Jacob Gocheski was a teen with issues, which was why he went to school at the Parsons Child and Family Center. To get there, he took a bus, but the driver wasn’t comfortable with this troubled kid as a passenger, and so the Rotterdam police were called in. From the Albany Times Union:
Police were called after the driver said he felt he could not safely transport Gocheski to school at Parsons Child and Family Center, “based on threats that the student made in an aggressive manner,” police said in the release.
According to his attorney, who likely revealed far too much about a minor’s condition than discretion would have suggested,
the teenager’s medications were being adjusted at the time, limiting his ability to move. He has been diagnosed with multiple emotional disorders, including Tourette syndrome, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder and pervasive developmental disorder.
So the teen had issues. The driver had issues with the teen, and for reasons unexplained, the driver decided that it was necessary to seek the aid of the cops to remove this young man from the bus. What follows is painful to watch.
Though the video is only 1:50, the police spent about 15 minutes talking to Gocheski, trying to get him to leave the bus on his own accord. Their efforts appear to be perfectly reasonable, if unsuccessful. Indeed, in dealing with children with significant emotional and intellectual disabilities, processing information under pressure can be difficult if not impossible.
As much as one might hope that police would possess this level of sophistication in dealing with troubled children, it’s likely to exceed reasonable expectations. They can’t know how to deal with every person, every problem, that exists in society. As opposed to the blind or deaf, whose issues are sufficiently self-evident that even the stupidest cop should be capable of appreciating them, emotional and intellectual challenges tend to be far more elusive to understand.
But then, is it really necessary that the police have a firm grasp on the problems of a disabled teen before breaking his arm?
Naturally, the officers involved were immediately absolved of any wrongdoing, though the same can’t be said of the young man.
The incident unfolded on the morning of Oct. 9, 2013 in the driveway of the teenager’s Rotterdam home and came to light late Friday in a news release issued by Rotterdam Police Chief James Hamilton who said a review determined that “officers followed department protocol and procedures.”
In addition, police charged the teen, Jacob Gocheski, with obstructing governmental administration in the second degree, a misdemeanor.
While the police officers may not have known how best to handle the situation, there are a few things they knew with certainty. They knew that he had not harmed anyone. They knew there were two big, burley cops and one teenaged boy. They knew he suffered from some sort of disability, as he was a student at Parsons. They knew that they had the ability to physically harm this child. They knew that the 15 minutes spent trying to persuade him to do as they directed hadn’t worked, and they knew that they didn’t want to spend any more time trying.
And so, they broke Jacob Gocheski’s arm.
The officers involved, Sgt. Daniel Ryan and Officer Ronald Armstrong, tried to reason with Gocheski before they decided to physically remove him. The conversation went like this:
Ryan tried to engage Gocheski, who sat in silence, with his head down. “What are we going to do here?” Ryan asked. “You can either walk off the bus, or we can drag you off the bus, strap you on a stretcher and take you to Ellis Hospital. You can walk off the bus like a young man or we can hog-tie you.”
Ryan added, “You’re making all these other kids late for school.”
“I don’t give a (expletive). I don’t give a (expletive),” Gocheski said.
“If we have to fight, someone might get hurt,” Armstrong said.
For many, this would appear to show that the officers did all they could to convince Gocheski to go peaceably. Had he just complied, he never would have been harmed. If only he listened. If only he did as he was told.
Disabled children don’t want to be disabled. They don’t do it on purpose, any more than a blind person chooses not to see. Reasoning may be a viable way of dealing with someone who doesn’t suffer from emotional and intellectual disabilities, and most people reading this discussion would see this as sufficiently clear that no one, no one at all, could have not understood that failure to comply would bring unfortunate and harmful consequences.
Disabled children, however, are not “most people.” Be happy that you don’t have to live in Jacob Gocheski’s head. Be happy that you understood the officers’ message. But to Gocheski, it was no different than ordering a deaf person to hear. It just doesn’t process.
For all the problems facing the officers, and facing Gocheski, though, there is one thing that simply cannot be explained. Why did they need to employ the level of force that two big, burly cops are capable of, and break his arm?
Regardless of whether he was disabled, or defiant, or troubled, it was not true that someone had to get hurt. This could have ended without incident, without the arm of a child being broken. As the trope goes, do it for the children. Don’t hurt them just because you can.