The headline was a real eye-grabber, especially to a police officer: “One Fired; Chief Seeks Charges in Taped Beating,” said the NBC affiliate in Dallas-Fort Worth. And the deck headline was every bit as ominous: “Three Dallas officers may face charges in connection with assault.” Right below the headline was the video, tagged with the damning caption, “DPD Assault on Dashboard Cam.”
Looks bad, I said to myself. Taped beating … officers facing charges … assault on dashboard cam. Looks really, really bad.
Then I watched the tape. And I watched it again. And after I had watched it a few more times, I was tempted to queue up the Peggy Lee music. You know the song, “Is that all there is?”
Here’s how the events unfolded: On September 5, at about 9:15 p.m., two Dallas police officers, Paul Bauer and Kevin Randolph, saw Andrew Collins riding a motorcycle down the sidewalk on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. They like to maintain their Wild West traditions down there in Texas, but we may presume that riding motorcycles on sidewalks is prohibited, even in Dallas. Presented with this affront to the commonweal, the officers tried to pull Collins over, an effort that was captured on their car’s dash-mounted video camera.
Rather than pull over as the law requires and accept a lecture or a date with the traffic-court judge, Collins can be seen riding off on the motorcycle (not at all expertly, as the tape reveals), leading the officers on a short pursuit.
While driving the wrong way on a one-way street, Collins fails to negotiate a sharp right turn beneath the Julius Schepps Freeway, jumping the curb onto a median strip and coming to a stop between two of the freeway’s support pillars. The officers take the same turn and, either by accident or design, their car jumps the curb and comes into very slight contact with the rear of the motorcycle, with Collins still aboard.
Collins jumps from the motorcycle and runs out of frame to the left, but he apparently stumbles and falls to the ground as he steps into the street. During everything that follows, Collins is obscured from view in the video by the motorcycle and the hood of the police car.
An officer shouts at Collins, “Get on the f***ing ground,” a coarse but nonetheless fairly routine instruction for officers to give in such circumstances. Officer Bauer, who had been driving the police car, comes into view from the left and goes down to his knees as he begins struggling with Collins, and at one point he ends up on his back after either losing his balance or being struck by Collins. Officer Randolph comes into view from the right wielding what looks to be a collapsible baton, which he uses to strike Collins four times. The target of the blows appears to be Collins’s legs, but given the camera angle it’s difficult to say for sure.
Randolph remains on his feet while Bauer, still on his knees, continues to struggle with Collins, delivering two punches and a knee strike. Randolph then appears to kneel on Collins’s legs and uses his body weight to control him while Bauer places handcuffs on Collins’s wrists. What looks to be another baton blow by Randolph may instead have been him striking the ground with it, the only way to collapse that type of baton once it’s been expanded to full length. No more than thirty seconds elapsed from the time Collins jumped from his motorcycle to the time he was handcuffed. At no time, either on the video shot from Bauer and Randolph’s car or that taken from any of the other cars that responded to the scene, is any additional force used on Collins.
That’s all there was too it. All in all, a fairly common scenario of the type that plays out nightly on the streets of America’s major cities.
And yet Officer Randolph, who as a rookie was on probationary status at the time, has been fired for his role in the arrest and is facing criminal assault charges; Officer Bauer remains on the job but on administrative leave and is also facing an assault charge; and Officer Henry Duetsch, who arrived at the scene after the arrest, is being charged with tampering with or fabricating evidence — a felony — after he allegedly adjusted the angle of the dashboard camera in his police car during the incident.
And what of Andrew Collins? The charges against him, which included evading arrest, possession of marijuana, and outstanding traffic warrants, have all been dismissed, and in all likelihood he can anticipate a substantial payday through the beneficence of the Dallas taxpayers.
Why is this so? As is unfortunately required in these cases, the facts of the incident must be viewed through race-colored glasses. Andrew Collins is black while the officers who arrested him are white, a set of facts that has prompted Dallas Police Chief David Brown and Mayor Tom Leppert to trip over each other while engaging in a pathetic orgy of apologies to “the community.”
Ah yes, The Community. When mayors and police chiefs use the term, it’s almost always a euphemism for “minorities,” more particularly, “minorities who make trouble.” None of them would ever dare admit it publicly, but mayors and police chiefs in cities across the country live in constant, almost paralyzing fear of getting that phone call, the one that informs them of some incident that may, if things are not quickly and deftly handled, lead to rioting in the streets. Officers Bauer and Randolph of course didn’t know it at the time, but when they first put the spotlight on Andrew Collins as he rode down the sidewalk on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., it was destined to be one of those incidents.
So now, if a few cops have to be put through the wringer to keep The Community pacified, then let’s frog-march those cops into court, let’s put their names and faces on the news, and by all means let’s bring the crushing weight of the entire justice system down upon them, for this is the price we must pay to keep large swaths of the city from being looted and burned, it is the price of tranquility in The Community.
But it didn’t have to be this way. In his rush to prostrate himself and apologize for his officers’ actions, Chief Brown allowed a fairly routine incident to be magnified beyond all proportion, failing to respond appropriately when false and inflammatory misinformation about the incident was printed and broadcast. For example, on Sept. 14, the Fox affiliate in Dallas ran a story that featured this passage:
Police said Andrew Collins was revving up his motorcycling [sic] on a sidewalk along MLK Boulevard. Officers chased him for about two miles until they reached Lamar Street.
Sources said they then used their squad car to crash into him. They pulled him off the motorcycle and as Chief Brown describes it they used their fists and batons to beat him.
The “sources” were wrong, and if Chief Brown truly described the altercation that way after viewing the video, he is sadly incapable of recognizing a legitimate use of force, a common defect in those who, though they wear a badge and carry a gun, spend their days behind a desk. To say the officers “crashed” into Collins implies a violent collision that plainly did not occur. Nor did the officers pull Collins off the motorcycle as the report states. Yes, one officer used his fist to strike Collins and the other used a baton, but that is exactly what officers are trained to do when dealing with a combative suspect, as Collins apparently was. And in a report broadcast on Fox’s KDFW the same day, reporter Lynn Kawano told viewers that after the police car hit the motorcycle, “Collins then surrenders, and that is when the beating begins.”
The facts were otherwise, and it was irresponsible to broadcast this misinformation and raise expectations of a genuine scandal.
True, there are legitimate questions about some of the officers’ actions. It has been reported that a sergeant directed Bauer and Randolph to discontinue the pursuit shortly after it began. The audio portion of the dashboard tape is often garbled, so it’s difficult to discern if this is true. But it is clear that one of the pursuing officers was updating their location via radio during the chase, which I wouldn’t expect of someone who had been ordered to break off the pursuit but was continuing on the sly.
And there remains the mystery behind the camera in one of the other police cars being moved, allegedly by Officer Duetsch. If this truly was a deliberate attempt to conceal some nefarious activity the camera would otherwise have captured, why wouldn’t the officer simply have turned it off, as he had the ability to do? In other footage taken at the same time from other cars (the tapes are time-stamped), the officers can be seen milling nonchalantly about as cops tend to do after the action has stopped. If there was anything untoward taking place nearby, none of them seemed to be paying any attention to it.
These questions and all the others will be answered in due season, but not before the citizens and police officers of Dallas endure one of those uniquely American civic sideshows. And when that sideshow concludes, I’m as confident as I can be that not one of the involved officers will have been convicted of any crime at all, and that those who are fired will have won their jobs back through the courts.
And Andrew Collins, whatever riches are bestowed on him, will still and always be just a petty miscreant.