MOBILE. Ala. (WKRG) — In the wake of two videos that showed the use of force displayed by some Mobile Police officers, experts with extensive criminal justice backgrounds weigh in on the city’s handling of the situation.
The latest video, released Tuesday, showed a uniformed officer body-slamming a 16-year-old girl to the ground in front of Accel Academy. The girl’s mother, Brittney Pettaway, said her daughter had a broken toe, scraped knees, sore legs, and had a knot on her head.
Experts weigh in
“So, you have an officer of a certain height and stature compared to a minor of also a certain height and stature,” Dr. Alexis Rockwell, a Criminal Justice Professor at the University of South Alabama, said. “The use of the officer’s body to forcibly place the minor on the ground, I don’t think that might have been the right option.”
Mobile Chief of Staff James Barber agreed that the force used by the officer was “excessive.”
Cellphone video of another recent arrest, released on Thursday, showed an officer hitting a man in handcuffs. The suspect, Beezer Dubose Jr., could be heard in the video screaming, “Record him, sir! Record him, sir!”
However, Barber said hitting could have been justified as preliminary evidence showed that Beezer could have grabbed Officer Paul Callegari’s groin, causing serious bodily harm.
“The suspect then grabbed the officer by the testicles,” Barber said. “That’s when they went to the ground and continued to assault the officer.”
The Mobile Police Handbook says officers are permitted to use less-than-lethal force as follows:
- “To protect themselves or another from physical harm.
- To restrain or subdue a resistant individual.
- To bring an unlawful situation safely and effectively under control.”
However, Ton Nolan, a retired Boston Police Lieutenant who later had a more than 25-year career as a criminology professor, said the actions of the officer violated all ethics protocols.
“This is something that’s imparted to novice police officers very early on into their career … never beat a handcuffed prisoner,” Nolan said. “Just excessive violence against an individual who is incapacitated. That the purpose of putting someone in handcuffs is to incapacitate them.”
Both videos started in the middle of confrontation, which Baber said left many context clues missing from the truth.
“The video is a little bit deceiving in a way because it kind of takes place in the middle of the confrontation,” Barber said.
Nolan said the police department has an opportunity to clear the air and provide those missing context clues.
“If the body camera footage that the police have in their possession is exculpatory, meaning that it instantiates the officer’s version of events that he was in fact being assaulted, that they would have put that video front and center,” Nolan said.
As previously stated in other cases, body camera footage will not be released to the public, at least until after all investigations that could use it as evidence are completed.
“Many decisions and actions of law enforcement officers have serious consequences, but none are as irrevocable as the decision to use force,” the MPD handbook said in the first sentence of the ‘Use of Force’ section.
The statement was echoed by Rockwell.
“There is nothing more irreparable, and irrevocable as the use of force,” Rockwell said. “That has been stated since use of force began being studied way back.”
The officer shown hitting the man has been placed on administrative leave while the officer shown body-slamming the teenager has been placed on administrative duty.
“This is something that is an extremely poor look for law enforcement,” Nolan said.
Mobile Police Chief Paul Prine has not been available for comment.