The case of Michael Pedersen, which the Vanguard Court Watch covered this week, illustrates at the local level basic problems with the approach to policing. According to our coverage, the defense maintains that the defendant had broken no laws at the point at which a West Sacramento police officer approached him “because he was walking on the sidewalk and then stepped onto the street when the sidewalk ended.”
It was at this point that the officer drove by and slowed his vehicle, asking Mr. Pederson to get back on the sidewalk. The defendant’s response was clearly inappropriate – he flipped off the officer. However, the officer used that as pretext to pull over to the curb, get out of the vehicle and conduct a “welfare check” on the defendant.
“When he began patting the defendant down, the defendant jerked away from the officer, got frightened, and ran away towards oncoming traffic,” the Court Watch article explained. Moreover, the defense would argue, as reported by the Vanguard, “that the officer had no right to search the defendant, as he had not committed a crime or given the officer reasonable suspicion.”
Can an individual resist arrest when there is no underlying crime? That is the troubling aspect of this case and, unfortunately, the jury abetted the officer’s conduct with a conviction. And, while the punishment for this crime was 12 months of summary probation, the implications of it go much deeper.
In his Washington Post column this week, Radley Balko noted a comment made by Waterbury, Connecticut, Police Chief Vernon L. Riddick, Jr., who delivered a message to a mostly African American crowd of more than 200 people at Mount Olive African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Zion Church earlier this week.
The article paraphrased the comment to: “If an officer stops your car, if they ask to search your person or vehicle, if they demand entry into your home, comply and then complain later to the department’s internal affairs office and police chief’s office if you feel your rights have been violated.”
As Radley Balko counters in his column, “I understand the argument that you shouldn’t mouth off to cops. I get the argument that you shouldn’t needlessly provoke them. I certainly agree that you shouldn’t physically resist them. It could get you killed.
“But this is a police chief who, in a town hall meeting spurred by a rash of shootings both by and of police officers, is asking that citizens submit without question if an officer requests to search a vehicle, home or person. In the interest of ‘cooperation,’ he’s asking a black audience to give up their Fourth Amendment rights.”
Mr. Balko argues, “The Fourth Amendment gives us the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The intent behind the amendment was to protect us from the indignity and violation of our privacy when we’re subjected to a search that’s based on little more than a hunch — the intent was not to protect our right to later complain to internal affairs.”
He adds, “I realize things are tense right now. We should certainly respect and be aware of that when interacting with law enforcement officers. But to verbally refuse a request to search is an exercise of one’s rights. It isn’t a provocation. That Riddick and other police officials seem to see it as the latter is telling — and a big problem.”
Mr. Balko makes a good point, to which I will add that there is no guarantee that filing a complaint will be effective and there is no guarantee that the courts will correctly exclude evidence of an illegal search – and they may use lack of compliance as rationale to argue that the search was legal.
I am troubled further, however, that there is a growing belief that police shootings only happen when there is a lack of compliance by the subject. The idea is that if you listen to the police officer’s commands – even illegal and unreasonable ones – you have nothing to worry about.
But the Kinsey case in North Miami is troubling because Mr. Kinsey, who was shot, was telling police – as can be heard on the video – not to shoot, the autistic man had a toy, not a gun. And he had his hands up in the air when he was shot by police.
There is some dispute as to why he was shot. The police officer’s union president, John Rivera, said the shooting was an accident and the officer thought the toy was a gun. Mr. Rivera said that “the officers on the scene” did not know the man with autism had a toy rather than a weapon.
However, as City Councilmember Scott Galvin indicated, a police officer was put on unpaid administrative leave for giving inconsistent statements, and he stated that “the police officer who you’ve just heard named, who has been put on leave, totally violated his trust from the public to protect and serve.”
He added, “By giving misinformation to this department, he not only jeopardized Mr. Kinsey’s life and the life of his client, but he jeopardized the life of every police officer who serves in this city.”
Mr. Kinsey is not the only one this month to be shot while apparently following orders. The details that led an officer to shoot Philando Castile several times through a car window earlier this month remain unclear, but one account by his girlfriend claims he was being asked for his license and registration.
Mr. Castile reportedly told the officer he was licensed to carry a weapon and had one in his car. Ms. Reynolds stated: “The officer said don’t move. As he was putting his hands back up, the officer shot him in the arm four or five times.”
In Know Your Rights training, individuals are instructed on their rights and how to assert them. One of the standard admonishments is not to take up a dispute with a police officer on the scene. That is general good advice, but it doesn’t always work.
As we have seen in a number of shootings – South Carolina, Chicago, and perhaps now in Miami – police accounts have been contradicted by video recordings.
The councilmember makes the critical point that such statements as Riddick delivered violate the trust of the public and, by giving out misinformation, he may well jeopardized the lives of police officers.
—David M. Greenwald reporting