I always try to take a balanced approach when examining police conduct on this blog. I feel I owe it to my students, and to readers in general, to contribute to reasoned discussion and debate about the role of police in modern society by sharing both the good and the bad about police behavior.
My personal position is that most officers do a fine job – despite making mistakes at times – but we rarely hear about the positives.
I’ve written previously, though, about cops who’ve bought Christmas gifts for burglary victims or even literally given someone the shirt off their back, as well as about those who go out of their way to protect the constitutional rights of citizens to peacefully protest or record police activities.
So, I was troubled to see a recent post on PINAC (Photography is Not a Crime) about an officer in Florida who was found to have violated his department’s policies in response to the lawful, constitutionally protected videotaping of public police behavior.
Watch for yourself.
BCSO Task Force Arrest of PINAC Editor
The officers in the video not only do an incredibly poor job of managing the situation overall, in my opinion, but more troubling (to me at least) is that they appear to be engaging in a form of pseudospeciation, which is the idea that one group views members of another group as dangerous and/or unworthy of fair treatment.
The term is normally applied to differences between ethnic or racial groups, but in this case it appears related to subcultural differences. The police view the photographer as “one of those guys,” which is apparently code for someone from an “out group” who should be treated with suspicion and taught a lesson.
Regardless of the underlying causes, the officers’ superiors obviously agreed that misconduct occurred, having issued at least one of the officers a letter of reprimand for his behavior in this case.
And, that officer, identified by PINAC as Agent Brian Stoll in a follow-up post about the above incident, is no stranger to allegations of misconduct.
A public records request by PINAC to the officer’s agency, the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO), resulted in the release of 28 documents, some of which describe specific misconduct allegations against “Agent S,” as he’s referred to in the released forms (although one of the forms, dated 2/3/11, does list “Brian Stoll” by name). Fourteen of the documents reference various use of force incidents (the released form is titled “Response to Resistance”), but do not appear to have been generated by a specific complaint of misconduct.
Instead, those forms seem to be documenting incidents in which an injury occurred during an arrest or other encounter, and the matter is being reviewed by the agency’s administrators to make sure the officers’ behavior was in compliance with department policy. Of the fourteen, thirteen of the forms indicate that the department’s internal review found the officers’ behavior to be “in compliance.”
One of those, though, indicates that Agent S was not in compliance when a Taser was used improperly during an arrest.
In three of the 28 documents, Agent S is listed only as a witness or as an indirect participant.
The eleven remaining documents (see the table below) describe specific allegations of misconduct against Agent S, referencing incidents that occurred over an eight year period between June of 2005 and October of 2013. The outcome of nine of them was either unknown or the allegation was determined by an internal BCSO investigation to be unfounded.
Only two, including the above incident involving PINAC, were substantiated and resulted in some type of consequence for Agent S.
It’s very interesting that the two incidents that did result in substantiated misconduct involved either video evidence (in the PINAC case) or the combined reporting of multiple police witnesses at the scene (misuse of the Taser).
|Incident Date||Reported on Date||Allegation||Outcome||Outcome Date|
|6/1/05||7/15/05||Rudeness and improper citation||Unknown||8/14/05?|
|9/3/08||9/4/08||Rudeness, unlawlful search/seizure, and damage to personal property||Unfounded||10/1/08|
|10/2/08||10/03/08||Lying in police report and planting drugs||Unfounded||10/15/08|
|Unknown||12/17/08||Improper arrest/detention and search of vehicle||Unfounded||1/9/09|
|2005||9/1/10||Unspecified violations of law and department policy||Unfounded||2/3/11 – According to time stamp on the document, employee involved was “Brian Stoll”|
|10/30/12||10/31/12||Use of force||Unfounded||11/2/12|
|12/21/12||12/25/12||False arrest and use of force||Unfounded||1 /4/13|
|7/16/13||7/16/13||Use of force||Unfounded||8/1/13|
|10/17/13||10/17/13||Use of force (Taser)||Not in compliance – Letter of counseling||10/29/13|
|10/23/13||10/23/13||Failure to investigate, failure to document evidence, and failure to provide information||Letter of reprimand||10/29/13|
Summary of allegations of misconduct against Agent S, 2005 – 2013, as obtained by PINAC
In the end, I’m not sure exactly what hard and fast conclusions we can confidently draw from all this, though. Zealous, proactive police officers are going to generate complaints from suspects, arrestees and others who, rightly or wrongly, feel their rights were violated. Allegations against police aren’t always made with the most honorable of intentions, and they’re not always accurate.
On the other hand, the video evidence above does appear to show that, in this case at least, this officer misinterpreted the law, acted out of personal anger or animosity toward a person perceived to be from an “out group,” and misused the authority granted to his role by society.
Video evidence like this is quite powerful, as it turns out, and perhaps that’s why some officers continue to insist that photography is a crime when it actually isn’t.
What are your thoughts?
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