Saturday, March 23, 2013

Andy Taylor is dead, and I'm feeling nervous

It's becoming an annual event, and it needs an official name.

How about the (Fill-in the blank) Annual Omaha Police Excessive-Force Festival. Below is a bit of the World-Herald article on the latest in what's become a long line of incidents where local cops seemed hellbent on escalating a minor deal into a WWE smackdown.

Oh. . . . Seven words: Twelve cop cars for a parking dispute.
Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer on Friday temporarily reassigned an officer involved in the arrest of three men whose relatives allege the use of excessive force by police.

Schmaderer, who also ordered an internal investigation, and other police officials watched a video of the arrest posted on YouTube, according to a police statement issued Friday.

The video shows officers near 33rd and Seward Streets just before 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

Officers were there to investigate a parking complaint. The incident quickly escalated, with about a dozen police vehicles responding. It ended with the arrest of three brothers.

Police and a family member gave different accounts of what happened.

Officers said they were impounding vehicles with expired license plates when Octavious Johnson, 28, pulled up at a high rate of speed in front of the officers.

Johnson was “argumentative and aggressive'' and had to be wrestled to the ground by an officer to be arrested, according to a police report.

The video shows another officer assisted in subduing and handcuffing Johnson. Later, it appears that one officer strikes Johnson three times.

Officers also can be heard on the video yelling at a second man on the sidewalk.
After that man — Juaquez Johnson, Octavious's 23-year-old brother — went inside a nearby house, several officers raced after him. Officers came back outside with him and the third brother, Demetrius Johnson, 22.

The police report indicates the officers who initially responded were Matthew Worm, Dyea Rowland and Bradley Canterbury, though the specific role each played was not clear. None was placed on administrative leave. One of the officers was reassigned until the investigation concludes, a police spokeswoman said. She declined to identify the officer.

Sharon Johnson, the men's aunt, told The World-Herald that Juaquez Johnson had been filming the incident as it unfolded and was told by police to stop. He ran inside the house to get away from them, and they followed to get the video, she said.

Juaquez Johnson didn't post the video on YouTube. The video posted there was shot by a neighbor from an upstairs window across the street.

Sharon Johnson, 45, who uses a wheelchair, said as one officer ran onto the front porch he knocked into her. She said the wheelchair fell backward, and she hit her head.

“My legs were up in the air, and my head hit the ground,” Johnson said. She said the family planned to file a formal complaint with the Police Department.
OF COURSE, we don't know exactly what happened here. And, of course the local police union wants everybody to hold their horses . . . and withhold judgment.

"The most responsible course of action at this point is patience," was the word from the Omaha Police Officers Association. "Let the investigation run its course." This came at the end of a blog post pointing out that incriminating videos sometimes mislead.

Obviously, we also know the video looks bad for the cops. And, if you watch the whole thing, what one big-mouthed cop says might be more incriminating than what we actually see: "Why were you hiding behind your frickin' mom? Why were you hiding behind your frickin' mom? Why did I have to jump over a frickin' old lady to get to you?"

This kind of thing, unfortunately, has become a regular deal for Omaha cops.

We know that the Omaha police have in the past been awfully quick to beat the hell out of -- or shoot -- people first and then ask questions later. Search for the names Vivian Strong or Marvin Ammons. North Omaha burned after a cop shot Strong, a 14-year-old girl, in 1969. It got kind of dicey nearly 30 years later after police shot Ammons for, as it turned out, having a cell phone in  his hand.

We also know that Omaha police officers have been fired -- or worse -- on a more-or-less regular basis for excessive force or after allegations of criminal activity. And we know that the police union only is satisfied with "letting the investigation run its course" if the chief finds that the officers in question were as pure as the driven snow.

INVESTIGATIONS that run their course and result in an officer's sacking for cause are "politically motivated" and the union will move heaven and earth to overturn them. So pardon my skepticism, and pardon my belief that there's more than a even chance that what looked bad on video was as bad -- or worse -- in person.

A lack of public trust in a police force -- no matter how justified or unjustified it might be -- comes from somewhere. I suggest that Omaha police look within themselves and consider just why that might be.

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