Video from a SeaTac holding cell that led to charges being filed against King County Deputy Paul Schene of misdemeanor fourth degree assault on 15-year-old Malika Calhoun.
Yesterday, a King County jury found King County Sheriff's Deputy Don Griffee not guilty of assault in the fourth degree for allegedly punching Johnny Bradford in the face while he was handcuffed in the back seat of a cruiser. Bradford was being question for allegations that were later found to be untrue and officers noticed that, when he was being released, that he had blood on his face when he didn't prior to being placed in the cruiser with Griffee.
During the trial, officers testified that they confronted Griffee after they asked Bradford why he was bleeding and Bradford told them that Griffee had punched him. One officer stated that he believed he heard Griffee say "Back in the old days, when someone called a cop a (expletive), that deserved some dental work."
Griffee, in his defense, testified that he never punched Bradford, but that he just "grabbed his chin to get his attention" and the jury cited that as sufficient reasonable doubt to not convict him of punching a handcuffed detainee, even though the jury said the other testimony and evidence, which included photographs of Griffee's hand with blood on it, as credible. Though, it's certainly true that if a civilian tried that defense that it probably wouldn't work as well as it did for the deputy.
This outcome was similar to the federal criminal deprivation of civil rights trial against King County Deputy Brian Bonnar that ended in acquittal in December. During that trial deputies testified that, when detaining Irene Damon after a car chase, Bonnar looked around and twice dropped his knee on Damon's face after she was handcuffed and that he lifted her up by her hair and slammed her face against the patrol car.
After reading the verdict in that case, the judge addressed the jury:
“What happened here was not what we expect of our law enforcement officers. There was a substantial amount of evidence that he (Bonnar) did not meet the standard of law enforcement in our community... There was substantial evidence his conduct wasn’t appropriate.”
But it still wasn't enough to win a conviction and Bonnar still serves as a deputy in King County, as it is likely now that Griffee will as well with his acquittal yesterday... and may well be with the case against King County Deputy Paul Schene in his upcoming trial for Assault in the fourth degree on 15-year-old Malika Calhoun.
Will video of Schene assaulting a 15-year-old girl be enough to convince a jury in that case? Or will Schene take a page out of the defense book for other officers and convince jurors that there's enough reasonable doubt in this case as well insofar as Schene felt the small girl was a sufficient threat, after she kicked off a soft-soled shoe that hit the deputy in the shin, to justify kicking her in the stomach, throwing her against a wall, and then punching her twice when she was on the ground?
I wouldn't put it past an overly-trusting King County jury to buy it or for prosecutors to drop the ball again, especially after these last two cases.
Why is it so hard to prosecute a cop?
Some even suggest that it's because cops know better than even the criminals they arrest how to skirt the law without being caught, that their knowledge of the system makes them ideal crooks.
Some say it's because prosecutors are unwilling to go full out against a cop like they do against criminals because the police might stop helping them with cases. After all, a prosecutor's conviction rate depends on close cooperation with law enforcement.
Some say it's because of the cultural biases we have drilled into us from an early age that forces us to accept the story of a cop even when that same story from a citizen wouldn't protect them from a guilty verdict. This is certainly plausible given that 76% of the US population feels that the police are very trustworthy, ranking them fourth out of all occupations in trustworthiness. This would explain why juries accept a cop's word as true when used against a suspect except when that suspect is another police officer.
Nobody knows for sure what the reason is, but it's clear that the justice system doesn't work the same against cops like it does against us... and it's likely because of a combination of the above.
Ultimately, these failures of our dualistic justice system don't just harm the people that were hurt by police officers, it harms us all because it merely serves to perpetuate the believe by police officers that they are not subject to the same laws as the rest of us are... that they are above the law and may act as they please.
It only proves to them that they are free to brutalize someone else... and next time, that victim of a failed justice system that cannot hold police officers accountable to the law could be you.