Police Turn Traffic Stop into Violent Encounter

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By Jana Kooren

In a heartbeat, Anthony Promvongsa’s sunny summer day in Worthington, Minnesota, turned from ordinary to a nightmare.

Shortly after encountering an agitated motorist driving in front of him on July 28, 2016, Anthony found himself confronted by the police. Within seconds of exiting his vehicle after pulling Anthony over, Agent Joe Joswiak of the Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force opened the door of Anthony’s car, screaming, “Get the fuck out of the car, motherfucker!”

Without hesitation, Agent Joswiak pulled, punched, and elbowed Anthony several times in the back while Anthony was still restrained by his seat belt. Agent Joswiak then yanked Anthony out of the car, threw him to the ground, and pressed his knee to the back of Anthony’s neck to pin Anthony facedown on the pavement while he and Sgt. Tim Gaul of the Worthington Police Department applied handcuffs.

It turns out the agitated motorist Anthony encountered before being assaulted by Agent Joswiak was an off-duty police officer who called Joswiak to go after Anthony for tailgating him. The officer reports regarding the incident make no mention of any suspicion that Anthony was committing a drug offense.

Warning: Explicit language

The police have charged Anthony with various offenses, the most serious being fleeing in a motor vehicle and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon — his car. But let’s make this very clear. No matter what happened before the dashcam video began rolling, Anthony did not deserve to be abused by the police in this way. Agent Joswiak claims Anthony refused his order to leave his car, but the video contradicts this assertion.

Instead it shows a textbook case of excessive force.

This type of brutality by officers is not only unconstitutional — it’s terrifying for the individual being assaulted and for the community as a whole. People should not fear that they could be attacked by the police for no reason or while being detained for investigative purposes. Fear of police violence causes a decrease in people reporting crimes and erodes trust between communities and the police. Communities of color already have a tenuous relationship with police, and unacceptable behavior like this makes it harder for it ever to change.

The Worthington Police Department, which employs Sgt. Gaul and appointed Agent Joswiak to the Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force, needs to immediately investigate the incident, take all appropriate personnel actions, and ensure this never happens again.  The ACLU has called for an investigation into Agent Joswiak’s behavior. Agent Joswiak should be held accountable for his actions, up to and including termination and prosecution.

Based on additional complaints that we are receiving, this does not appear to be an isolated incident. Rather there’s evidence that racial profiling and police brutality are systemic problems that span the Worthington Police Department, Nobles County Sheriff’s Office, and the Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force as Worthington becomes a much more diverse city.

The ACLU is talking with Anthony Promvongsa and his criminal counsel, and we are considering all legal options. No person in Worthington, Minnesota, should have to fear that the people who swear an oath to protect and serve the community are acting like criminals themselves. The video we have of Agent Joswiak and Sgt. Gaul seems to reveal at least two police officers who believe that they are above the law, not bound by it.

Jana Kooren is with ACLU Minnesota



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17 thoughts on “Police Turn Traffic Stop into Violent Encounter”

  1. Tia Will

    “Get the f-k out of the car, motherf-er!”

    We have a problem right off the bat. The appropriate way for a police officer to address a civilian is “sir” not “motherf-er”. Several issues here. 1. These are “fighting words” which invite escalation. 2. Creation of unnecessary disparagement of the civilian. 3. Adversarial mindset of the officer prior to any form of investigation. 4. Lack of both respect and self control.

    Is this how officers are trained to behave ?  Is this standard police culture ? Why is it tolerated ?

    1. Keith O

      Is this how officers are trained to behave ? 

      No

      Is this standard police culture ? 

      No

      Why is it tolerated ?

      It’s not.  This is a rogue cop who I’m sure will lose his job and may face other charges.

      1. David Greenwald

        The problem I have with the concept of “rogue” cop. Why rogue? Part of the problem is that cops who act this way have for years been tolerated and their superiors either look the other way or in some cases even tacitly support.

    2. Howard P

      Gee… silly me… I was much more concerned about the physical violence, not the verbal abuse.

      I can now clearly see that had the words been different, more respectful, the beating would be OK.

      1. David Greenwald

        I think you’re missing a point here Howard.  The approach to a stop is critical in setting the tone.  And yes, the latter is very disturbing but as we may have seen with the Picnic Day incident, the language is not something to ignore.

        1. Howard P

          Obviously missed the point… a seat-belted man, two violent cops… now had the driver been the one using those words…

          I stand corrected, it was all about the words.

        2. David Greenwald

          I would appreciate it if you didn’t misrepresent my comment.  I said that the latter was disturbing, my point was not to dismiss the impact of the opening language in setting the tone for the encounter.  Nowhere did I say or even imply it was all about the words.

        3. Howard P

          Didn’t mean to misrepresent yours… Tia started off focussing (solely) on the verbal element.  I perceived you as defending that sole concern.  Apparently, a mis-perception.

      2. Tia Will

        Ok Howard, my obligatory chain pulling for the day is duly noted. I am quite sure that you saw but decided to discount the words “right off the bat”. It seems to me very obvious to anyone that the beating is completely unacceptable. There are some in our society that seem to feel that “fighting words” are ok, and it was that concept to which I was objecting.  As I am quite sure you already knew.

    3. John Hobbs

      “Is this how officers are trained to behave ?”

      No, not in the academy, at least. Rookies learn from traing officers, until the t.o. is satisfied that they have been sufficiently indoctrinated in procedures and practices. This period of indoctrination and evaluation certainly includes “acculturation.”

      ” Is this standard police culture ?”

      It appears to be the norm for this department and others.

      “Why is it tolerated ?”

      Because cops don’t want to be jammed up by another cop when they have to tune up a civilian, for compliance or good old fashioned street justice.

      Remember, these folks are hired for their limited intellectual and emotional intelligence.

      http://abcnews.go.com/US/court-oks-barring-high-iqs-cops/story?id=95836

      In any other civilized western country the cops in the video would be out the door in short order. Here, they’ll be commended, no doubt.

       

      1. David Greenwald

        “Baloney”

        Don’t be so quick to toss your lunch.  There are a lot of departments where the culture is such that cops who throw people around are looked up to.

        1. Keith O

          Did you see where he said “here”, as in the video?

          This guy is going to lose his job and probably be charged, he’s not going to be commended.

          So yes, baloney!

           

           

        2. David Greenwald

          You mean officially.  This one might be bad enough even his buddies won’t stick by him, but I’ve heard from cops themselves as to how bad the culture is.

  2. John Hobbs

    I have made this point repeatedly on The Vanguard: Cop behavior precipitates confrontations with their suspects/victims. I realize that this is not the normal stop depicted here. Here we have straight up revenge, street justice, if you will. How long will we allow this kind of sanctioned vigilantism?

    So far in 2017 the most dangerous gang in America has killed 571, the most recent being a 17 year old Hispanic boy, shot and killed by a deputy sheriff in Palmdale.

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