When a Terre Haute, Indiana, man was arrested for not walking on a sidewalk on a street that doesn’t have one, the Police Accountability Report investigated. We obtained body camera and dashcam video evidence that offers a rare glimpse into the indifference of American law enforcement—evidence that not only contradicts the allegations made by the arresting officer, but that also reveals how difficult it is to escape the tendrils of this country’s law enforcement-industrial complex.
Pre-Production/Studio: Stephen Janis
Post-Production: Stephen Janis, Adam Coley
Taya Graham: Hello. My name is Taya Graham, and welcome to the Police Accountability Report. As I always make clear, this show has a single purpose: holding the politically powerful institution of policing accountable. And 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. And today we will do so by showing this video of an arrest of an Indiana man in Terre Haute for not walking on the sidewalk on a road that – Wait for it – Doesn’t actually have a sidewalk. But we will also be examining body camera footage we obtained from the department and the questions it raised about what really motivated the officer to make such a needless arrest.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, and please like, share, and comment on our videos. You know I read your comments and appreciate them. And of course you can always reach out to me directly @tayasbaltimore on Facebook and Twitter. And of course, if you can, please hit the Patreon donate link pinned in the comments below, because we do have some extras there for our PAR family. All right, we’ve gotten all that out of the way.
Now, one of the worst aspects of our American criminal justice system is how it seems to offer very little hope for redemption. That is paying your debt to society rarely turns into freedom from law enforcement’s badge touting bill collectors, so to speak. The imperatives to keep bodies in jail and book arrest stats means that somebody has to end up in cuffs, which makes the previously incarcerated an easy and inviting target. And no arrest embodies a notion that there are no second acts in American law enforcement than the terrifying encounter Joseph Davis had with a Terre Haute Indiana police department officer last year.
Davis was walking after dropping his car off at a mechanic when an officer stopped his patrol car to interrogate him. As the encounter began, Davis turned on his cell phone and started recording. And as you can see from what he captured, the cop literally begins giving him a hard time for not walking on a sidewalk that does not exist. Let’s watch.
[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]
Joseph Davis: Because I recorded him.
Police Officer: Hey, you’re going to tell me your name.
Joseph Davis: How does this work out? I just told this officer my name, Joseph Davis.
Police Officer: Put your hands on your back.
Joseph Davis: My name is Joseph Davis.
Police Officer: Put your hands behind your back.
Joseph Davis: And he’s taking my phone, putting my hands on my back because I got him on camera. Since I recorded him, because I recorded him.
[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]
Taya Graham: Now, as you can see, the officer initiates an arrest and Davis ends up in handcuffs in the back of a patrol car. And as I explained already, the entire incident was over the purported crime of not walking on the sidewalk. And let me emphasize – A sidewalk that doesn’t exist. And just a note, the code which the cop used to arrest Mr. Davis is Indiana law 9-21-17-12.
And as you can see here, the law is pretty clear. If a sidewalk is provided and the sidewalk’s use is practicable, a pedestrian may not walk along and upon an adjacent roadway. Seems like more than a stretch to me. It seems like an illegal arrest. Now, usually when a cop arrests someone for, frankly, what we have labeled in a previous show – And forgive my language – But a bullshit crime. They create some sort of pretext to hide the absurdity of the charges. Meaning, they rarely admit the true nature of what they’ve done and instead they make something up, which is why ultimately the officer added the charge that Davis failed to identify himself. But when we reviewed the body camera footage we obtained, the officer lets his guard down and actually tells the truth.
[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]
Joseph Davis: You put me in jail for walking in the street, man.
Police Officer: Yes.
Joseph Davis: I’m a grown-ass man, I can’t walk? Oh my God. Violate my probation and everything, right? Oh, walking in the street, send me back to prison for walking in the fucking street, man.
Police Officer: That is not my fault.
Joseph Davis: Hey, so my request to talk to a sergeant is being denied?
Police Officer: I’ll call one, they’re all on calls right now.
Joseph Davis: You seen my red shoes I got on, right?
Police Officer: I did not.
Joseph Davis: Okay.
Police Officer: Yeah, if you would’ve just told me.
Joseph Davis: Bro, listen, I tried to tell you bro.
Police Officer: You didn’t.
Joseph Davis: You listen, I got PTSD for messing with police officers, bro. I just told you I’ve been to the penitentiary three times bro, over serious stuff. This walking in the street, bro.
Police Officer: Yeah.
Joseph Davis: I got red boots on. It’s raining outside. It’s dark as hell on that street bro. It’s dogs and all type of stuff on that street. Look at my boots bro. I got red boots on bro. I don’t want to mess my boots up stepping in dog stuff.
Police Officer: If you would’ve told me your birthday.
Joseph Davis: Come on man.
Police Officer: That’s all you got to do.
Joseph Davis: No, that’s petty bro. That’s petty.
Police Officer: I don’t know who you are.
Joseph Davis: You didn’t even call over the thing to ask. You didn’t even ask to call over the thing and ask who I was bro.
Police Officer: I asked you, you have to have a birthday to look somebody up.
Joseph Davis: Huh?
Police Officer: You have to have a birthday to look somebody up.
[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]
Taya Graham: Yes, thanks to a public information act request we filed with the Terre Haute Police Department, we were able to obtain the body camera footage that revealed a rare moment of candor for this cop. Let’s watch.
[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]
Joseph Davis: You couldn’t find nothing else seriously. This is a serious violation for you, huh?
Police Officer: No, I wasn’t trying to arrest. [crosstalk]
Joseph Davis: You put people in jail for walking in the street.
Police Officer: No it’s for failure to identify. It’s a separate IC code.
Joseph Davis: Did you see how dark that street was, right? Because you flashed the light in my face, right? Okay, okay, that’s all I wanted to hear, bro.
[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]
Taya Graham: And also, just to verify the street did not have a sidewalk, Mr. Davis returned to the same location and made this video, which makes the conversation between Davis and the officer caught on body camera even more bizarre.
[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]
Joseph Davis: My name is Joseph Davis and I’m going to show you the video. Okay, this is walking on Eighth Avenue. Now, I was walking this way and I turned left, which is North 24th. As you can see, there are no sidewalks on either side of the street. And do you see how the sidewalk, or how the curb goes out to where the car is parked right here? This is the area where I was walking. So it’s raining, it’s dark. I don’t want to walk in the grass, so I walk in the street. Plus the trees are hanging down. I’ll be walking too close to the house. So I’m walking this way and I’m going to try to walk fast so the video won’t be too long, but as you can see, no sidewalk.
[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]
Taya Graham: But there is much more to this story than just a simple, bad arrest. And for more on that, we’ll be talking to Mr. Davis later in the show. But first, I’m joined by my reporting partner Stephen Janis who’s also been looking into the case. Stephen, thank you so much for joining me.
Stephen Janis: Taya, thanks for having me, I appreciate it.
Taya Graham: So first, why didn’t the officer activate his body camera during the arrest as is required in Indiana? What did the city say?
Stephen Janis: Well, I went through a lot of effort to get this body camera footage, and what’s really interesting was that the body camera footage starts only once the officer has Mr. Davis in the car. And I said, what’s going on here? And the excuse they gave me was that the body cameras are automatically activated when a person goes on a call, but there was another call the officer was on. And I find this very, very, very suspicious, because I don’t know exactly why his body camera wouldn’t have been activated throughout the entire encounter. So it’s something that I don’t find a satisfying answer at all.
Taya Graham: Now, prosecutors are still pressing ahead with the case. Who is justified?
Stephen Janis: The prosecutor’s office has not been forthcoming, but what’s really interesting about it is what Mr. Davis said during our interview, which is that there’s $140 that they want them to pay. I think they just want to collect the fine is all I can tell, because it’s not even on a docket I can find. The case is kind of a mysterious case that doesn’t seem to have any sort of legal backing. So I’m going to keep calling the prosecutor’s office and try to find out. But at this point it seems like they just want to get their money and Mr. Davis will be on his way hopefully.
Taya Graham: So Stephen, I know we’ve talked about so-called bullshit crimes on the podcast, but can you explain the concept and how it relates to this arrest?
Stephen Janis: The idea was we were talking about one of our favorite anthropologists, David Graeber, who wrote a book about five bullshit jobs. And the idea was that jobs were made up to keep rich people richer that don’t really accomplish anything or have no really productive outcome. And you think about it in the spectrum of policing, taking the time to arrest Mr. Davis, who’s trying to get his life together, is completely destructive, and it’s something that doesn’t need to be done. And we see this over and over again where these arrests happen that don’t need to happen. Meanwhile, homicide cases in places like Baltimore are closed 20%, 30% of the time, only 20% of burglaries are solved. So it’s this constant excessive dependence upon arrests that have no productive outcome that we’re talking about when we say bullshit crimes. And they need to be called what they are. They’re bullshit.
Taya Graham: And now for more on the encounter and his arrest and what this says about the system itself, I’m joined by Mr. Joseph Davis. Mr. Davis, thank you so much for joining me.
Joseph Davis: Thanks for having me.
Taya Graham: So first, set the scene for us. What were you doing when the officer stopped his car and started talking to you?
Joseph Davis: Well, I was just walking up the street. I mean, there were no sidewalks. It was all grass and it was raining. It was 8:00 at nighttime, and in Terre Haute, they just don’t have adequate light nor sidewalks. I mean, I wasn’t impeding traffic, I was walking towards traffic and I was off to the side. The officer was on the complete other side of the road and he passed, he went to get to the stop sign and passed the stop sign and then reversed back to confront me.
He put the light in my face and he jumped out the car as well, like it was a quick transaction like, okay, then let it be there. There’s no reason for you to jump out the car and be aggressive, you know what I mean? And being not only that, it’s just me and him out there. There was nobody else out there. I felt like my life was about to be in danger, really, to tell you the truth. I felt like my life was about to be in danger. So I got a little bit louder to let people know that I was outside. And I only got loud when I was saying my name. That’s the only time I got loud. And as soon as I got the phone out, that’s when he arrested me.
Taya Graham: So what did he accuse you of initially and how did he justify the stop?
Joseph Davis: You’re supposed to be walking on the sidewalk. The sidewalks are available. I turned around and pointed behind me and in front of me and physically pointed towards there were no sidewalks. And I even explained to him the outfit that I had. I had on a red, well, a burgundy jogging outfit. And I had on some red boots, limited edition Timberland boots. And I was in my vehicle before this had even happened. I had dropped my vehicle off to get fixed and I walked to a friend’s house. So I was walking back to my vehicle and it was raining outside, so I don’t want to walk in the mud. I know it’s loose dogs out there and stuff like that. I don’t want to step in anything. And I’m informing him that this is what I got on. This is the reason why I’m walking in the street.
Taya Graham: So what happened when he put you in handcuffs? What did he say?
Joseph Davis: He was asking me to identify myself when he was putting me in the handcuffs, but it was like, it happened so fast. Like I said, I felt like my life was in danger. So when I took my phone out, immediately he jumped towards me. And you can see, if you see my video you’ll see as soon as I take my phone out, it’s like a couple seconds and I’m screaming my name, and he’s grabbing me at the same time putting me in handcuffs, and I’m pleading with him. I’m asking him like, bro, I have been to prison, please don’t violate my probation. I got five years probation. This is petty. But he’s saying that he doesn’t care. This is what he’s saying. I don’t care, it doesn’t matter, you’re going to jail.
Taya Graham: I still really don’t understand what the crime is here. What are the charges against you? And how long were you in jail?
Joseph Davis: It’s still confusing to me because I still haven’t had a chance to really sit down and talk to my lawyer about what the charge is. I believe that they charge me with failure to identify, not the walking on the sidewalk. It’s a citation, that’s a ticket. So I guess they’re charging me with the failure to identify.
Taya Graham: We looked at the actual language from the law, and it says that there must be a sidewalk available to make walking on the street a crime. What do you think was actually behind this arrest?
Joseph Davis: I really don’t want to say anything that might get me in trouble, you know what I mean? As far as, because I live here, I live here in Terre Haute. My children are here in Terre Haute. And I don’t want them to retaliate against me, I already feel like they are at this point. When he pulled me over on that dark street by myself and it was just me and him, and the way he flashed that light in my face and the way he jumped out aggressively, I felt like he really wanted to try to get him one under his belt or something.
Like try to jump on me, beat me up or something like that. I don’t know what it was. But he may have thought that I was a drug dealer or something, that he was going to get him an easy arrest or find something on me or a gun or something like that. Now I felt like once I raised my voice and got people to come outside, because people started coming outside and they were asking what was going on. I feel like he kind of panicked, he kind of panicked because now what are you going to do? What was your initial plan is [inaudible] now.
Taya Graham: So you’ve watched the body camera footage that we’ve obtained. What are your thoughts on what the cop told you in the car?
Joseph Davis: Yeah, I guess he told him that somebody had called and made a complaint on him because they felt like he was harassing me because I was walking up the street and they had heard me saying my name. And he told them, well, I don’t know what the conversation really was, but I take from the conversation that the guy that was on the phone [inaudible] talk him out of it. And he was like, well state law says that you have to walk on the sidewalk. So I’m taking him to jail.
Taya Graham: So city officials say his camera was not activated during the arrest itself. Do you believe them or do you think they’re hiding something?
Joseph Davis: I think they’re hiding something because when you watch the video, he puts his hand up there, but the camera’s already on. So it’s not like he pushed the button to turn it on. It’s already on when he first gets in the car. So I don’t know if they’re hiding something to use at trial or something like that, I don’t know. But all I do know is that I want this to be over. I don’t want to go through this. I don’t want to sit in your courtroom for four hours for you to tell me that, yeah, we’re going to postpone it for three months because the prosecutor is not ready. Okay, so now you got to come back three months off, okay? Now I’m sitting in your courtroom for four more hours for no reason.
You know what I’m saying? This could be settled. It could be settled real easy. I’m not paying $140 though. That’s not going to happen. I apologize for you guys having to pay for the video and a guy out here who follows the police, he paid for the video too. So they got $300 off a video, and they want $150 from me. What is the money going to? Because it’s not going towards putting no sidewalks. It’s not going towards the reeducation of how people deal with police officers when we get pulled over, we don’t know to ask them, am I being detained? Because if it’s that simple, that’s easy. Am I being detained? Yes or no? If it’s no, I’m gone.
They are going to put this case off for a long time. And you know the crazy thing about it is I have no problem with fighting this case to the death of me, because you can’t fight these cases in jail. You can’t defend yourself in jail. They give you limited access to the law. Out here, I can talk to all types of people and get all types of help and get all types of opinions and stuff like that. I’m not stopping, they shouldn’t have done that to me. They shouldn’t have done it to me. And not only that, I asked him, I begged him not to do it.
Taya Graham: How has this affected your life? I know you said you’re trying to get your life back on track after some run-ins with the law, how has the arrest affected your goals?
Joseph Davis: It kind of changed my goals. While I was in prison, I got me peace of mind. God sent me down for a reason, to get me a little bit more patience because I was moving too fast. So I sat down and I said, okay, well I’m going to do the family thing. I’m going to raise my kids. Just live life. But after this situation, I was so angry. It’s so much more that goes on to this. I don’t know if you all can get the video footage from the county jail, but that scene right there, that just adds to it. It’s a conglomerate of things, that’s the reason why it’s bothering me. Because… I’m just going to give you an overview of what happened in the county jail.
So when I get in the county jail, they don’t put me in handcuffs, because the police officers, they are trying to be cool. They’re laughing at the dude like, why would you lock him up? So they bring another Black guy in and he’s being belligerent. He’s loud. That’s typically how we are with police officers. We feel like they are against us and they feel like we are against them. So they bring him in, they got him in handcuffs. They got him up against the wall. And he’s talking crazy to this young officer. The arresting officer leaves. The young officer gets upset because he’s turning his head while he’s talking to him. He got him up against the wall, but he’s turning his head while he is talking to him.
So, they jump on him. They slam him on the ground, really did bust him open. Now, mind you, I’m sitting there with no handcuffs on, and this is three or four, it is three European youngsters jumping on this Black man. And I’m sitting there like, okay, well, in my mind, I got two choices. I can either go home or I can help this man because they’re wrong. I started dealing with this inhumane stuff that they got going on. Nobody’s policing the Terre Haute police, that’s it. I bet you didn’t hear, well you’re from a different place, but I bet nobody heard anything about the state police and the city police getting into a fisticuff fighting and nobody went to jail. Nobody went to jail, how? You all are human beings, y’all bleed just like us, y’all take shits just like us, y’all eat just like us. Y’all get up and go to work. Y’all raise kids, just like us, everything. Y’all should suffer the same laws as we suffer. There should be no difference.
Taya Graham: Now, I think what we have is an example of what was often referred to on this show as the concept of blanket criminality. That is, a community police view as inherently criminal is total, and is subject to indiscriminate arrests and random enforcement of the law. This is a particularly pernicious concept used by law enforcement to wield power in big cities like ours and in smaller communities as well. And it is mostly an idea aimed at the working class of those communities to diminish their political efficacy and their ability to fight back.
Consider recent reporting by The Washington Post on the penchant for police officers to rack up millions in court settlements and how little was done to address it. According to their series, 25 major cities have paid out $3 billion, that’s billion with a B, for misconduct settlements. And many of those cases involve officers who have multiple claims against them.
Bear in mind, these are cities and communities struggling economically like my own hometown of Baltimore or Detroit, Michigan. Hardly cities that could afford a constantly rising tab for police misconduct given how much they already spend on law enforcement. But despite the existence of repeat offenders and some officers who have literally cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars each, none of the cities were tracking the worst offenses.
That’s right. In a city like ours where water bills have been raised roughly 10% per year for as long as I can remember, nobody was keeping tabs on wayward cops who seem to have a habit of getting sued. I mean, I want you to think about the implications here. Individual cops running up major tabs on the taxpayer dime that cost cities billions and nobody, not a single person is keeping an eye on it. No one is alarmed by either the allegations that these same cops violate people’s rights or the rising price tags for cities that could least afford it. No one even bothers to take an officer aside and say, hey, stop making illegal arrests, or, stop beating people up. It’s costing us a fortune.
Instead, as The Post notes, the settlements were seen just as the cost of doing business. The question is, what kind of business is that? I guess based on our reporting, it’s the business of illegally charging American citizens with bogus crimes, violating their constitutional rights, and inflicting unwarranted bodily harm, so basically destroying people’s lives. Interesting business. I wonder what their side hustle is. Which is why the arrest of Joseph Davis is so important, because someone needs to talk to these cops and explain to them how consequential an arrest actually is. How incarcerating a human being is pretty much torture. And that taking someone’s freedom when you’re annoyed and because your authority has been challenged is both morally and legally reprehensible.
I mean, even though I’ve literally produced over 100 episodes of this show, I’m still astounded at how casually police turn to an arrest as a solution for a temporary problem. How often they take out the cuffs without considering the implications of imprisonment for the person they’re putting in the cage. Honestly, I just can’t reconcile the idea that we live in a free and open society with the unchecked power we bestow on police which I witness on this show every week.
But it’s also the reason I report on cases like Joseph’s, because I think the two ideals are mutually exclusive. That is, every bit of power we concede to the police subtracts from the freedoms that should be reserved for us. Every bad arrest we allow to go without accountability chips away at the rights and expectations of freedom that belong to the people. Each time we call bad policing good business, we degenerate the sense of equity and justice that underlies our basic notion of what a productive community really is. And that’s why we won’t stop calling attention to police overreach. And that’s why we will continue to hold bad actors accountable and keep you informed when no one else will.
I want to thank Joseph for taking the time to speak with us and for sharing his experience. Thank you, Joseph. And of course I want to thank intrepid reporter Stephen Janis for his writing, research, and editing on this piece. Thank you, Stephen.
Joseph Davis: Taya, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Taya Graham: And I want to thank friend of the show Noli Dee for her support. Thanks Noli Dee. And thanks Lacy R. And a very special thanks to our Patreons. We appreciate you so much. And 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 email@example.com and share your evidence of police misconduct. You can also message us at Police Accountability Report on Facebook or Instagram, or @eyesonpolice on Twitter. And of course you can always message me directly at @tayasbaltimore on Twitter and Facebook. And please like and comment, I really do read your comments and appreciate them. And we do have a Patreon link pinned in the comments below, so if you feel inspired to donate, please do. We don’t run ads or take a corporate dollar, so anything you can spare is greatly appreciated.
My name is Taya Graham, and I’m your host of the Police Accountability Report. Please be safe out there.