The Thin Line Between De-Escalation And Death

The video was recorded by private investigator Ken Sheppard, who was doing his job.

It was just a routine workers’ compensation fraud case for Ken Sheppard.  Show up for a spot check, do some surveillance of the subject and keep it pushing.  But on March 3, 2014, it was anything but routine for the renowned private investigator known for busting reality TV series “Bridezillas” star Anita Maxwell for insurance fraud.

On location in Montrose, California, a city with just under 20,000 residents and less than one percent of them African-American, Mr. Sheppard was conducting regular surveillance of a subject while parked in his black Chevy Tahoe.

Black guy in a car, when LA County Sheriff’s Deputy Tai Plunkett came upon him. Plunkett didn’t know who he was or why he was there. Ignorance was a good enough reason.

Plunkett made it clear that this offense was not complying with his commands, a good enough reason to put a gun to Sheppard’s head. But it wasn’t good enough to pass legal muster, so they put their heads into concocting a better excuse.

And lest anyone think it’s as simple as black and white, male and female, this should disabuse them of the notion. It’s cop and non-cop. And it could have very easily been dead non-cop, as there is no reason to unholster a gun and put it to a person’s head absent a reason to kill.

Had this ended the situation, perhaps everyone would gone on with their day. But it didn’t.

And while you might think that’s the end of the drama, it’s not.

Without a warrant, deputies attempted to inspect the contents of and even entered Mr. Sheppard’s vehicle. After his field frisk, Mr. Sheppard was placed into the backseat of Deputy Plunkett’s cruiser. It’s at this point that Deputy Hanson gets into the front seat of the cruiser and asks Mr. Sheppard what he was doing in the area because, according to her, Mr. Sheppard “did not belong in the area.”

As noted, had Sheppard not been recording, none of this would be provable.  But he was and it is. And this didn’t happen to some gangbanger in the ghetto, but a private investigator, a “Code 5,” doing his job.

This video was taken in 2014, and Sheppard sued for violation of his civil rights. It didn’t turn out well.

On April 20, 2015, Mr. Sheppard filed a civil lawsuit in federal court for violation of his constitutional rights, assault, battery, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and various other charges.

The trial took place last week in Los Angeles September 13 through September 15 before the Honorable S. James Otero.  After hearing the evidence and viewing a small portion of the video evidence provided by Mr. Sheppard, a jury of 8 persons found in favor of the sheriff’s department.

You want to know what it looks like? This is what it looks like. You want to know what becomes of it? This is what becomes of it. Not all the time, but then, it shouldn’t be this way at all. Yet it is.

So there ya go. Not even a legit private investigator enjoys the assurance of making it home for dinner after an unjustified encounter with police.

16 thoughts on “The Thin Line Between De-Escalation And Death

  1. shenebraskan

    “That’s another good one to tack on.” After all the recent videos, don’t know why this one hits so hard, but it does. Plunkett has his finger on the trigger, ready to shoot Sheppard in the head. And if he had, they would have been getting the charges straight before calling EMTs.

    1. SHG Post author

      What did it for me was that there was no blood, nothing to detract from the mundane wrongfulness of the police conduct. And even though the trigger was never pulled, you could feel how close it was to pointless tragedy the whole time, and then the sham that followed. It really did it for me as well.

      1. shenebraskan

        As you note in your other post today, which I just read, it is police culture. “But nobody who isn’t a cop gets a free pass.” Even a PI isn’t safe. Stunning how long it took for that first cop to lower his gun, even with several other cops standing right there, maybe with their own guns drawn.

    2. jim

      I agree that this one hits hard. I think it may have something to do with the raw feral nature of the cop. You can see his jaw muscles working; you can hear his throat convulsing in fear; you can just perceive on his face the tell tale signs that he was in an altered “tunnel vision” state (like the officer involved in last week’s Tulsa shooting.) It appears that he is just barely containing his state of absolute panic. I have watched hundreds of these youtube police abuse videos and I have to admit than when I played this one for the first time, the cop’s disturbing behavior set my adrenaline going even from the comfort of my office computer desk. The red flags are all there that if this cop is left out there on the street he is a clear and present danger to our families. And now that this video is out, the LA deputies office is on notice, and the liability they are exposed to is increased exponentially. We can only hope that they have taken secret corrective action but from the looks of what happened with the cover up on the second video, I would highly doubt it.

  2. anonymous coward

    Sheppard is also lucky Plunkett still had a Beretta pistol and not one of the newer Smith and Wesson pistols that have been the cause of a large number of negligent discharges since the LA Sheriff’s Department changed pistols. It’s still no excuse for entering every situation muzzle first, finger on the trigger like so many recent police shootings.

  3. B. McLeod

    Death is, of course, the ultimate “de-escalation,” as the officers will eventually stop shooting at some point, even though the suspect is still stubbornly defying their commands.

      1. B. McLeod

        “The someone hollered for the cops,
        They busted down the door,
        They Landed on old Paddy’s back,
        And they laid him on the floor,
        They knocked him twice behind the ear,
        And they knocked him on the head,
        But when they got up off his back,
        Sure they found that he was dead.”

        (Not a new thing).

  4. FF

    I understand your point, Scott. Some cops have literally gotten away with murder. “Holster your weapon, man, holster your weapon, what can I do for you” is not a great way to start a conversation with them.

    1. SHG Post author

      Approaching a car where there is no reasonable suspicion of any wrongdoing with a gun drawn is no way to start a conversation. See the difference in perspective?

      1. Anne Krone

        We live in a world where trained cops can panic and act on impulse, but untrained civilians must remain calm with a gun in their face.

        1. DaveL

          We also live in a world where police put their lives on the line every day to protect civilians, and therefore are justified in using whatever violence they deem necessary against civilians in order to ensure their own absolute safety. So, nothing new here.

        2. st

          The 60-minute interview at the original link provides evidence that Mr. Sheppard is at a minimum very experienced, and quite possibly trained. He exhibited and discusses in the interview in-depth knowledge of police procedures.

          His experience and calm is almost certainly why he is still alive, and why we got to see the video.

  5. Steven M. Warshawsky

    Because you mentioned the trial in your post, I think it is relevant and worth emphasizing that juries usually decide in favor of the police in civil rights cases. There may be enough evidence to persuade a judge to allow the case to go to trial, but persuading the jury to rule for the plaintiff is much more difficult.

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