During most of the encounter, Round Rock Officer Ben Johnson was calm and under control. There were no overt signs of anger or frustration, and he was, indeed, the very model of a police officer doing his job. Which is why it’s all the more incomprehensible that he suddenly threw 27-year-old Viviana Keith down on the pavement.
The video is bad enough from the side, but the dash cam video reveals . . . nothing. A bit of mouthing and maybe a little pulling of the arms, which were already behind her back, but nothing remotely suggesting force or threat. So down he takes her.
Keith, with her 6-year-old daughter, is alleged to be drunk at a strip mall nail salon in Texas. Whether that’s unusual is hard to say, but police were called and Officer Johnson arrived to deal with the drunk lady and kid. Fair enough.
Then boom, he takes her down. Why?
“The officer was very professional, was talking to her calm, he wasn’t excited, he wasn’t angry,” said Police Chief Allen Banks. “It’s unfortunate, the fact that this lady did what appears to hit her head and was knocked unconscious, but I’ll tell you — the officer did what he was supposed to do in a situation like that.”
Putting aside Chief Banks’ admirable if twisted use of the passive tense, what aspect of the situation compelled the officer to do “what he was supposed to do in a situation like that”? Was it that Keith was a woman? Was it that Keith’s child was right there? Was it that Keith was the lucky fifth encounter of the day and the officer gets a free take down? What was it that made this utterly needless use of force what he was “supposed to do”?
At KVUE, another effort to explain by Chief Banks is offered:
But according to KVUE, Round Rock Police Chief Allen Banks said the officer did everything right — not only because Keith was resisting arrest, but because she’d been driving around with her daughter while clearly drunk.
While Keith was behaving like a person who had too much to drink, questioning and pulling a bit in discomfort, rather than doing everything within her power to make Officer Johnson’s arrest as easy as humanly possible, she was hardly resisting arrest. This was apparently clear to Banks, given that he was compelled to add that she was driving drunk with her daughter, utterly irrelevant to the force but clearly designed to make people believe she deserved to be knocked out for what she did.
“She was very combative, very argumentative and also very intoxicated,” Banks said.
Except that the video shows otherwise, that she wasn’t at all combative and hardly argumentative. Intoxicated, perhaps, but does Banks suggest that police procedure is to throw drunken women to the ground for fun?
Why Ben Johnson went from being calm and appropriate to throwing Keith hard to the ground is inexplicable, and will be covered up in the empty excuses of police procedure. But the fact that the Police Chief dives into the proper procedure hole is disturbing and raises serious questions, like what procedure does your department use that causes cops to needlessly throw people to the ground?
The use of force is a matter that is either permitted by law or not. That a police department may have a procedure that allows, if not encourages, a cop to engage in the use of force as here is irrelevant. The cops can’t create their own procedure in defiance of law. A department is no more allowed to adopt a procedure that says, “if a suspect calls you a name that hurts your feelings, you may use deadly force.” It’s not the law, and departmental procedure is not a substitute for permission to use force when the law prohibits it.
So what the hell is Banks talking about?
That this use of force didn’t involve a weapon or result in a shooting tends to make it less worthy of concern. So he threw her to the ground, and her head bounced off the pavement knocking her unconscious. It’s not like he pulled out his gun and shot her in the head, right?
Yet, this pedestrian use of force without any apparent reason reflects the deep concern of police demonstrating no regard for the harm perpetrated on a person, even if it isn’t likely to result in death. The resort to random, needless force, explained away as proper procedure, permeates the law enforcement mindset.
And indeed, it can result in extremely serious harm, as reflected in a similar, utterly pointless, takedown that occurred in Alabama with Sureshbhai Patel, who suffered devastating injuries. While falling short of a bullet to the back, any use of force can have a devastating effect, and is intolerable when there is no threat of harm to the officer.
What makes this video all the more inexplicable is that there was no fighting, not even heated argument, preceding the takedown. Johnson behaved in exemplary, “very professional” fashion. Until he didn’t. There is no procedure explaining what happened here, and no excuse for this use of force.
And should the question arise as to why this is a “But For Video” post, how many have heard about great-grandfather Robert Jones in Maryland?
Armstrong demanded Jones go into his home and get his identification, the complaint states. Jones told Armstrong that the officer never asked if he had his ID on him. The officer then told Jones he had three seconds to get his ID or he would be arrested. As Jones was getting his ID out of his pocket, Armstrong counted 1-2-3 quickly, and pushed Jones, the complaint states.
The complaint alleges that Armstrong continued to punch Jones in the face, knee him in the sides of his body and back and spray the disabled man in the face with pepper spray six times while Jones was on the ground.
But without video, nobody knows.