At least two cops have been punished in recent days for their decisions against intervening when their fellow officers were viciously brutalizing restrained suspects, suggesting that there could be a growing semblance of accountability on the city and state levels for members of law enforcement who don’t de-escalate and use police brutality as a first resort.
It also seemed to suggest that more cops are being punished — or, at least they will be — for standing by and watching fellow officers use excessive force on suspects who don’t pose a threat, effectively making them guilty of aiding and abetting.
Most recently, two police officers in Colorado were arrested for their roles in beating a man who is shown on bodycam video refuting allegations there was a warrant for his arrest before one cop responds with force that appeared to be unnecessary. The officers work out of a police department that has been saddled with allegations of unabated brutality for the past few years, including the controversial and still-unresolved death of pedestrian Elijah McClain.
Aurora Police Officer John Haubert was arrested on Tuesday after the bodycam video was made public. It showed Haubert choking an unidentified man who was suspected of violating the terms of his probation before putting a gun to his head, threatening to kill him and then finally pistol-whipping him until his face was bloody.
Notably, Haubert’s partner, Officer Francine Martinez, was charged with failing to stop Haubert under a state law that was enacted following protests against police violence last summer.
The Aurora Police Department has been plagued by allegations of brutality, with at least four other high-profile instances that include McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who in 2019 died three days after police put him in a carotid hold, which restricts blood flow to the brain. He was also injected with ketamine once paramedics arrived at the scene. He suffered a cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital.
McClain was confronted by three Aurora Police officers while walking home from a convenience store. The police claim they were responding to a call about a suspicious person wearing a ski mask and used excessive force after McClain “resisted contact.” The bodycam footage showed McClain calmly asking officers to respect his space, while he explained that he was an “introvert” who was trying to turn his music down in order to hear the officer’s commands.
The law passed in Colorado is similar in nature to the Democratic-led national police reform legislation that has stalled in the Senate despite Democrats controlling both chambers of Congress and the White House. It not only requires all officers to use body cameras but it also bans chokeholds, forces cops to intervene when they witness police misconduct and sets the stage for cops to be sued for police brutality.
Colorado’s law was prompted by the murder of George Floyd, a police killing that involved three other Minneapolis cops who failed to stop Derek Chauvin from applying deadly pressure with his knee to the neck of the unarmed and handcuffed Black man last year. Those three since-fired officers are scheduled to stand trial in March of next year on charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.
There is no such law on the books in Georgia, but two cops in Atlanta were recently suspended for their roles in an episode of police brutality that was similar in nature to the case in Colorado.
In that instance, a brief video on social media shows a police officer standing over an apparently handcuffed woman before he kicks her right in the face at close range. The video showed the woman attempting to say something to the officer before he kicked her. All the while his partner just stood there and didn’t do anything to stop her fellow cop after he kicked the suspect, who did not post any physical threat.
Despite the absence of most audio in the snippet, the woman can still be heard screaming in agony from being kicked in her face.
The cop who kicked the suspect was promptly suspended without pay. But again, perhaps more notably, his partner who didn’t try to intervene has been placed on administrative leave, showing there is a consequence — even in traditionally conservative Georgia, a state that is run by Republicans — for a police officer failing to stop a fellow cop from using excessive force on a suspect.
While the Senate Republicans continue to weaponize the filibuster against such national legislation, laws like the one in Colorado and continuing to discipline cops like in Atlanta could go a long way on the city and state levels if the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act continues to languish in partisan legislative purgatory.
This is America.