We understand that 2016 was a horrific year for police fatalities—139, of which 64 were shot and killed in the line of duty.
Police across the country feel besieged, some to the point that they elected to “stand down” and not carried out their sworn duty to protect and serve their communities. This tragic reality was illustrated in a New Year’s 60 Minutes report that while Chicago’s murder rate skyrocketed in 2016, “police activity” declined by as much as 80 percent.
In effect, hundreds of Chicago police officers have taken the position that they will respond only to 911 emergencies and not take any proactive measures to prevent crime. This attitude is spreading to police departments across the country—that cops on the street will not put themselves at risk (either through physical harm or charges of using excessive force) while protecting the community. These 911 cops reinforce the national reputation of the Chicago Police Department as being corrupt and brutal. The refusal of its officers to enforce the law is the same as breaking the law.
Most police officers are good, decent and honest public servants but there is an increasing number who are foul, abusive, and murderous toward innocent, law-abiding citizens simply because they believe they enjoy an unfettered license to do so.
But as criminal defense attorneys, we’re here to inform these “bad boy” cops that they do not have a license to be foulmouthed, excessively forceful, or murderous toward the public they are sworn to protect and serve.
Lawless Mississippi Cop and His Attack Dog
One of those lawless cops is Lynn Brown with the Horn Lake, Mississippi Police Department. This was evidenced one night in April 2013 when Brown participated in a DUI stop. In a December 27, 2016 decision, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals outlined the factual chronology leading up to the DUI stop.
Officer Michael Pressgrove decided to stop Jacob Cooper on suspicion of driving under the influence. Following the stop, Officer Pressgrove administered a portable breath test before returning to his patrol vehicle. Cooper panicked, according to the appeals court, and took flight into a nearby residential neighborhood where he hid in a “small wood-fenced area used to store trash bins between two houses.”
Pressgrove did not pursue Cooper. Besides having a passenger in his vehicle, the officer did not believe Cooper posed a threat either to himself or others. Pressgrove did radio for backup, informing other officers that Cooper was on foot and was a DUI suspect.
And who shows up to provide assistance?
None other than canine unit officer Lynn Brown who brought along his “trained-to-be-vicious” Belgian Malinois named Sunny.
Canine Deployed on Misdemeanor DWI
Officer Pressgrove would later testify that he did not request a canine unit and that it “would have been unusual to deploy a K9 unit for a misdemeanor DUI.” Pressgrove also told Officer Brown that he had “no reason to believe that Cooper had a weapon.”
None of this discouraged Officer Brown who escorted Sunny into the neighborhood. It didn’t take long for the huge Belgian Malinois to discovered Cooper. The attack dog immediately bit into Cooper’s calf. There was some dispute about whether Brown ordered the attack or Sunny took it upon himself to bite Cooper. What is undisputed is that the attack dog did bite Cooper.
Suspect Did Not Threaten Violence
What is also undisputed is that Cooper did not attempt to flee or strike Sunny, although the canine continued to bite him for more than two minutes while Brown instructed the suspect to show his hands and submit to the officer. At the time the officer was shouting these instructions Cooper had his hands on Sunny’s head clearly revealing to Brown that suspect was not armed.
While Sunny was continuing to attack and bite Cooper, Officer Brown ordered the suspect to roll on his stomach. Officer Brown did not pull the attack dog off Cooper until after the officer had handcuffed the suspect.
Unnecessary Police Dog Attacks
The police canine attack was both vicious and absolutely unnecessary. Just last year we posted a piece about how routine these unnecessary and lawless police dog attacks have become. Cooper has suffered years of pain because of lower leg injuries that required multiple surgeries, “including reconstruction and skin grafts,” reported the Fifth Circuit.
Cop Seeks Immunity Defense
Cooper sued the City of Horn Lake and Officer Brown for violating his Fourth Amendment right to free of excessive police force. Officer Brown immediately sought refuge behind the qualified immunity defense that the local U.S. District Court rejected, finding there was clear evidence of the unlawful use of excessive force by Brown.
This case illustrates two clear things. First, it shows one police officer, Pressgrove, conducting himself precisely as he was trained to act while showing another police officer, Brown, doing exactly what he was trained not to do.
The second thing illustrated by this case is the reason why the public’s distrust of the police has escalated; police misconduct—a subject we have repeatedly dealt with (here, here, here, and here).
Police Must Earn Respect and Trust
The life of a police officer is no more sacrosanct than the life of a law-abiding citizen, regardless of their race, religion, national origin, or mental health condition. Trust is a two-way street between the police and community. The police should have the public’s trust but whether they keep it depends upon whether they earn it each and every day.
For example, the 60 Minutes report pointed to one small area in a Chicago neighborhood where there had been 12 recent murders while simultaneously police activity reports in that area had plummeted. The police commissioner should investigate every single police officer who had been assigned to that area during the period of the 12 murders and who had failed to engage in any proactive crime prevention measures.
This is not a question of whose lives matter the most. The community has an expectation to be protected and served by the police officers they pay for with their tax dollars. If the police want to “stand down,” then let them stand down in another profession.