Transcript

Taya Graham: Hello. My name is Taya Graham, and welcome to the Police Accountability Report. As I never get tired of saying, this show has a single purpose: holding the politically powerful institution of policing accountable. To do so, we don’t just focus on the bad behavior of individual cops. Instead, we examine the system that makes bad policing possible. Today we’re going to do so by reporting on a disturbing video out of a small town in California, where a deputy sheriff kicked a man prone on the ground and knocked him unconscious. Well, what happened after this assault occurred makes the story even more indicative of the theme of this show, because it’s how the system is handling this case that we will unpack and report on in detail.

But before I get started, I want you watching to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct, please email it to us privately at par@therealnews.com, and we might be able to investigate for you. And, of course, you can always message me directly @TayasBaltimore on Facebook or Twitter, and please like, share, and comment on our videos. It really does help us, and you know I read your comments and appreciate them. We have a Patreon for donations pinned in the comments below. Okay, now we’ve gotten that out of the way.

Now, one of the most troubling patterns in American policing is how often cops are above the laws they enforce, especially when it comes to discipline for bad behavior. A lack of holding officers accountable can often lead to more trouble down the road. What do I mean? Well, consider a case we reported on extensively before. It involved the death of a 19-year-old named Anton Black. Anton was walking with his cousin in September of 2018 in a small town called Greensboro on Maryland’s lower Eastern Shore. A Karen called the police and falsely accused him of kidnapping a 12-year-old boy who accompanied him on his walk. It turns out that child was a relative, but that didn’t prevent the Greensboro police officer, Thomas Webster, from accosting Anton, as you can see here in this body camera footage.

I have to warn you the video that follows of Anton being confronted, chased, tasered and choked by police is disturbing, so please fast forward through that footage if you don’t wish to see it.

Webster chased Anton back to his mother’s home, where the young track star and aspiring model hid in a family car. Officer Webster, for reasons that still remain unknown, decided to escalate the situation by smashing the window, even though Anton did not present a threat, a move that led to this. Minutes later, a 200-pound police officer lying his body across Anton’s, an act which his lawyers say led to his death. But the reason I bring up this case today is due to what was learned after this tragic incident. That’s because as police stonewalled the probe into his death we learned that officer Webster had been involved in another high-profile case of police brutality. As you can see in this dash cam footage, Webster had kicked a man in the jaw, breaking it, during an arrest. The case led to charges of assault of which Webster was found not guilty.

But even though Webster was implicated in at least a dozen other cases of brutality in Delaware, he was able to cross state lines and get a job as a cop in Maryland. The reason I bring this case up today is because of the video I’m showing you now. It involves another example of a cop using unnecessary force, and it’s also raising many of the same questions that officer Webster’s track record made clear. Can the system really hold police accountable? That is the question the lawyer for the man seen in this video is asking, after he was knocked unconscious by a San Bernardino county sheriff in May of 2020 during this arrest.

As you can see here in the video, Willie Jones was complying with an officer’s order to lay on the ground after a chase that ended in Victorville, California. But for reasons that have yet to be explained, the cop kicked Mr. Jones in the face and head as he lay prone in a parking lot. So, to find out more, we contacted Willy Jones’ lawyer, Zulu Ali, to get his take on what happened, and the strange deal that was offered to Mr. Jones after the incident occurred, and why it’s raising questions about the ability of police to police themselves. Mr. Ali, thank you so much for joining us today.

Zulu Ali: Thank you very much for having me.

Taya Graham: First, tell us about the circumstances that led to the car stop and chase. When did this happen, and where?

Zulu Ali: The allegations were, I believe, it was June the 16th, 2021, sometime in the morning or after midnight or close to midnight. There is an allegation that my client, Mr. Willie Jones, had committed some sort of traffic violation. In response to the alleged traffic violation, they were allegedly engaged or trying to engage in a traffic stop, and stated that Mr. Jones had avoided or fled their attempts to stop him. But, at any rate, Mr. Jones ended up at a car lot in Victorville, California, which was depicted actually in a videotape or video surveillance that was actually caught, I believe it was a security company that had a video surveillance of this car dealership.

While he’s at this car dealership the officers made contact with Mr. [Jones], and after making contact with Mr. [Jones] they gave him some commands. He was following the commands. He had laid down on his stomach and spread his arms out and was no threat to the officers, was in compliance. The officer then just walked over to Mr. Jones and kicked him twice in the head and then placed him in handcuffs. Mr. Jones advised that at some point in time he was unconscious, and at some point, I think between the time of kicking him the second time and taking him to the patrol vehicle, I believe he remembers some of that, but that’s the long and short of it. We’ve been asked–as of today Mr. Jones was arrested for felony evasion. However, there’s never been any information with regards to why the traffic stop was actually being made or what traffic violation he allegedly was in violation of.

Taya Graham: What injuries did he suffer? I have seen injuries from kicks like this damaging the orbital ridge, loss of teeth, fracturing of the jaw. There really can be severe injuries from incidents like this.

Zulu Ali: He does have injuries. To the extent that I can give details about the exact medical diagnosis of those injuries at this point, I’m not really at liberty to say, but he did sustain injuries.

Taya Graham: Now, according to what we’ve heard from the community, Will was offered a deal not to file a complaint. Can you talk about that?

Zulu Ali: Yes. Once he was actually taken to be treated medically, or taken to the emergency room, then he was taken back to a jail facility or a custodial facility. While he was at the custodial facility, within a very short period of time, he was approached by deputies who gave him some documents to actually sign. My understanding is that this is pretty routine for this particular department, being the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. They often do that with–I’ve even heard the situations where they try to get people to sign waivers while they’re still in hospital beds. But, at any rate, they approached him and gave him some documents to sign, trying to see if they would release his claims for $4,000. I do know that there are other cases–obviously those aren’t honored in most cases or in any cases that I know of–but they try to get people to sign. They send the [inaudible] and then whenever they cash the money, I guess they try to say that they entered into some sort of agreement, but yeah, that was what they attempted to do.

Taya Graham: As a lawyer, do you think this is ethical?

Zulu Ali: Absolutely not. I think that there’s a lot of problems with that. Clearly you’re dealing with someone, first of all, who is in custody. Second of all, someone who has actually been just treated medically, and within minutes of doing it they’re approached by deputy sheriffs. Oftentimes, I think that many of these cases are probably not even without the county’s knowledge. I don’t even know if the county council, or county, or at least many of the superiors, from my understanding, at least would admit that they know that they’re engaged in that type of conduct. But yeah, that’s extremely unethical.

Taya Graham: What are the legal steps you’ve taken? For example, have you filed a lawsuit?

Zulu Ali: Absolutely. Of course, because of the nature of the lawsuit, it begins with what they call a tort claim, which is an administrative process, which we are in the initial administrative process. Then, once we complete that process–which usually takes anywhere between 45 to 60 days from the date that the claim is filed–then they either accept the claim and it’s resolved. Or, if it’s not resolved, then we will be filing a lawsuit in court.

Taya Graham: What has happened to the officer, and do you think he should be disciplined for his actions?

Zulu Ali: Yeah. He actually has been identified. I do believe that–right now, my understanding is he’s still on administrative leave. My understanding is it’s paid administrative leave, and they’re investigating. My understanding is also the district attorney’s office is in the process of determining whether criminal charges are going to be filed against the deputy. At least at this point I don’t believe that the Sheriff’s Department has completed their investigation, or at least publicly advised the results of the investigation being completed, or the disposition of that. We haven’t heard anything yet back from the district attorney’s office. But he definitely should be, I think he should be criminally charged.

I think that what we observed was someone who was actually committing a crime, and he should be treated as such. I believe that at least what we saw on the video was clearly a criminal offense, and I think that the district attorney’s office should pursue criminal charges against this officer. That was just unbelievable. I know that we see so much of it, and we’ve seen so much of it lately–and when I say lately, I mean, that’s I guess an understatement. It’s been going on for quite some time. We’re just catching it now on video. This conduct and these types of actions by law enforcement officers has to stop.

Taya Graham: My reporting partner Stephen Janis has also been reaching out to the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office for comment. Stephen, thank you so much for joining me.

Stephen Janis: Taya, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Taya Graham: Stephen, you’ve reached out to San Bernardino County sheriffs for comment. What did they say?

Stephen Janis: Well, number one, they didn’t say anything yet, but what I asked was very specific. I wanted to know, number one, what was the employment status of the deputy? Was he terminated, was he still on paid administrative leave? I also wanted to know if it’s standard practice to offer $4,000 to people who are subject to police abuse. How often does this happen? Is this what they always do? I also wanted to know when the internal investigation would be done, and if they’d be sharing results with the public. Those questions are outstanding, I will follow them, continuing.

Taya Graham: Stephen, this is not the first time we’ve reported on the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department in a possible case of police abuse. Can you talk a little bit about what we’ve uncovered before?

Stephen Janis: Well, Taya, let’s remember just a couple of weeks ago we reported on Daniel Alvarez getting harassed by this San Bernardino county sheriff. We have the video right here. He was pulled over for no reason, and then asked if he was on probation or parole, and then the guy pulled out his handcuffs. So, no, this seems to be a problem with them getting in trouble, and questionable arrests and questionable stops.

Taya Graham: So, finally, we discussed the death of Anton Black and the fact that officer Thomas Webster, who initiated the stop, was able to get a job despite having an extensive record of citizen complaints. Can you tell us what happened and what we eventually learned?

Stephen Janis: Well, Taya, what we learned was it’s very easy for a police officer to shift jurisdictions, or go to a different city or town, and suppress their bad record in another place. Basically, the chief of Greensboro just left out all the bad complaints about officer Webster that he accrued in Delaware, and didn’t submit them as part of the application, even though that’s required by law. Webster was certified without any of that information. It turned out that he had to prosecute the chief for doing that, and he ended up pleading guilty to misconduct in office. But the lesson learned is that it’s very easy to subvert the process where officers can be held accountable for past actions.

Taya Graham: It seems clear to me that holding this officer accountable for his actions is not just going to be difficult, but perhaps impossible. They actually tried to make an unethical deal with Mr. Jones shortly after the incident occurred, which means the likelihood the agency is going to do a fair and objective investigation certainly remains in doubt. But as the story unfolds, and the department makes excuses for the behavior of the cop in question, I’m reminded of a strategy law enforcement has used against us that might be worth considering as a tactic to ensure that cops don’t avoid consequences for their bad behavior, just like they say we shouldn’t either. Let’s call this idea putting the shoe on the other foot, and seeing if it fits. What do I mean? Well, let’s start by recalling a police policy officers and the law enforcement establishment loves, but turned out not to be so popular with the people. I’m talking zero tolerance, a strategy that basically presumes everyone is guilty, and that even the most minor offenses, regardless of circumstance, should bear the full brunt of the law.

The idea was rooted in an essay that was published in 1986 by two social sciences, they called it the broken windows theory. It posited that to root out crime in violent neighborhoods, it was important to enforce even the most petty offenses as harshly as possible. The reasoning was the authors argued, that minor crimes were like a building in disrepair, a sign to the community that their neighborhood was not just unlawful but dysfunctional. The theory was that by strenuously enforcing minor crimes you could send a signal to the more violent criminal that their behavior would not be tolerated. This led to the so-called zero tolerance strategy, a policing tactic that meant when you spit on the sidewalk, or drank a beer on your front porch, or urinated in an alley, you’re going to jail.

In Baltimore, the strategy had devastating consequences. In a city of 600,000 people, nearly 100,000 people were arrested year in and year out for nearly a decade. Tens of thousands of people were charged illegally for drinking a beer on a stoop, or walking through a neighborhood where they didn’t live. The number of arrests were so absurd, a new term was coined, known as a walkthrough, which meant that people arrested would simply be walked through a central booking facility without actually being locked up, all because they’d simply arrested too many people to fit them in the facility. Much to the surprise of the politicians and police unions that touted the idea, this policy was not effective. The number of homicides stayed roughly the same, and today are worse now than ever. But the reason I bring this policy up is because maybe it’s time to give the institution that came up with this destructive policy a taste of their own medicine.

So what exactly am I saying here? Well, how about we have zero tolerance for bad behavior by cops? Instead of paid vacations and promotions when they get into trouble, how about we charge them with the same minor crimes they forced upon us? How about getting suspended immediately without pay when a video like this surfaces? Or better yet, like the rest of us, fired? How about they get a ticket every time they forget to wear a seatbelt, or they get a criminal citation for not mowing their yard? Or how about they get suspended without pay–let me repeat, without pay–as any of us would in the first step of an internal investigation, not the last? Why not apply the same stringent laws to yourselves that you apply to us?

Of course, I can hear the arguments from the police union now. Cops are only human, everyone makes mistakes. It’s the intent of the law, not the letter of the law, that matters. You can’t arrest your way out of a problem. Gee, where have I heard that before? An argument that was met with indifference and skepticism by police unions and partisans who urge law and order at all costs when zero tolerance was destroying people’s lives. Where was the call for humanity when the citizens of this country were subject to the strictest of enforcements of criminal law in the history of any nation? Who was asking for leniency when we became the larger incarcerator of human beings in the history of civilization? That’s why I think it might be worthwhile to apply the same standard to them as they do to us.

Perhaps the officer pictured in the video should be fired first, and rehired if he’s proved innocent later. Let’s call it zero tolerance for bad police behavior. Why shouldn’t they be treated like us? Perhaps it will teach them a lesson that most of us already know. Enforcing the letter of the law has devastating consequences. Maybe it’s time for law enforcement to understand just how devastating that can be.

I’d like to thank my guest, Mr. Zulu Ali, for joining us and explaining the details of this case. Thank you. Of course, I have to thank intrepid reporter Stephen Janis for his writing, research, and editing for the piece. Thank you, Stephen.

Stephen Janis: Taya, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Taya Graham: Of course, I want to thank friend of the show Noli Dee for her support. Thanks, Noli Dee. I want you watching to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct or brutality, please share it with us, and we might be able to investigate for you. Please reach out to us. You can email us tips privately at par@therealnews.com and share your evidence of police misconduct. You can also message us @PoliceAccountabilityReport on Facebook or Instagram, or @EyesOnPolice on Twitter, and, of course, you can always message me directly @TayasBaltimore on Twitter or Facebook, and please like, share, and comment. You know I read your comments, appreciate them, and I try to answer your questions wherever I can. Of course, we do have a Patreon account called Police Accountability Reports, so if this type of reporting matters to you, maybe take a moment and see what we have to offer. We have a few goodies for our patrons. My name is Taya Graham, and I am your host of the Police Accountability Report. Please be safe out there.

The brutal assault on a suspect after a high-speed chase that was captured by a security camera reveals how police have many hidden mechanisms to skirt accountability. In this episode, PAR examines not just the circumstances surrounding the attack on a man who was complying with police orders, but how law enforcement used questionable tactics to limit their own liability for what happened.

Taya Graham

Host & Producer
Taya Graham is an award-winning investigative reporter who has covered U.S. politics, local government, and the criminal justice system. She is the host of TRNN's "Police Accountability Report," and producer and co-creator of the award-winning podcast "Truth and Reconciliation" on Baltimore's NPR affiliate WYPR. She has written extensively for a variety of publications including the Afro American Newspaper, the oldest black-owned publication in the country, and was a frequent contributor to Morgan State Radio at a historic HBCU. She has also produced two documentaries, including the feature-length film "The Friendliest Town." Although her reporting focuses on the criminal justice system and government accountability, she has provided on the ground coverage of presidential primaries and elections as well as local and state campaigns.

 
taya@therealnews.com
 
@tayasbaltimore

Stephen Janis

Host & Producer

Stephen Janis is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work has been acclaimed both in print and on television. As the Senior Investigative Reporter for the now defunct Baltimore Examiner, he won two Maryland DC Delaware Press Association Awards for his work on the number of unsolved murders in Baltimore and the killings of prostitutes. His in-depth work on the city's zero-tolerance policing policies garnered an NAACP President's Award. As an Investigative Producer for WBFF/Fox 45, he has won three successive Capital Emmys: two for Best Investigative Series and one for Outstanding Historical/Cultural Piece.

He is the author of three books on the philosophy of policing: Why Do We Kill? The Pathology of Murder in Baltimore; You Can't Stop Murder: Truths About Policing in Baltimore and Beyond; and The Book of Cop: A Testament to Policing That Works. He has also written two novels, This Dream Called Death and Orange: The Diary of an Urban Surrealist. He teaches journalism at Towson University.