Saturday, July 6, 2013

On Cops and Pets (sort of)

Curmie is proud of being an educator and therefore hosts the Curmie Award for the teacher or administrator who most embarrasses the profession. Similarly, he acknowledges that there are thousands of selfless, hard-working and compassionate police officers—unfortunately, I got to see a couple of them perform a particularly grim duty last week—but that makes it all the more important to remember that wearing a badge and a gun doesn’t make one a good policeman (or –woman) any more than standing in front of a classroom makes one a good teacher.


There have been a lot of disturbing stories of late about overly testosteronic cops and pets (well, one of the stories isn’t about pets per se, but about partially-domesticated kittens. Close enough for jazz). What’s newsworthy and disturbing about these incidents isn’t necessarily directly linked to the animals involved, but that motif does give us an opportunity to examine some of the worst (we hope) in police behavior over the past few weeks. I’m even skipping two cases from California: the shooting of five caged (but at least aggressive) pit bulls by a Selma cop in January and the recent incident in Hawthorne in which the police were certainly at fault for escalating what needn’t have been a tense situation, but may indeed have ultimately acted appropriately (considering the position they had put themselves in) in shooting and killing an 80-pound Rottweiler.

We start, then, with a story out of Miami in late May. Police assaulted, handcuffed, and choked a 14-year-old boy with little if any provocation. The boy, Tremaine McMillian, had apparently been “roughhousing” with friends. Although they quickly realized “there was no sort of altercation or fight going on,” police nonetheless wanted to talk to McMillian’s parents.

But that’s when things turned bad, and when descriptions begin to diverge: he was walking away, or he was leading police to his mother, who was nearby. I’m going to pretend for a moment that I believe a single word of the police description: if for no other reason than that my raised eyebrow of skepticism might be interpreted as a “de-humanizing stare,” which is apparently enough to get you slammed to the ground and choked by a gaggle of over-stimulated jackasses working on their machismo merit badge. Well, of course, young Mr. McMillian has, shall we say, a darker complexion than I, so I might have been fine.

Anyway, the police don’t seem to dispute the claim that the teenager was carrying his six-week-old puppy in one hand and was bottle-feeding it with the other. The best they can do is argue that after police “[grabbed] him,” McMillian’s “body language, of stiffening up, closing the fist, flaring his hands, trying to pull away, well, now, you’re resisting an officer at that point.” Presumably, this is intended to constitute a defense of the officers’ stupidity and brutality. “At this point, we’re not dealing with, or concerned with the puppy,” quoth Prevaricator in Charge Detective Alvaro Zabaleta, “what we’re concerned about is the immediate threat to the officers.” Seriously, he said that.

Here’s the best-case scenario for the police account. McMillian was doing nothing illegal and the police were being a little over-officious. They then grabbed him, although he had committed no offense and was under no obligation to cooperate with them. He shrugged them off, telling them not to “touch [him] like [he’s] done something,” all the while holding the puppy. While doing so, he apparently sprouted another set of appendages, complete with clenched fists and flaring arms (whatever the hell that means), and constituted an “immediate threat” because… um… well, he did. Seriously, if a 14-year-old kid holding a puppy in both arms makes a police officer afraid in any way, maybe we ought to be looking for some cops with backbones made of sterner stuff than overcooked linguini.

Oh, wait. I forgot about the “de-humanizing stares.” Snort. These people should be writing trashy novels. They sure as hell shouldn’t be cops.

We move now to North Ridgeville, Ohio, where a police-attached Human Officer reporting to the Police Department shot and killed a litter of kittens in the presence of a group of children, and the idiot Police Chief decided there was no problem. Move along. Nothin’ to see here.

There seems to be little dispute about the facts. A homeowner called the police to see if they could do something about a litter of feral kittens that had taken up residence in a woodpile behind her house. Enter one Barry Accorti, retired police sergeant and current part-time Humane Officer (yes, Gentle Reader, Curmie is aware of the irony of the job title). According to WKYC television,
He allegedly told the homeowner that shelters were full and that the cats would be going to kitty heaven. He then pulled out his gun and shot to death the five, 8- to 10-week-old kittens.

Accorti allegedly told the homeowner that he isn't supposed to do this, but it was justifiable. The woman ran into the house to shield her children who were screaming and crying.
There are some minor discrepancies with the details, but what isn’t in dispute is that Accorti used a gun to “euthanize” kittens no more than 10 weeks old. Interestingly, the police department’s defense of Accorti’s stupidity and arrogance cites the proximity of the woodpile to the house and presence of children in the home as reasons why the kittens would have to be killed to begin with. Presumably, it never occurred to him that firing a gun into a woodpile is inherently unsafe (lots of opportunities for ricochets in a residential area) and that traumatizing children might not be the best available option. No, correct that, he just didn’t care. He’s been carrying this gun around for a while and hasn’t had the chance to show off what a tough guy he is by firing it to the admiration of all. After all, nothing says “manly” like shooting a kitten.

Here’s the deal. He’s got cages, heavy gloves, catch-poles, all that stuff available to him. These are kittens. The fact that they hissed at someone doesn’t mean they’re dangerous. And he’s supposed to be a professional. Assuming it’s true that euthanasia was the only (or best) option—hardly a given, by the way—then there are a lot of safer, more humane means of dealing with the situation… not to mention avoiding the possibility virtual certainty of giving those kids nightmares for months.

Most disturbingly, nothing a cop ever does seems to be questioned by those in authority, whether it’s pepper-spraying innocent people or doing something transcendently stupid like firing a gun in a residential neighborhood to deal with a feral cat problem. (Note: the photo at left purports to be of the kittens in question, meaning a). they're partially domesticated and b). the alleged complaints about a chronic problem are either fabricated or disingenuous.)

Here are the key sections of the official police statement by Chief Mike Freeman:
Research and other animal organizations accept shooting as an acceptable means of euthanasia.

After visiting the scene, talking with the responding officer and re-interviewing the complainant, I have decided his actions were appropriate and have decided not to impose any disciplinary measures for the incident.
OK, Chief. So show me that research and at least two (you used the plural, after all) “other animal organizations” that consider using a handgun an acceptable means of euthanasia. I’d suggest that you not start with the Ohio SPCA, however. Here’s the statement on their Facebook page:
No HUMANE organization would recommend that non-threatening animals be shot as a method of euthanasia. The use of gunshot to end an animal's life should only be used when an animal is attacking or has been injured so seriously that ending suffering must be immediate. The 8 to 10 week-old kittens posed no immediate threat to anyone. Trap, Neuter, and Release Programs (TNR) have been in place in a multitude of cities and towns throughout Ohio and the United States for years. Humane societies and shelters not choosing TNR as an option, should only be using Euthanasia by Injection (EBI).
Karen Minton, Ohio director of the Humane Society of the United States, agrees: “it is hard to fathom any circumstance where fatally shooting young kittens is necessary or justified.” So—given the pretty strong dissenting statements from representatives of the two universally recognized “animal organizations” in the country, the SPCA and the HSUS—please produce anyone with a quarter as much credibility. Or admit that you’re a lying asshole and resign. Your choice.

Later, Freeman defended Accorti’s actions as legal: “there were no children present outside the home when this occurred.” Oh, well, that’s all right then. As long as they were looking out the window instead of… you know… there, then everything is just peachy. And besides, behaving stupidly, arrogantly, recklessly and probably dishonestly is just fine as long as it’s legal. I doubt that what Officer Accorti did actually was legal, although it might have been. But it’s certainly grounds for firing. The idiot police chief and the pompous and disingenuous mayor ought to be on the unemployment line, too.

Note: it is now being touted as a silver lining that the city has revised their policies, will no longer kill cats, and will form an alliance with the Friendship Animal Protection League to develop new procedures. Of course, this move is founded more on petulance than on pragmatism: the police will now do nothing to help. You see, if they can’t go around firing pistols at kittens, this game just isn’t any fun anymore.

And so we move on to South Holland, Illinois. This incident took place nearly a year ago, but a related lawsuit is moving through the system now, so it’s making news again. Last July, Randy Green’s dog, Grady, somehow popped his chain and apparently ran around the neighborhood for a while before settling down on the front porch of the Green residence.

Here’s what happened, at least according to the lawsuit (I’m tightening up some of the paragraphing):
Upon information and belief, a caller had identified the dog at large as ‘a big old gray dog runnin' around.’ The caller made no mention of the dog being dangerous, vicious, or aggressive....

The two South Holland officers arrived while plaintiff Randy Green and his family were asleep inside of their home, and where Mr. Green’s Cane Corso dog, Grady, was sitting on the front porch. Upon information and belief, the chain holding Grady in the Green family backyard had popped, allowing Grady to be off leash on and around Mr. Green's residence.

Both South Holland officers were equipped with dog-catching poles in the trunks of their vehicles, but neither attempted to use the dog-catching poles to capture the purported dog at large. South Holland officer Chad Barden stood, with his gun drawn, near the Green family home while the dog Grady sat on the front porch. The accompanying South Holland officer stood, leaning against his own police vehicle, approximately 100 feet away from Officer Chad Barden.

The dog Grady walked past both officers on more than one occasion without incident, thereafter lazily returning to the front porch of the Green residence. At no time did the dog Grady make physical contact with either officer.

The South Holland police officers stood outside the Green family home for approximately twenty minutes. At this time, the dog Grady approached Officer Barden again as he was standing nearest the Green family home. Shortly thereafter, Officer Barden shot the dog Grady three times for no reason.
OK, so far it sounds like Mr. Green is behaving a little defensively: surely his beloved canine wouldn’t act threateningly, right? Trouble is, he says he’s got an expert report on video evidence.
"…video surveillance footage from the Green family residence revealed the absence of any charging, lunging or showing of teeth by the dog Grady and instead showed the dog Grady seeking ‘greater distance between the officer and himself,’ displaying ‘calming [body] signals’ by ‘looking away from the officers and showing his [Grady's] flank,’ and moving in a ‘trot.’ (Brackets in complaint.)
You see, the thing is, no lawyer would make, or let her client make, claims that can’t be backed up. The chance are really, really good that the video shows exactly what the plaintiffs in this case claim it shows: a lazy, smug, self-entitled cop shooting a harmless dog because he can. I can find no evidence that Barden or his partner were as much as given a private scolding. And then, of course, the assholes at the police station, a month later, charged Green with having a “dangerous dog.” Yeah, I’m calling bullshit on that one.

Finally—I’m sure there are dozens more cases to choose from, but I’m already over 2000 words—there’s this case from El Monte, California in which a policewoman shot a German shepherd and then—based on all the available evidence—lied about the details.

Police were an hour late to a scheduled meeting with Cathy Luu and her husband Chi Nguyen at their home. They claim to have followed procedure for entering premises where dogs might be present, but they sort of neglected to think through the possibility that people who can afford to live in that neighborhood just might have their own security cameras, which back up their claim that the cops just barged into the enclosed yard area without either calling the house to announce their arrival or making any reasonable attempt to determine if there were dogs about. That huge orange-on-black “Beware of Dog” sign smack in the middle of the damned gate shown in the photo at left might have been regarded as cautionary by an average person. Not by El Monte’s finest, apparently.

And then there is the usual chicken-shit “no choice” justification. Barking is barking. Attacking is attacking. They’re different. It’s impossible to tell from the evidence available to us which was the case here. As in the Hawthorne case mentioned in passing earlier, there are two separate questions to be answered: could this situation have been prevented by more competent police work? And, in the moment it happened, was shooting a large, potentially aggressive dog justified? The answers in both cases are “yes” to question #1 and “maybe” to question #2. So why write about this one instead of the other? Because in the Hawthorne case, the police are only probably lying (about the cause for the arrest of the dog’s owner), whereas in this case the video footage apparently indicates clearly (“beyond reasonable doubt” and all that) that the officers didn’t follow procedure (their jackass boss, of course, believes them rather than the actual evidence, but no one else does). If they’re willing to lie about X, they’re willing to lie about Y.

The good news is that, unlike in the Ohio kitten-shooting incident, at least the mayor in question seems to have some sense, even if the police power structure doesn’t:
[Mayor Andre] Quintero reached out to the family to talk about working something out to find them another German shepherd or other type of dog, even offering to pay for vaccinations, sterilization and any other fees associated with getting a new dog.

“There is no question, we cannot replace Kiki. We know that,” Quintero said as he read a statement during Tuesday night's City Council meeting. “But we would like to do what we can to help fill the void that has been left by the death of this family's pet.”

Quintero called for a “quick and appropriate solution” to the internal investigation into the incident.

“Our community and the Luu/Nguyen family deserve answers and closure quickly,” Quintero added.
You see, this is a good man, or at least an intelligent enough politician to understand that spending a few hundred dollars that might avert a law suit is probably a good idea.

So what do all of these incidents indicate? Well, certainly a handful of cases across a country this size don’t indicate much of anything. But there’s a troubling undertone emerging:
• a lot of cops really like to shoot things and beat people up
• police chiefs and captains and such will lie to cover up for their idiot underlings
• whereas “animal rights” proponents often go too far, they’re right about most of this kind of cases
• there are far too many police who think their job is to swagger around with a gun
• even female officers seem to have testosterone poisoning
But enough of that. Time to scritch my cats’ ears.

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