Is Dunning the Only One Allowed to Rush to Judgment?
On Monday, April 24, the Davis Police Department released a statement on an alleged assault on police officers on Picnic Day that on its face did not make a lot of sense. Two days later, other accounts emerged that contradicted the police statement and were reported in the Bee and Enterprise.
The Vanguard on April 28 published an interview with attorney Mark Reichel, who is representing Elijah Williams, one of the suspects arrested on April 22. At that time, we acquired a nine-second video shot by a cell phone of the incident.
That video begins with a woman screaming, “Oh my god Angelica, what the f-, get the f- off of her.” As we noted at the time, we do not see what precipitated it, but from Mark Reichel’s account, at the point at which the officers exited the vehicle, they had not identified themselves, “Angelica” confronted them with profanities and flipped them off.
At this point, Mr. Reichel explained, the cop puts her in a headlock and “starts punching her.” He said, “That’s the first thing that happens.”
We did not have full benefit of the video so, like Mark Reichel, we did our best to piece together what happened from witness accounts and the video that we did see.
There is no audio in this, so it makes what happens a bit ambiguous. But the police van, which is unmarked, does a u-turn and does pull up right next to the crowd, coming close to hitting some people. Clearly, from this video, the account that they pulled up on the wrong side of the road is inaccurate (though that was never that important to the story).
We have accounts that police were shouting profanity, “get the f- back,” and some of our sources suggest that might be accurate, but we cannot hear this on the video.
What I do see is it appears that Angelica is one of the people who nearly gets hit by the van, you can see that Antoine Perry, her boyfriend, pulls her out of the way. She becomes angry and confronts the van. The passenger comes out and some sort of conflict ensues.
That is the key part of what we don’t know – what precipitated the confrontation. Did the police pull up, aggressively and in plainclothes so that people were not sure who they were dealing with, or were they immediately assaulted by a large and uncontrollable crowd?
From our standpoint that is why we need a fair and impartial investigation. It may well be true that both sides here acted inappropriately. I still believe that the initial statement by police was inaccurate and hyperbolic and it appears that better handling of this incident should have avoided what transpired.
As Rich Rifkin put it in a comment yesterday, and Mr. Rifkin and I have long disagreed on these matters, “I have now watched the dashcam footage five times and I don’t see ‘clear video evidence’ corroborating the officers’ version of events or any ‘suspect’ lifting his shirt to motion that he had a gun.”
I also did not see any clear evidence of a suspect lifting up his shirt to motion that he had a gun, although others have seen some sort of movement.
It remains less than clear as to whether and when the police properly identified themselves. One of the biggest questions going forward here is whether a plainclothed unit should be making this kind of stop during Picnic Day.
In our analysis, we concluded, “In our view, the police account is inconsistent with what we see on the video and, while we do not get all of the pieces to the puzzle, the narrative given by the defendants seems more consistent with what occurs on the video.”
In his column written yesterday, Bob Dunning writes, “When two Davis police officers were knocked to the ground, then kicked and beaten by a Picnic Day crowd, the usual cop-hating folks came out of the woodwork to claim that the fault for the whole thing rested with the police, not the assailants who did the kicking and punching.”
Our view was that the police account on the surface did not make a lot of sense and that the video contradicted key portions of their claims. I remain convinced of that, but the situation does appear more gray than that.
Mr. Dunning writes, “Among those blaming the police was a cop-bashing blog that is willing to publish all things negative about the police by reporting on only a small slice of video taken long after the confrontation began. The video, which magically ends after just nine brief seconds, was provided by an attorney for one of those criminally charged.”
We can only report what we have. It should be noted that the Vanguard first published the initial account of the police when it was released. We got an interview with Mark Reichel and ran it. We asked the police to respond to his claims, they declined. We asked for a full version of the video.
When the Davis Enterprise had a chance to interview Mark Reichel and Isabel Lynch, they ran those stories too. I don’t see Mr. Dunning criticizing Lauren Keene for running those accounts.
We can only publish the information we have available.
Mr. Dunning notes the video that just became released, and writes, “This telling video shows an angry young woman punching an officer in the back of the head, to which the officer appropriately responds by putting her in a restraining headlock for a brief second before she is eventually freed.”
This is true. He omits what transpired to lead up to that point, but on the video we saw, we could not see the woman punching, and we acknowledged at the time that one of the important questions was why the officer put her in a headlock.
“But, all that the anti-police blog shows is a still shot of the woman in a headlock,” he writes.
That is all we could see clearly on the cell video – remember how that video starts with a woman screaming, “oh my god, Angelica.” We don’t see what led up to that and we reported that.
Mr. Dunning then makes issue of the fact that we noted in the caption, “Officer holds Angelica in a headlock and punches her.” He argues that “the just-released citizen-provided video – does not show a punch of any kind.”
It was a bit ambiguous on the video we saw whether he punched her while she was in the headlock, but during the scuffle it appears he may have punched her and she reports being punched.
Mr. Dunning then makes light of one thing that we clearly got wrong, Mr. Reichel’s description that the unmarked van pulled up on the wrong side of the road.
“Another flat-out falsehood,” he says. He then makes fun of Mr. Reichel, suggesting he’s from the UK, and spends three paragraphs on this piece of information that is not really all that important. What is important was that the officers made a u-turn into a crowd of people who were, by view of about one minute of video, in the street but otherwise peaceful, and officers took an aggressive approach for no good reason.
Mr. Dunning focuses on the superficial detail rather than the bigger picture here.
Mr. Dunning continues, “I’d call all this one-sided altering of facts a ‘rush to judgment’ but for the fact the judgment was made before any facts were even available. That’s just the way it is when you conclude ahead of time that cops are always wrong.”
Hold on a second. It was just a week ago that Mr. Dunning, with a similar lack of facts, was attacking the interview of Isabel Lynch. Is it only rushing to judgment if one is skeptical of the reports, but not if one completely buys into them?
Mr. Dunning was called out in a letter to the editor, “For Dunning to selectively pick and choose what to print in order to paint his version of what happened does a disservice to Lynch and other witnesses thinking about coming forward with additional information.”
In her defense of Dunning, Editor Debbie Davis inserted a response, “Yes, Ms. Jones, commentary is biased. Commentary is the writer’s opinion. Bob Dunning’s job is to share his well-informed opinion on local issues, as he did in this case.”
Writes Mr. Dunning on Wednesday, “Put simply, you shouldn’t draw conclusions based on your personal bias against the police before viewing how the confrontation started and how it developed.”
But was his commentary in favor of the police perfectly in bounds? Is he completely unaware of the contradiction here? Apparently only Mr. Dunning is allowed to rush to judgment, but everyone else must wait until Mr. Dunning says it is time for us to weigh in.
Later Mr. Dunning states, “[B]ut the cop-bashing blog again quotes attorney Reichel, who repeats the charge about the woman in the headlock when he claims the cop ‘starts punching her’ and adds ‘[t]hat’s the first thing that happens.’”
He argues that this is “nonsense” and “not even remotely true.” He writes, “In fact, so far from the truth as to be laughable, but stated by the blog author as a fact nonetheless.”
Mr. Dunning seems to ignore the fact that his own paper quotes Mark Reichel as well. Mr. Reichel told the paper that the officers “really didn’t have any reason to do what they were doing.”
“The van hit the horn and (the occupants) started spitting profanities at them,” said Mr. Reichel, “whose client insists no one inside the vehicle identified themselves as a police officer or had a visible badge.”
Elijah Williams, meanwhile, “is standing there watching a fight when all of a sudden he’s blindsided (by one of the officers), and I think because he’s black,” said Mr. Reichel, who also has obtained bystander video of the melee. “They never said ‘cops’ until the fight was long into it.”
So it is allowable for his paper to interview Mark Reichel and quote him, but not the Vanguard. Got it.
“With something this inflammatory, commentators have an obligation to wait until they have the full story before they make patently and provably false statements claiming police misconduct,” Mr. Dunning writes. “The cop-haters should be ashamed of themselves. But trust me, they won’t be.”
But again Mr. Dunning is saying that only people who reflectively side with the police on all occasions are entitled to rush to judgment before the full story comes out. Everyone else has to wait.
I don’t find that a particularly defensible position, nor does my view of the incident suggest nearly as black and white an interpretation as Mr. Dunning suggests. I also figure if your position is strong enough, you don’t need to call names like “cop-haters” and “anti-police blog,” but that’s just me.
The key part of this whole confrontation is that we still don’t know how it really started. Mr. Dunning argues, “In the disturbing citizen-provided Picnic Day video that shows the start of the confrontation, there is no doubt that the police acted appropriately.” He adds that ” a large group of people was blocking a significant portion of one of the two westbound lanes on Russell Boulevard, creating a hazardous situation… This has nothing to do with whether or not the police had a right to break up this crowd. ”
But Mr. Dunning, while probably overstating the hazard and the nature of the crowd (which is mostly dancing and having fun) and only slightly in the street, the bigger issue is the approach of the police and whether plainclothes officers should have been the ones to do traffic duty rather than calling for uniform units that might have used more subtlety and created less ambiguity.
Mr. Dunning argues that “there is no doubt that the police acted appropriately,” but we have no idea what they said based on the video that might have incited the crowd, nor do we know to what extent people knew they were dealing with the police.
These are questions that need to be addressed before we can jump to the conclusion that Mr. Dunning does.
—David M. Greenwald reporting