Houston Police Chief: Citizen Recordings of Violent, Thuggish Police Officers May Lead to Violent, Thuggish Behavior Against Police Officers

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

From the Houston Chronicle:

Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland went on the defensive Thursday during a meeting with local journalists, saying officers have made recent traffic stops in which residents leave their vehicles to take pictures or shoot video — encounters he says could endanger officers and that have increased following the release of the Chad Holley beating footage.

“Officers are telling me that they’re being provoked,” the chief said. “Even when they try to write a simple traffic ticket, people are jumping out with cell phone cameras scanning their badge numbers and their nametags. And I’ve asked them to remain calm and treat people with respect and dignity.”

McClelland said he is concerned that an intensifying anti-police sentiment in the community could increase negative interactions between Houston Police Department officers and residents.

“This rhetoric can give someone a free pass to try to assault a police officer or kill a police officer, and I’m not going to allow that,” he said. “My officers should be able to go out here and work in the neighborhoods and keep this city safe without fear and without hesitation.”

It’s a bit rich for McClelland to blame citizens with cameras and critics of police, here. All of this “rhetoric” he’s worried about is reaction to two high-profile incidents in which McClelland’s officers were captured on video beating the living hell out of someone. Here’s the first video, in which seven officers beat 15-year-old burglary suspect Chad Holley. Seven officers were initially fired, but two are now back on the force. Four have been charged with a misdemeanor. Houston public officials actually went to federal court to prevent the video from being released to the public (and won). When a leaked copy of the video got out anyway, Houston Mayor Annise Parker called for the leaker to be arrested. Because that’s what she should be concerned about.

The second video shows a police officer take  27-year-old Henry Madge to the ground and strike him after Madge had been handcuffed in a hospital waiting room. Madge at the hospital for his son’s appendectomy, and apparently got into an altercation over the volume on waiting room television.

I’ve reported here on how rarely police officers face significant discipline from their own departments. But as a local news station reported in the wake of the Holley incident, even on the rare occasions that they do, they’re often overturned or the punishments are watered down by arbitration agreements negotiated by police unions.

From all of this, McClelland and Parker apparently believe that the thing we should be most concerned about is that citizens in Houston have the temerity to record on-duty cops. And to criticize them when those videos depict excessive force.

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22 Responses to “Houston Police Chief: Citizen Recordings of Violent, Thuggish Police Officers May Lead to Violent, Thuggish Behavior Against Police Officers”

  1. #1 |  Mario | 

    Perhaps police ought to hand motorists a business card with their photo and badge number on it when pulling someone over. Hand it to them right before returning to the patrol car to write up the ticket (or whatever it is they do). I think this would only increase the confidence the public has in a department and its officers.

  2. #2 |  CyniCAl | 

    “This rhetoric can give someone a free pass to try to assault a police officer or kill a police officer, and I’m not going to allow that,” [McClellan] said.

    A free pass to kill a police officer? You mean there was a chance that a police officer would have been killed and the police would have done nothing about it because he had a “free pass?” That has to be the stupidest thing I ever read from a cop.

    Perhaps rhetoric could ENCOURAGE someone to kill a police officer. I thought there were already laws against that without having to resort to demonizing videorecording of police brutality.

    At any rate, just another day of class warfare in Amerika.

  3. #3 |  Bergman | 

    I’m not anti-police, I’m anti-criminal; I just have greater contempt for criminals who swear sacred oaths to uphold the law before they commit their crimes.

  4. #4 |  Aresen | 

    If a cop beats a person and there’s no one there to record it, does the victim make a sound?

    /Bishop Berkeley

  5. #5 |  ktc2 | 

    Nothing is more important to the police than their ability to make up any story they want after the fact and have it believed by the courts 100% no matter how utterly ridiculous it is. Things like video and facts must not be allowed to change that.

  6. #6 |  Marty | 

    if videos like these keep popping up, the chief is right to be afraid for his officers. if he’s too dumb to figure out steps to fix this, he should be afraid for his job.

  7. #7 |  CyniCAl | 

    You made me laugh quietly to myself Aresen.

  8. #8 |  Tweets that mention Houston Police Chief: Citizen Recordings of Violent, Thuggish Police Officers May Lead to Violent, Thuggish Behavior Against Police Officers | The Agitator -- Topsy.com | 

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by slathe and Gangsters In Blue, teaist net. teaist net said: Houston Police Chief: Citizen Recordings of Violent, Thuggish Police Officers May Lead to V… http://bit.ly/fyY7hT http://f.tatsn.com/9 […]

  9. #9 |  Lucas L | 

    I said at the time, as did many others, that the efforts to prevent the video from becoming public would fail. But the real effort was to simply DELAY the release for as long as possible, allowing the story to drop below the short attention span of our citizens. The Harris County DA routinely allows the release of store robbery video, with no concern about the fairness to the accused. They went to Federal Court to block the release in this case? Amazing but not surprising.

    Conventional wisdom says these four Officers charged with misdemeanors (if you can believe it) will be acquitted. Of the seven fired, two have been allowed by civil service arbitrators to return to work.

    Funny that if the police cruiser hadn’t damaged the fence of the storage facility, no one would have ever watched the footage, or learned of this misconduct.

  10. #10 |  Billy Roberts | 

    I’m not going to make a big deal about this, because what the police did in the video was clearly wrong, but the kid didn’t seem to be too terribly hurt after that beating. He was up and walking, and apparently talking, moments after it was over. I’ve seen drunks falling off a bar stool have more serious injuries than that. That sort of tells me the “beating” wasn’t quite as bad as it appeared to be.

    Secondly, it wasn’t that long ago that it was acceptable to shoot a fleeing felon. Garner v. Tennessee was only decided back in 1985. I’d say the kid was probably lucky he wasn’t born a generation earlier.

    One could try to argue, I suppose, that the officer striking the suspect with his vehicle was “deadly force,” but I don’t see how you can hold the driver responsible for the suspect running into his car. Saying that the officer knew the kid was running in that direction and purposely struck him with the vehicle would be quite a stretch. Ironically, he’s the only one who is still fired.

    Back to the video, I only saw two officers doing something I would call unlawful in the video. I’m not real certain what the other charges were for. And since this post certainly goes against the grain, flame away.

  11. #11 |  EH | 

    Billy: It’s legal to shoot an unconvicted felon?

  12. #12 |  Bernard | 

    Billy, several things here:

    Firstly, the seriousness of the injuries are less important than intent in determining the nature of the offence. If you stamp on someone and repeatedly kick them in the head you can be certain that you will be arrested for assault (unless you’re a police office, in which case ‘official oppression’ is apparently the term).

    Secondly, the argument here isn’t particularly over the kid. If the police made an argument that they did what was necessary to stop a fleeing robber then that would be assessed on its merits (and you might find a surprising number here are not averse to the use of deadly force to stop a fleeing suspect, depending on how violent the crime).

    The salient points of the argument are as follows:

    1) The police have an unsavoury and unconstitutional dislike of being recorded, and the official reaction to videos of this sort is badly askew.

    2) When their unconstitutional dislike of being recorded leads to video either not being made (because the recorder was arrested or had their equipment confiscated or, in the case of security footage, the video ‘goes missing’ ) the police version of events often differs dramatically from that of bystanders, but the police are always assumed to be right.

    3) When footage does turn up that the police weren’t aware of, it usually proves the bystanders right, but the police are rarely prosecuted either for perjury or for the events that the footage contains.

    All of these factors make the right of citizens to record police officers unmolested an important one that there are no good arguments against, but because we’re dealing with politicians and union representatives the lack of a good argument in no way stops them from making noise.

    The beating the kid took would undoubtedly not be under discussion if video footage were unavailable. Because it is available, you’re more than welcome to opine that it isn’t all that serious. Disagreeing with the wider point about video footage would put you much more in the minority here.

  13. #13 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    And I’ve asked them to remain calm and treat people with respect and dignity.”

    They stared blankly at me, so I explained what “respect and dignity” meant. That still didn’t sink in, so we acted out some scenarios…which resulted in 4 people being clubbed into unconciousness. So, I finally just told them to make fewer traffic stops and hope for the best.

  14. #14 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    And since this post certainly goes against the grain, flame away.

    Nice try. You know it is possible to be “against the grain” while also having a pretty weak argument.

    On to more important things…

    “This rhetoric can give someone a free pass to try to assault a police officer or kill a police officer, and I’m not going to allow that,” he said.

    Cop-dude, your officers brought this shit on themselves.

    “My officers should be able to go out here and work in the neighborhoods and keep this city safe without fear and without hesitation.”

    You aren’t keeping the city safe. You are increasing the danger/violence to citizens.

  15. #15 |  Billy Roberts | 

    Billy: It’s legal to shoot an unconvicted felon?

    Prior to the ruling in Garner v. Tennessee, stopping a fleeing felon with deadly force was acceptable. If the officer could articulate probable cause that a felony had been committed and there was a greater than 50-50 chance the suspect fleeing did it, he was good. It still is lawful, if the officer can articulate how the fleeing suspect represents a danger to others.

    And no, I’m not saying it should be illegal to record police.

    Onward and upward,
    airforce

  16. #16 |  Brooks | 

    I hadn’t seen this video before.

    Two questions:

    (1) How many times have we heard a cop say that they were justified in opening fire at a vehicle driving towards them, even at slow speed, because by driving towards the officer, the driver was using deadly force against the officer?

    (2) What was Chad Holley suspected of doing such that the police were justified in using deadly force as he ran from the scene?

    It’s a sick double standard. Police officers use their cruisers to chase after, block off, and run into suspects on foot routinely, even (especially?) in cases where the same officer would not be justified in shooting at that suspect.

    Yet if you or I drive in the direction of a police officer, that’s justification to shoot us.

  17. #17 |  Home Boy | 

    I am a bit disappointed at the lack of competence demonstrated by the reporter of this story. Chief McClelland states that his officers are being provoked, and then, without further address of that rather important issue, moves on to note that some citizens are engaging in the patently non-provocative act of filming police officers. One is left hanging, with the other shoe simply failing to fall. Personally, I would like to know what provocations Chief McClelland actually knows to be the result of citizens filming cops.

  18. #18 |  OBTC | 

    Well the good news regarding the link to the Houston Chronicle is the majority of the posters were PRO videotaping and holding LEO’s accountable for their misdeeds.

  19. #19 |  perlhaqr | 

    Bergman++

    ——

    As for videotaping police: Hey, if they’re not doing anything wrong, they should have nothing to fear, right?

  20. #20 |  derfel cadarn | 

    If the police acted as the “professionals” they claim to be the entire problem would cease to exist. As long as they continue act like thugs then they will continue to be seen as the enemy. Treat people with the same respect that you would wish for and there is no problem.

  21. #21 |  plutosdad | 

    People who are not held accountable for their actions will act poorly, selfishly, and do whatever they can get away with. Thousands of years of human history has proved that. Why do police think they are somehow better than everyone else or more immune to corruption and violent impulses?

    Just like under alcohol prohibition, police violence and corruption is getting out of control, and needs to stop. They won’t stop it, so we the people and our elected representatives have to stop it.

    Not only do we all need to be able to record police in public, but a completely separate body needs to investigate police corruption and brutality. They have proved, over and over, they cannot do it themselves. But no organization can police itself, that’s why we have police in the first place. It is only logical that they cannot police themselves, and so new organizations have to be made, remove IA from police and make it separate. Punish the “good” cops who cover for the bad cops. Punish cops whose cruiser cameras “break” while suspects get mysteriously beaten.

  22. #22 |  David Miller | 

    You guys need to read the EmPac Texas .org web site about the Houston Police. I think you will be more than disturbed with what actually goes on.

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