It doesn't happen often, but a judge has called out police officers for using a non-existent offense -- "contempt of cop" -- to justify the use of force against a detained person. Multnomah County (OR) Judge Diana Stewart cleared 16-year-old Portland resident Thai Gurule of several charges brought against him after he was pummeled and tased by police officers for… well, basically for responding angrily to a somewhat derogatory gesture.
Police that night had been looking for a group of seven to nine African American men, including one shirtless one, who had been walking the streets, reportedly damaging property and yelling profanities. Within minutes of receiving the group's last known location, police several blocks away focused their attention on a group of three young men: Gurule, his 20-year-old brother and their friend.
That was the narrative up to the point where Thai Gurule found himself on the receiving end of fists and Tasers. Ignoring the fact that this group had little in common with the suspects other than race, we come to what turned this incident into a confrontation and, finally, a one-side melee.
The following comes from the judge's statement
on the dismissal of charges:
As the youth walked past, Officer Hughes said, "Hey" to the youth and when the youth continued, he again said, "Hey" and clapped his hands.
Thai Gurule turned to face Officer Hughes and in an angry or aggressive voice said "Don't fucking clap your hands at me". Officer Hughes stepped forward while the youth stepped back.
Cue escalation. The officers decided to cuff Gurule (for "resisting arrest," apparently). As a crowd began to gather, the officers decided to move Gurule into a prone position for cuffing, supposedly for officer safety. But rather than let Gurule move to a prone position, one of the officers decided to speed up the process by sweeping Gurule's feet out from underneath him. From that point, it became an uncontrolled beating. One officer held Gurule by the hair while the other two wrestled him to the ground and hit him multiple times with their fists and knees. Finding the one-sided "struggle" to be ineffective, Sgt. Lile deployed his Taser.
After they were done throwing blows, the officers threw the book at Thai Gurule, listing all of the following charges on the police report
Interference with public safety
The accompanying reports filed by the officers maintained that Gurule repeatedly swung his fists at officers and tried to choke one of them. Unfortunately for these officers, multiple recordings of the incident
that contradicted their narrative were made available to the judge.
Judge Stewart was obviously irate at the thick stack of lies delivered to her in the form of police reports and sworn testimony. She also was none too happy with the officers' justification for initiating the arrest of a person who had done nothing more than fail to treat Officer Hughes with as much deference as he felt he deserved. Not only did she dismiss the charges, but she read the entire damning dismissal order out loud.
In discussing the "resisting arrest" charge, Judge Stewart also addressed the pure BS motivating the officers' arrest of Gurule. She points out there's an exceedingly low bar that needs to be met to satisfy the requirements for bringing this charge, but the officers couldn't even meet that.
Actual restraint was placed upon the youth at the moment that Officers Hughes and Hornstein placed control or escort holds on the youth. At that moment, even given the broad authority described above, there is insufficient evidence before the court that the Officers were operating under their community caretaking function, or therefore under color.
At that time, there is no evidence of concerns about a crowd forming. That concern arose as much as a minute later when the officers decided to take the youth to the ground.
Establishing this, she gets to the heart of the matter.
The only facts before the court are that the youth failed the attitude test when he turned and aggressively complained about Officer Hughes clapping him hands. Officer Hughes stepped forward and the youth stepped back and Officer Hughes, immediately followed by Officer Hornstein placed the holds restraining the youth.
And there it is: the bogus arrest was prompted by a little disrespect Officer Hughes just couldn't handle. It is surprising enough that a judge would call out an officer for this sort of behavior. It's even more surprising that she would move on to allowing an arrested suspect's self-defense claims stand. In most cases, the judicial branch shows deference to police officers who use excessive force in their
self-defense ("feared for their safety"). In this instance, the deference went the other way.
[W]hile a person may not use physical force to resist what is actually or perceived by the defendant to be an unlawful arrest, a person may use physical force in defending oneself from excessive use of force by an arresting officer. Any injury caused to an officer in the course of engaging in a justifiable use of force to defend oneself may under such circumstances be justified and not criminal.
In this case, the youth's age is a relevant factor which the court considers even without the testimony of youth. Therefore, the question before the court is whether this youth and a reasonable 16 year old youth in his position would have believed that the use or imminent use of force against him exceeded the force reasonably necessary and whether he was entitled to defend himself with a degree of force which a reasonable 16 year old would reasonably believe to be necessary for the purpose.
The take down, although intended to be gentle and with adequate warning was nothing like that plan. Officer Hornstein swept the youth's feet out from under him causing him the sensation of falling forward without the use of his hands to break his fall. The next 35 to 45 seconds was a melee of fists and punches and bodies falling upon him. Prior to reaching the wall, the youth was attempting to regain his footing and get back on his feet and remove himself from what a reasonable person would have felt was a senseless and aggressive use of excessive physical force.
Once at the wall, the independent evidence of the video clips is less clear but continues to show the youth trying to struggle away from the officers rather than engage in a physical altercation…
[G]iven that confusion, rapidity of events, the tangle of officers and the youth and the confusion caused by the crowd, I find that as to all charges herein, the state has not established beyond a reasonable doubt that the youth was not reasonably justified in the use of self-defense as to all of the charges herein.
And with that, Thai Gurule is no longer facing criminal charges. As of yet, there's no word of what consequences, if any, are awaiting the officers involved. The city's police department is only a couple of years removed from a DOJ investigation
, but incidents like these show there's still work to be done.
And, of course, the local police union has greeted this decision with assertions that the officers involved did nothing wrong and that Judge Stewart is nothing more than an armchair quarterback
, but you'll have to click over to Popehat to read Ken White's entertaining/infuriating take
on the union head's counterclaims.