Wednesday, July 30, 2014

San Antonio Police Beat Up the Wrong Guy

Excessive force. A euphemism for what goes on in this country far too often: Police beating the crud out of, if not killing, people they encounter in the line of duty. (See NYPD Chokehold Death: What’s Reasonable?)
Statistics are out there, like those provided by the CATO Institute, but it’s essentially impossible to know the scope of unjustified police violence. A recent case in San Antonio underscores this point.

Mistaken Identity

Normally, police officers injuring someone suspected of leading them on a high-speed chase isn’t too noteworthy. Heck, the Supreme Court recently gave pursuing officers virtually free reign to shoot away, at least when they can fashion an argument that the suspect was endangering the public. (See Supreme Court: Don’t Stop Shooting.)

But the whooping experienced by Roger Carlos on May 20 in San Antonio is different. For one, the car chase was over by the time officers caught up to the man; he was on foot. For another, he wasn’t the guy they had been chasing, a man with an outstanding felony warrant named Josue Gonzalez.

On the afternoon in question, Carlos was taking photos of a building set to house his wife’s medical practice. That happened to be in the general area where Gonzalez had 
reportedly abandoned the vehicle he had just used to flee from the police.

As usual, we don’t know exactly what happened between Carlos and law enforcement. He says three officers, one a member of an undercover drug task force and the other two SWAT members, approached him and simply began to beat him silly. He says that he complied with their instructions; they say he didn’t. All that’s clear is that the officers mistook Carlos for Gonzalez, and that they busted him up pretty good. He suffered a big gash above his eye, a broken tooth, and severe head swelling. (You can see some photos, and an account of the incident at Kens5.com.)


No Problem?

The San Antonio Police Department is apparently investigating the incident, because, you know, it takes a really long time to determine whether officers did something wrong in brutalizing an innocent person minding his own business. For his part, SAPD Police Chief William McManus says, “From the report that I've read, from the photo that I saw and from [a reporter’s] description, I've not seen anything at this point that would indicate to me that anything out of order happened.”

What do they say on Twitter? Good job, good effort?

Of course, the racial component to this case is impossible to ignore. But, naively putting that aside, it’s worth asking whether it would have been okay for these bellicose officers to treat Gonzalez similarly to Carlos. If they had actually gotten their man, would it have been okay for them to beat him up before taking him in?

Many of us say no. The problem, though, is that we never would have heard about it had it happened.