What are police officers accountable for?
The story of what happens next to two Missouri detectives may provide some answers.
Mid-Missouri Drug Task Force detectives Michael Chinn and Kip Bartlett approached the home of Timothy Whittle to serve a warrant allowing them to search the premises for meth making equipment, but never got the chance as Whittle drove off in a truck.
After a car chase, Whittle jumped out of the truck and ran across a field before stopping and raising his hands in surrender. As Whittle laid down on his stomach, the first detective to reach him sat on his back while holding his wrists.
When the second detective – Michael Chinn – arrived, he kicked Whittle in the head and sat down on Whittle’s neck with his knee before tasing him in the back.
Here is Detective Chinn’s explanation for bloodying Whittle’s face and using lethal force:
“As I approached I observed the suspect Timothy Whittle continuing to turn his head and … attempting to resist by furtive movements. While running I swiftly arrived next to the suspect and gave him a dry stun, and an application of a five second burst from the Taser in the center of his back to gain compliance and control…At this time the suspect, Timothy Whittle, stop resisting.”
Leaving aside Detective Chinn’s Cro-Magnon command of grammar, his explanation is hardly compelling after watching the video below.
Whittle appears to have completely surrendered before Chinn arrived, and Whittle’s “furtive movements” hardly explain kicking the man in the head, kneeing him in the back, and tasing him.
In fact, neither detective reported kicking Whittle in the head. Detective Bartlett attempted to explain Whittle’s injury by claiming Whittle “told me he had hit his head on the windshield when he jumped a mound of dirt in one of the field.” The video, however, clearly shows no blood on Whittle’s face as he ran through the field.
Task force leader Captain Don Isaac also tried to excuse the beating, saying that Whittle had assaulted the officers before leading them on the chase. Captain Isaac added that “the conversation between the officers, which you don’t get, is, he’s hollering at him, ‘Stop resisting, stop resisting.’”
Because, as we all know, many officers think they can lawfully thrash someone as long as they shout the words “Stop resisting.”
Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond, whose office had commissioned Chinn as a deputy sheriff, said that Chinn has left the drug task force to take another law enforcement job within the state and his departure was not related to Whittle’s arrest.
The incident took place in September and was uploaded to Youtube in November. The video went viral after it was published in the Kansas City Star last week, which noted the contradictions from what police initially reported to what the video shows what happened.
Capt. Don Isaac, the task force leader, declined to comment to The Star.
But last month he told a Jefferson City television station that Whittle had assaulted officers before leading them on the 20-minute chase. He also said the silent video didn’t capture the detective’s instructions to Whittle.
“The conversation between the officers, which you don’t get, is, he’s hollering at him, ‘Stop resisting, stop resisting,’” Isaac told the station.
Asked by The Star to view the video, one Missouri lawyer called the kick and the force applied on Whittle’s neck violations of recognized police policies and procedures.
“Officers are only to use that amount of force that is necessary and called for under the circumstances,” said S. Rafe Foreman, a law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City who has filed several lawsuits against police departments after excessive-force incidents.
“There was absolutely no circumstance in that video that would justify a violent kick to the suspect’s head,” Foreman said.
Whittle’s family has hired an attorney to look into possible legal ramifications from the abuse.
Whittle is serving a four-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to resisting arrest for running from the officers and to tampering with a motor vehicle for taking a friend’s truck.
Whittle’s attorney, Rachel Russell, has stated that the Whittle family “looks forward to sharing the truth about the police brutality that goes beyond the video clip shown to the media and the lies used by law enforcement to cover it up.”