Friday, December 6, 2013

Dallas Police Rule Change Gives Officers 72 Hours To Get Their Stories Straight After Shooting Citizens

from the "Accountability-is-for-bullet-riddled-civilians dept"
Techdirt

The Dallas Police Department can't seem to get its officers' statements on shootings to agree with recordings of the incidents. So, it's doing what any forward thinking law enforcement agency would do -- changing the rules.
Any Dallas officer involved in a police shooting — whether the officer fired a weapon or witnessed the gunfire — will now have the right to remain silent for 72 hours under a new department policy.

And even before they give a statement about the shooting, the officers can watch any available video before they give a statement.
Very convenient. This policy change, which was ushered in under the cover of the Thanksgiving holiday, will help ensure that DPD officers don't find their statements directly contradicted by the inconveniently unblinking eye of the camera, as happened just recently.

On October 14th, Dallas police officer Cardan Spencer shot a mentally ill man four times in the stomach. According to Spencer's partner, Christopher Watson (who wrote the report), the man (Bobby Gerald Bennett) moved "in a threatening manner" towards him and the other officer. Watson's statement even went so far as to say Bennett "lunged" at them. A statement released by the DPD a few hours after the shooting claimed the situation "escalated."

A surveillance camera caught the entire confrontation on tape. Less than 20 seconds pass before Spencer opens fire. See if you can catch a glimpse of the "lunge" or the "escalation."


Bennett never lunges. He doesn't do anything more threatening than stand up from the chair he was sitting in. Four bullets later, Bennett is on the ground. Somehow, being shot four times by a DPD officer is "aggravated assault," a charge the DPD pressed (it was later dropped) while Bennett was still in critical condition.

As a result of this, Spencer was fired and Watson suspended for making false statements. But this was only after Bennett's mother took the video to the media. Before she did this, DPD Chief David Brown watched the video and claimed his own officer's statement trumped his lying eyes.
"The unfortunate thing here is that Officer Watson's statement really overrode what the video showed," Brown said. "We had not at that point determined if the video captured the entire incident, or if the video had not been altered in any way. We put a lot of credibility on officer's statements until we have other evidence to prove otherwise."
Not so much anymore. Former DPD officer Cardan Spencer may be facing assault charges for shooting Bennett. Perhaps the saddest aspect of this whole debacle is the fact that Bennett's mother called the police because she was afraid her son (who has mental issues and was off his medication) might hurt himself.

As this has caused the DPD considerable embarrassment (not the least of which is the chief claiming a recording of the shooting is less trustworthy than statements given by an officer later suspended for making false statements), the only solution was (apparently) to buy time for officers to fix their narratives should inconvenient recordings surface.

Supposedly, this 72-hour waiting period is better for memory. Chief Brown refers to research by Alexis Artwohl which indicates recall of traumatic events increases over time. Immediate statements may be less accurate. That may be, but this report has been available since 2002 and there hasn't been a large shift in policies regarding police shootings across the nation. This looks like nothing more than someone finding the justification they need to install an insular policy that will allow bad cops to be even worse. This gives shelter to liars by allowing them to craft a plausible narrative that can't be undone by a single surveillance video.

This also doesn't explain why police insist on questioning suspects and eyewitnesses immediately after a criminal incident. But Artwohl has an explanation.
Artwohl, the memory expert, said officers treat civilian witnesses differently because officers won’t always be able to find the person again. That usually isn’t true of officers, she said.
Unsurprisingly, attorneys for the Dallas Police Association "applauded" Chief Brown's application of an additional layer of paint to the thin blue line. Anything that makes it easier to defend cops who are threatened by people standing motionless is a win for the PD's lawyers.

Defense attorney Mark Bennett flips the scenario to show just how outrageous this policy would be if it was applied to anyone else.
As a result of this incident, the Dallas Police Department changed its policy regarding gang-related shootings. Instead of pressing gang members for statements immediately after shootings, police officers will advise them that they have seventy-two hours to get together and make up a story, and will provide them, during that time, with any video the police can find, so that they can conform their stories to the video.

It makes no sense, does it, that police policy should not just permit but encourage members of a criminal street gang who witness a gang-related shooting to take three days to talk to each other and their lawyers and review the facts that are beyond dispute before making a statement?

It makes sense only if the police want the perpetrators of such shootings to walk free. The idea would be farcical if the criminal street gang were anything other than the police.
It's a farce, alright. The DPD has just ensured no one will trust the narratives constructed by its officers. And every citizen who's been paying attention will know to hang onto their recordings for at least 72 hours, rather than see it twisted into "evidence" that keeps bad cops employed.