoonist.
There is, nonetheless, some faint and fleeting cause for hope in the reform efforts undertaken by APD Chief Acevedo – particularly when contrasted with the sullen arrogance displayed by the UHP in defending the indefensible actions of Trooper Jon Gardner.
UPDATE, 12/3: They're Never Wrong
So, let's say -- and why not -- that you're with the Blytheville, Arkansas Police Department, largely because you can't find honest work.
You and your buddies are sent out to serve an arrest warrant on a guy named Travis Henderson, who failed to appear in court on a reckless driving charge.
You happen at random to come across a harmless-looking black fellow in his early 20s who just happens to be identified as Travis Henderson, albeit not the one you're looking for. This Travis Henderson -- who looks nothing like the mugshot you've been given -- is a mentally handicapped athlete who has received a lot of local publicity for his exploits in the Special Olympics.
So in spite of the fact that this is obviously not the suspect you're looking for, you brace the guy, and when he reacts as any rational person would -- that is, he takes offense at having his workout interrupted for no reason by a bunch of armed thugs -- you hit him with the Taser and arrest him for "resisting arrest" and "disorderly conduct."
Perhaps because you really didn't have reason to do any of this, you just give the guy a low-level "drive" stun, rather than the full treatment.
(Actually, Taser Incorporated has warned that using the "drive-stun" setting while placing the instrument directly against the victim's body is actually more dangerous than firing the darts and delivering the full-force shock.)
The official use-of-force report claims that this utterly gratuitous act of torture (it's called "pain compliance," which is a sanitized way of saying the same thing) is justified because, heck, the poor confused guy pulled away from a pack of three police officers who had no damn right to put their hands on him.
And according to their supervisors, the cops in this situation did the right thing. But then, they always do, no matter how many innocent people get hurt or killed.
"I just feel like ... like I've been treated like an animal or something," Mr. Henderson observed.
Not at all, Travis. There are laws against committing acts of pointless cruelty against animals, or even -- under the right circumstances -- so much as growling at a dog.
Unless, of course, the acts of animal cruelty in question are committed by those sanctified and omnicompetent Heroes in Blue. Then it's a crime to impede those acts.
Blytheville Police Chief Ross Thompson, who really should be placed in stocks and pelted with dead cats and rotten fruit, told the local television news that he stands by the Taser assault on Travis because, you know, he was resisting.
An innocent, mentally handicapped man was resisting the bullying overtures of police officers who knew that he wasn't the suspect they were seeking -- so, of course, it's Taser Time.
The officers involved in this atrocity are Michael Tovar, Brandon Bennett, and Jeremy Joseph Ward. The Chief's name, once again, is Ross Thompson. The Department's phone number is
Dum spiro, pugno!