Imagine the following scenario: Several motorists on a busy Los Angeles freeway call 911 to report a woman walking along the shoulder and acting strangely. The California Highway Patrol responds to the calls, sending officers to investigate. The first officer to arrive is alone in a marked patrol car. He gets out of his car and talks to the woman, ordering her to stop. She refuses, and instead turns and walks away as traffic continues to pass.
And now this officer must make a decision: If I pursue her, he says to himself, she will very likely resist my attempt to restrain her and I will have to subdue her by force. The ensuing altercation may be captured on video by people in any of these passing cars, video that will soon be posted on YouTube and, if deemed sufficiently inflammatory, picked up by television news stations.
And should this occur, the officer thinks, I will surely not be cast in a favorable light. The woman is black and I am not, a fact that will be pointed out endlessly should the encounter turn violent. I may even be viewed as a villain by those whose experience with such encounters is limited to reading about them or watching them on television, a group that may include some of my own superiors in the Highway Patrol. My home, my livelihood, even my very freedom may be jeopardized if I take action on my own here.
No, the officer says to himself, the more prudent course is to wait for backup to arrive, maybe even a supervisor. That way, should things go awry, blame can be shared with others, or perhaps even shifted entirely onto the supervisor. And besides, what’s the worst thing that can happen?
So the officer watches and follows on foot as the woman continues on her way down the freeway’s shoulder. And as she walks facing the oncoming traffic, she sees more patrol cars approaching and realizes her avenue of escape will soon be closed. But she sees that the freeway traffic has now slowed, the passing drivers braking so as to take in the spectacle unfolding at the side of the road. Sensing her last chance for freedom, the woman runs into the traffic lanes, hoping to make it to the opposite side of the freeway before the arriving officers can assemble and stop her.
She finds success, if only briefly. She weaves between cars and across all five lanes of eastbound traffic under the startled eyes of the passing drivers, but she sees that the Highway Patrol officers, too, are making their way through the snarl and coming for her. She jumps over the wall on the center divider and runs into the westbound lanes, where she finds to her momentary horror that these drivers have not been distracted and this traffic has not slowed. She is struck by one car and then another and another, and by the time it’s all over, there are bits and pieces of the woman scattered over a quarter-mile stretch of the freeway, which is closed for hours in both directions as the Highway Patrol and the coroner clean up the mess.
And then come the questions, the accusations, and of course the lawsuits. Why, it is asked, did the first Highway Patrol officer on the scene not take more aggressive action to stop the woman? Didn’t he know she was at risk from being run over and killed? Was he unconcerned to her fate because she was of an ethnicity different from his own? “He should have tackled her, even hit her,” says the lawyer representing the woman’s family. “He should have done whatever it took to keep her from running into traffic. Anything would have been preferable to what happened to her.”
Yes, a sad story, but that’s not quite the way it came to pass.
You may have heard about the incident, which took place on July 1st in Los Angeles. And you may have seen the video, or rather that portion of it most likely to arouse sympathy for the woman who was roughed up by an officer from the California Highway Patrol. But if that’s all you saw then you don’t know enough to have an objective opinion about what happened that day.
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Here’s how it did happen: On the evening of July 1, at least eight people called 911 to report a woman acting strangely on the shoulder of the Santa Monica Freeway near the La Brea Avenue exit. Officers from the CHP responded, with a lone officer the first to arrive. Some of the encounter was captured on cellphone video by a driver in a car entering the freeway from La Brea Avenue.
It’s important to watch the linked video, or any of the others on YouTube that that are unedited, rather than the versions that have been repeatedly aired on television, which show only that portion of the altercation in which the officer is atop the woman and punching her. And even in the unedited version it’s difficult to discern exactly what happened between the as yet unidentified Highway Patrol officer and the woman, Marlene Pinnock, 51.
As the video begins, it’s clear that the officer and the woman already have had some kind of contact. The officer can be seen on the onramp standing at the right side of a stopped pickup truck; Pinnock is hidden from view for the moment on the left side of the same truck.
As the truck drives off, the officer crosses the onramp toward Pinnock, who now starts walking away down the shoulder. The officer follows and grabs her. A struggle ensues, with the officer ending up atop Pinnock and punching her several times. A man reported to be an off-duty police officer runs into the picture and assists in restraining Pinnock. The video ends before Pinnock is handcuffed, but it appears that at this point it’s all over but the shouting.
And what shouting there has been. The video was posted to YouTube and then aired over and over and over on local and even national news broadcasts. Or I should say parts of it were, those parts most likely to cast Pinnock in a sympathetic light and lead an impressionable public to believe the officer is beneath contempt.
But a careful analysis of the incident is called for before condemning the officer. In the linked video, the officer grabs Pinnock’s arm at the 12-second mark and throws the final punch at 30 seconds. Exactly what occurred during the intervening 17 seconds is not entirely clear, this owing to the movement of the car, the camera, and the people. But what is clear is that the woman attempted to walk away from a lawful detention, then resisted when the officer tried to grab her. To those who say he shouldn’t have hit her with his fist, or that he hit her too many times, I would answer that any fight between two people is over only when one of them gives up, and it did not appear that Pinnock gave up until the last punch was thrown. It was Pinnock who started the fight, and it was the officer’s duty to end it. Yes, it looks bad, but police work often does. There is no way for an officer to subdue a combative suspect that, if viewed on video, won’t be found objectionable by some people.
Naturally there is a lawsuit pending, and an attorney representing Pinnock was interviewed on L.A.’s KABC radio. The audio is available on YouTube here, and it offers a hint at what the legal strategy will be when and if (and it’s a big if) the case goes to trial. The attorney, Caree Harper, was herself a police officer, and she presented herself as an expert on police use of force. (She can be seen here, proudly posing with Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Make of that what you will.) Police officers have “a lot of gadgets on that bat belt that you see officers wear,” she told KABC host Brian Suits. “They carry certain OC spray, they carry batons, they carry other means of lesser force.”
The implication here is that the officer should have used OC (oleoresin capsicum, or pepper) spray or struck Pinnock with a baton. You can imagine what the response would have been had the officer used OC spray and Pinnock, momentarily blinded as a result, had stumbled into traffic and been hit by a car. And as for the use of a baton, how would that have been any less shocking on video than the sight of the officer using his fist?
Harper continued: “And this officer is clearly a bulky officer, he exceeds 200 pounds. He could have simply initiated a control hold of her arms.”
Which is what he tried to do when he first grabbed her. When she pulled away and started flailing her arms, the use of a control hold was no longer an option. And yes, the officer appears to be fit, but as is clear in the video, and as shown here, in London’s Daily Mail, Pinnock is solidly built. Portraying her as a frail grandmother, as Harper did in the radio interview, is disingenuous.
Harper also made a revealing slip of the tongue during the interview. “If you notice the video,” she says, “she has her arms up blocking blows.” And here she realizes her mistake, not of fact but of strategy, and corrects herself by saying, “trying to block blows to her face.” And indeed it does appear that she deflects some of the punches. It’s difficult to discern how many of the officer’s punches landed or with what effect.
Police officers, Harper said, are “taught to be able to control people who are merely covering up or passive-resistant type protesters.” And this is true, as far as it goes. But Pinnock was no passive resister blocking the sidewalk at some protest rally, and for Harper to imply that she was merely reveals her naked attempt to arouse a public furor at the expense of the truth. Any use-of-force expert who attempts to persuade a jury that a control hold or OC spray or any of the other magic tricks Harper dreams might have subdued her client without a fight will be made a fool of on the witness stand.
And Harper tellingly dodged the question of what her client was doing on the freeway in the first place. (She may be one of the several homeless people who live on the side of the freeway.) “Could it be,” Harper said, “that we give her the benefit of the doubt, that maybe she was afraid of a rogue officer hurting her?”
If there is any evidence at all that the officer was in some way “rogue,” it has yet to be revealed.
As one might expect, the local racial grievance industry has been mobilized in Pinnock’s cause, with the standard proclamations of outrage and the predictable calls for a federal investigation under the supervision of Attorney General Eric Holder. (And who would doubt the objectivity of such an investigation?) It’s interesting to note that, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, in the last seven years 49 people have been murdered within one mile of where this incident occurred, and all but one of the victims were black or Latino. If any of these professionally and perpetually aggrieved community activists expressed a word of outrage over even one of these crimes, it has escaped my attention.
Some predictions: The CHP officer will not be convicted of any crime. (I would go so far as to predict he is not even charged with a crime, but I must hedge in the knowledge that Mike Feuer, the Los Angeles city attorney, is as committed a leftist as one may find in public office, and as such is unlikely to resist the pressure for misdemeanor prosecution that will be brought to bear on him. A felony prosecution, in state or federal court, even with Eric Holder involved, is out of the question.) And the Highway Patrol will settle the lawsuit with a cash payment to Pinnock, who, despite this, will in due course be homeless and living on the side of the freeway.
Watch and see.