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Monday, January 22, 2007

A Couple of Police Incidents at UC Davis Last Week

In a story that made the news across the region, a student in possession of a replica rifle led to lockdown of Dutton Hall last Thursday.

What is interesting about this incident is that the first person questioned was an African-American man, however when detained by police it was discovered that he had no weapon on him--so they quickly released him.

Shortly thereafter there was another call in the same building and another situation. This time the person was a white man and he was carrying a rifle. They determined it was a replica and fined him $100 and released him.

Now a number of students are openly questioning how they could mistake a black man for a white man or if they simply jumped to conclusions based on racial stereotypes. We shall see how this situation develops and if there is an investigation.

Meanwhile there was another incident earlier in the week.

The other incident was reported in the Cal Aggie on Thursday it involved a graduate student who was stopped on his bicycle.

He was pulled over for a failure to stop at a stop sign.

Upon being asked to produce an ID, he claimed he did not have it.

At this point, he was placed in handcuffs and claims he was shoved to the ground and searched.

He further refused to sign the ticket. At which point he was told he had to sign the ticket or be arrested. He then proceeded to sign the ticket but has since filed a formal complaint against the police department.

This is a difficult case to try to examine, particularly based on the story that appeared in the paper.

But a few observations.

First, if a police officer stops an individual for a valid violation, according to the vehicle code, the individual is required to show an ID. Our reading of the vehicle code previously determined that without an actual violation, the officer cannot simply request identification. However, that was not the case here. Even in that case, it is recommended that anyone asked to show ID complies with the officer's request and they can sort out any problems later.

So that is the first thing the defendant did wrong in this case.

The second thing that the individual did wrong is to fail to sign the ticket. Signing the ticket is not an admission of guilt, however, failure to sign the ticket can get you arrested.

However, the police may have erred in this case as well. And I stress may. I have had a number of long discussions about cases where the subject is verbally resisting the officer's commands, particularly in light of what happened at UCLA. Clearly, it is not the best time to confront an officer and there are other means of redress (although they do require at times the ability to have the resources to fight erroneous charges--however the bottom line and I've told a number of individuals this--you are not going to win at the scene when the officer has determined you have done something wrong).

The question is how should the officer respond to verbal resistance. And this brings us back to the UCLA situation where the police clearly escalated a minor problem way out of all proportions by responding excessively and disproportionate to the threat posed by the verbal resistance.

This is another potential case where the police may have taken a minor situation and blown it out of proportions. The officers according again the defendant (and again it is tough to judge based only on his side of the story), escalated the situation first by placing him in handcuffs and then by physically forcing him to the ground.

One question that we must ask and will be sought in the internal review (or at least should be) was did the subject present any sort of danger to the police officers or were they simply impatient.

The subject clearly would have made this easier on himself by simply complying, but there are questions to be determined in the conduct of the law enforcement officer starting with a determination of the actual threat presented by the subject and the need to escalate rather than deescalate the resulting conflict.

Regardless this appears to be another good time to suggest people if they haven't already read this video from the ACLU about knowing your rights when confronted by the police:

--Doug Paul Davis reporting