In a recent post, Noblesville police shot a 27-year-old suicidal man. The rationale was that he had a gun and, well, the First Rule of Policing kicked in, trumping whatever purpose the police might have had in preventing a suicide. Ironic and fundamentally contrary to anything remotely resembling sound judgment and practice, but at least there was an excuse.
Not this time.
Why exactly 44-year-old Michael Angel Ruiz decided that a rooftop in Phoenix was a good place to be isn’t clear, but there is nothing about being up there that puts a cop at risk. And nothing about coming down from there that does so either. Via Police State USA:
After sustaining electric shocks from police, Ruiz complied with requests to come off the roof. Video taken by witnesses shows him hopping down to a balcony. An unidentified Phoenix police officer immediately greeted him with a choke-hold. Police used overwhelming force on the man, who had still shown no signs of aggression. Witness Gary Carthen told ABC 15 that Ruiz was “getting choked out and tased at the same time.” He remained in a choke-hold for at least three minutes, reported KPHO.
The most disturbing moments were to come. Michael Ruiz, now fully restrained, was dragged down the concrete stairs on his face. As deputies held his arms behind his back, they allowed his head to dangle and thump against every stair. At this point Ruiz may have already lost consciousness, and was making no attempt to lift his head. Video shows him lifelessly suffering head trauma on the descent down the stair case.
Straining to find some thread of reason in the police handling of this guy, the best I can do is think that the officer who decided to place Ruiz in a choke hold as he came off the roof did so by rote, to exert control over a person because, in his head, he heard voices telling him “control people, control people.” And so he did.
In taking him down the stairs in such a way as to cause his head to “dangle and thump against every stair,” the police coalesced into groupthink, the risky shift that allows individuals to let go of any personal responsibility for stupidity in order to engage in conduct that is far more harmful, risky and stupid.
They do this because the group is doing this, and while it may have occurred to each and every officer that thumping Ruiz’s head against the stairs was about the worst thing they could possibly do, nobody will buck the group. Never forget, groups tend to be far worse when it comes to decision-making than any individual.
Yet another irony, Ruiz’s father is a retired LAPD detective.
“I just felt sick to my stomach,” said Richard Erickson, the man’s father, to ABC 15. “I’d never seen anything like this before, even when I was with the police department.”
Ruiz apparently had problems with drugs, which is the sort of thing one would expect his father, the detective, to be sufficiently concerned about that he would become deeply involved in addressing. While what happened on the roof and after has nothing to do with the father, it seems pretty likely that Ruiz would not have been on the roof had he been doing something a little more socially productive. Just an aside.
Similarly, the father’s assertion that he never saw anything like this, “even when [he] was with the police department,” seems a bit peculiar, given his tenure in Los Angeles, unless he wasn’t watching TV the day Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell and three other officers dragged Rodney King out of the cab of his truck and beat him. Also just an aside, but one that any cop readers may want to bear in mind since their child may someday find himself having problems with drugs or on a rooftop in Phoenix.
When asked what the hell they were doing, the Phoenix Police Department issued this statement:
We will have to decline your request for an interview at this time. There is currently an ongoing administrative investigation into this matter. As you know, state law precludes us from commenting on administrative investigations. We will wait until the entire investigative process has been completed.
Whether “state law precludes” the cops from commenting on administrative investigations, it’s hard to imagine that anything would prevent the police from responding to a video that shows them engaging in conduct of such monumental and inexplicable stupidity that it cost Ruiz his life.
The need to find an explanation for conduct that, on its surface, defies explanation leads us to leap either to bizarre and irrational excuses or malevolent accusations. As there is no rational basis to explain the police conduct here, the easiest alternative is to attribute it to viciousness. But frankly, that makes no sense either. This wasn’t a guy who did anything to anger the cops per se, aside from making them work in the hot sun. And that’s not generally a reason why cops would kill someone.
Rather, it strikes me that this is just a product of such monumental stupidity, coupled perhaps with the absence of any sincere concern for the harm they were doing to the guy, that it defies Darwin’s theory. People can be just as easily killed by stupid as by malice, and Hanlon’s Razor suggests that stupid killed Michael Angel Ruiz.