Tuber of the Week #20: Controversy

Note: My goal with posts on police videos is not to bash officers or to blindly regurgitate law enforcement talking points, but rather to simply provide perspective.

Many issues are more complex than folks are willing to admit. I would argue that the following incident is one of them.


Before the latest video allegation of excessive force by police (this time in Whitehall, Ohio) goes viral, I had a few observations.

The confrontation's background (as I understand it) is a Walmart where police were called after an elderly woman was seen walking the parking lot holding a large knife.

Here is a portion of the incident captured on video:

My thoughts:

• Officers are required to process inordinate amounts of information prior to making split second decisions concerning life and death.

• The agency’s chief, Richard Zitzke, immediately defended actions of the arresting officer.

• The physical contact part of the video is difficult to follow due to the camera’s unsteadiness.

• I have not seen the actual text of the dispatched call, but that is an important factor in understanding the incident.

• If the unofficial reports are accurate of the call text, a woman aggressively approaching shoppers with a kitchen knife in her hand is a danger to herself and others—-at age 84 or at age 24.

• I am not going to comment on what one poster of the video labels a “body slam.” I can say that {warning: this is where I have to use a "war story"} I used a take-down technique against an intoxicated and fleeing DUI subject who had just fought with and broken free from the grasp of another officer, and I fully expected the guy to fall forward and use his hands to break his fall (as most anyone would).

Instead, the drunken man twisted and fell backwards to his side; arms dangling in the air striking the side of a trailer with a thud.

What was our reward for my miscalculation? Four hours at the General Hospital for the man’s head bump, and lots of extra paperwork. My point being that sometimes the proper technique applied to someone intoxicated, elderly, or otherwise not coordinated, can lead to surprising and unwanted results.

• In the Internet "discussions" of the case that I reviewed, I did not see a mention of how the woman was a danger to herself. It is easy for someone to talk about how they would easily disarm an elderly person if attacked, but the officer was also responsible for protecting the woman from hurting herself with the knife.

• The woman continues to struggle with the officer even from the ground, despite her injuries. Being a regular around nursing homes for several years, I feel comfortable in saying that the behaviors of some Alzheimer’s patients are often unpredictable yet determined.

In closing, Melvin Hale was a 74 years old man and reportedly suffering from Alzheimer’s when he was charged after this violent incident recorded on a cruiser camera in Texas.


fayezie said...

while the video obviously looks brutal, it is quite possible that the woman was a threat to herself as well as others.

great example is the issue of driving... my grandfather was in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, and my family called the local dmv to find out if it was possible to have his license respectfully suspended. (gosh, now I can't remember how or if they managed to get it taken away). In his very EARLY stages, would get in the car and get lost, a very common concern. My mom used to fear that he'd get in an accident and harm someone else, in addition to himself.

And, folks who are experiencing Alzheimer's or stages of dementia are most certainly violent at times.

I know a gal who used to adult sit an elderly dementia patient, and the gal would have to lock herself behind a closed bedroom door and wait while the elderly lady had violent fits and forget who the gal was...

fayezie said...

okay, wow... just watched the linked video of the highway patrol in texas. i can't believe the old man got back in his car to drive away.

very scary and sad. almost a tear-jerker when i could hear the officers talking to the downed officer.

Stephanie Faris said...

We watch Cops and I'm constantly saying, "Why would ANYONE sign up to make $25,000 a year to put up with that crap every night?" I don't get it. Everyone's always screaming teachers are underpaid but what about cops, putting their lives on the line to protect us? And all they get is grief for it? Granted, some of them abuse their power but still these days no matter what they do, someone's screaming "lawsuit." You can just see it in every criminal they handcuff that shouts out, "Ouch. You're HURTING me!"

J. J. in Phila said...

Okay, this is what we have.

1. The woman was carrying a knife in a parking lot.

2. The police asked her to put the knife down.

3. The woman continues holding the knife and approaches the officer.

4. The officer grabs the woman's wrist, and while doing that, either pushes the woman down or the woman falls.

5. On the ground the woman is still holding the knife.

6. The police restrain the woman, but do not seem to be hitting her.

Sorry, no brutality.

I had a father with severe brain damage due to a heart attack. When hospitalized, it was necessary to restrain his hands so he wouldn't remove his I.V.'s. I do understand, but I also understand that that the restraint was necessary.

Expat From Hell said...

Thought-provoking post, as is your commentary to the event, my friend. I think we need to take each member of our society seriously. Clearly law enforcement has no choice; but apparently the rest of us think we can just park these souls in a rest home and forget about them. Until they show up at Wal-Mart with kitchen utensils.

Anonymous said...

One never knows what they will encounter from another person, but I would never approach anyone of any age or size who had a knife in their hands, especially if the were out of the kitchen.

Some elderly people can be just as dangerous as the young.
A few years ago I read in a neighboring town paper of an elderly man, (70'S) being arrested .
The sheriff reported he just refused to cooperate and in the end they had to call for extra help. It took six officers to bring him under controll. He was so small and fast no one could get a grip on him.
Of course I am sure he enjoyed his bragging rights later. That would have been all he gained, although it was obvious the officers got a big laugh out of the situation afterward too.

angelcel said...

I know everyone has a camera at their fingertips nowadays but I'm interested in how people 'smell' a story and start the tape rolling the nano second anything unusual happens, especially where police are involved. Perhaps this reflects the wider issue of a general distrust of the police - which is a very sad state of affairs.

It *looks* as though excessive force was used but then, surely, it's hard to know how *much* force will be needed with an old lady who potentially has mental problems. Too little and you or the public could end up sliced up. Too much and she falls to the ground cracking her head or fracturing bones.

I know camera footage can be useful in revealing the truth but we all know that it's not infallible. We don't know what led up to this, what the officer said or how the woman responded. I can't help feeling that a better idea, once she was down on the ground, would have been to allow her some dignity by ceasing filming and stepping back to allow the police and ambulance to get on with their jobs.

copswife said...

Such a sad situation. The reality is, that lady had a knife. The police were not called to give her rainbows and kittens. They were called because she had a knife. Now she doesn't have a knife anymore.

I agree that the video doesn't show nearly the whole story. I also agree with J. J. Getting someone (with a knife) on the ground isn't necesarily excesive force. There was no kicking, no hitting, just a goal to remove the knife and keep the lady from hurting herself or others, from what I could see.

On the Money said...

Informative post - thanks. I agree with the stuff about doing whatever it reasonably takes to disarm in such a scenario. I suppose though that if the elderly person is suffering Alzheimers, they should ideally be treated well and gently (certainly once disarmed) as they can't be held mentally competent. I've seen the video elsewhere and it has certainly been flagged up as an example of brutality by police. Your post gives the story some insight and balance.

Slamdunk said...

I appreciate the feedback all. I am seeing the trend that AC mentions related to video cameras and trust in law enforcement--and it will be interesting if new research backs my suspicions: that mistrust of the police is growing.

Sandra G. said...

Here's what I see:

- old lady with a knife. She doesn't look particularly theatening and she looks to weigh about 100 lbs (give or take a few)

- an officer arrivs and tells the old lady to put down the knife

- the old lady tells the officer, in not so many words, to pound sand

- the video is horrible, but the next series of events shows the old lady on the ground, from what appears to be either an arm bar takedown or wrist lock - hard to tell...

- in any event, the old lady is on the ground, still holding the knife, and the officer is restraining the hand still holding the weapon. Seems like the officer is doing a fantastic job condering she (the officer) is being screamed at by other citizens in the parking lot - it even appears that at least one female citizen tries to intervene/help, but again it's hard to tell with the video quality.

Here are my thoughts - I've been there. It doesn't matter if you are 20 or 80 years old, a knife is a weapon that needs to be dealt with accordingly.

I feel for the officer, as no one wants to have to deal with a senior in such a way, but the senior was a threat. The 'takedown' was appropriate, in my opinion.

As for the senior herself - I feel for her as well, as she seemed confused and disoriented. But being confused and disoriented does not mean she is going to be handled with kid gloves.

Police brutality? Not by a long shot...the officer did her job and did it well. Even while she was pinning the old woman's arm down the officer can be heard speaking to her in an effort to get the woman to release the knife.

Cindy Beck said...

It doesn't appear to be brutality in my book.

There is no real camera shot of what precipitated the take down, outside of the woman initially brandishing a weapon, so there's no evidence that excessive force was utilized.

With no evidence of excessive force, how can anyone scream brutality? Even while on the ground, it was obvious the officers were trying to restrain her, not kick the snot out of her.

God bless those valiant men and women who serve and protect, despite public sentiment that slanders police officers whenever the chance arises.

J. J. in Phila said...

Slamdunk, I live in Philadelphia. I have a healthy mistrust of police because of that. Philadelphia has had both major police corruption and brutality scandals, even while I've lived here (since 1992).

However, I am aware that often times the charge of brutality results from the police legitimately subduing someone, as in this case. This video is a good example.

In many ways, I'm glad that there is increased video taping to show these things accurately.

I think I'd be reacting differently to print story about a "white cop pinning an 84 year old black woman to the ground" than I would to the actual tape.