How Much Force Can Philly Police Officers Really Use?
There’s going to be a lot of debate over the next few weeks (or longer) as to whether Philadelphia Police Lt. Jonathan Josey II acted in the correct manner when he was caught on video punching a woman in the face at Sunday’s Puerto Rican and Latino Heritage Day celebrations. Our initial reaction: Um, no.
But, some may think otherwise. After all, the woman in question was still arrested and, as the Philadelphia Police noted yesterday, “cited for spraying silly string at officers.” The brutal video has made its rounds in every corner of the Internet and has now been age-restricted on YouTube, based on the site’s community guidelines.
It’s the latest in a long line of alleged police brutality out of Philadelphia.
Like most things involving the law enforcement and deciding whether penalties should be exacted on those involved, this case may be a bit complicated. See, all police in the United States are permitted to use force—if the situation warrants it. However, said force is expected to be within the amount that is justified within a given situation to either prevent the suspect from fleeing or to prevent further injury to others. States and cities often have different standards as to what constitutes appropriate force. According to the website of Philly lawyer Patrick Geckle, who focuses on police brutality cases, “Essentially, police officers are allowed a continuum of force, but are expected to use the least amount of force necessary in each situation.”
He notes force cannot be used against “a person already in custody and who is not resisting being in custody,” and an officer cannot use “a weapon against a person who is unarmed or a person who can be assumed is unarmed.”
For further information, we looked at a report on a prior incident to figure out what, exactly, police are allowed to do within any given situation.
In 2010, criminologist R. Paul McCauley, a former Pennsylvania municipal police officer, was retained by the Philly-based civil-rights firm Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing and Feinberg to review Lacrecia Tindley, et al. v. City of Philadelphia, a police brutality case, to “render a professional opinion regarding the police operations.”
The case involved several police officers who witnessed a drug deal, then chased the suspects on foot. “At some point, [Police Officer Thomas] Schaffling approached a nonhostile outside event (baby shower) at a residence at … Master Street and observed a male in the yard who he assumed to be the male he was pursuing,” wrote McCauley in the report.
That man at the Baby Shower was later identified as Jamar Stroman—not the man the officer was originally pursing. The police, according to McCauley’s findings, “used batons, ASPs, pepper spray, other force” at the party, which led to several citizen complaints. Stroman spent 12 days in jail before criminal files were dropped.
In order to come to his conclusions on the case, McCauley reviewed both testimony and use-of-force laws and protocol in Philly and Pennsylvania. He noted what Pennsylvania peace officers were allowed to do, in these screen shots from separate, but consecutive, pages:
So, the officer had to have believed that the force was necessary to affect the arrest. Similarly, it’s noted that in Pennsylvania, to acquire police certification, all municipal officers have to be trained in the use of force, consistent with police department policies and procedures consistent with constitutional laws.
The Confrontational Force Continuum, written by Ronald Traenkle actually consists of seven steps with which to use degrees of force.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has already issued this statement from executive director Reggie Shuford: “I was shocked when I saw the video of what happened. I saw absolutely nothing that justified the use of such extreme force to take this woman down. I can’t imagine the officer’s actions comported with departmental policy. If so, that policy needs to be changed immediately.”
The Police say they are investigating the incident and noted in an email yesterday that they “are asking that any person(s) that attended the festivities and witnessed the incident on 5th & Lehigh Avenue to call Internal Affairs.”
Now we ask you: Based on what we know now (the rules, the vid), was the officer within his rights?