Montgomery, AL — As TFTP reports on a regular basis, being entirely innocent is no defense against police violence. All too often, we hear from the police state apologists who repeat the phrase, “if you don’t want to get killed by police, don’t break the law.” Not only is statement entirely flawed from its premise — as breaking the law is not justification for execution — but these folks are ignoring the cases in which entirely innocent people have been caught up in police violence. Joseph Pettaway was one of these innocent souls.
On the night of July 7, 2018, Pettaway would lose his life after Montgomery Police officer Nicholas Barber deployed his K-9 on the innocent man, forcing it to maul him for over 2 minutes. Pettaway would not survive his injuries.
“I saw it with my own eyes,” Joseph’s sister Yvonne Pettaway- Frazie told the Montgomery Advertiser. “His flesh was all on the ground that morning.” The family has since filed a lawsuit to get justice.
For years, the Pettaway family has fought for the release of the body camera footage, which they say the police never acknowledged existed in the first place. As part of their lawsuit, the family has finally obtained it and it confirmed their suspicions, and more as the video reportedly shows officers standing around joking as Pettaway dies at their feet.
This video has now become a point of controversy as authorities are refusing to release it — for fear that it may cause citizens of Montgomery to riot. According to a report by Lynda Edwards, Montgomery city attorney Christopher East revealed the city’s controversial reason for keeping that video secret.
The video, according to the city attorney, has “the potential of creating and/or facilitating civil unrest based on the graphic images alone.”
“An imagined fear that riots that may happen if people react a certain way is very different from citing specific national security concerns like an undercover law enforcement agent’s life would be at risk if certain information is released,” First Amendment expert and Columbia Law School lecturer Robert Balin told Edwards.
The night he was mauled to death, Pettaway had harmed no one, had committed no crime and was killed because police chose to escalate to deadly force first and ask questions later. According to police, they were responding to a burglary in progress call that night. But there was no burglary.
Pettaway had a key to the home, which was owned by his mother, and had permission to be there. Nevertheless, instead of simply asking the man to come outside or knocking on the door, officer Barber deployed the K-9 — completely oblivious to the fact that the person or persons inside could be innocent.
“It could have been a child in there,” Joseph’s brother Walter Pettaway said. Indeed.
According to the the family’s lawsuit, the K-9 bit Pettaway for nearly two minutes before Barber pulled the dog off. For the remainder of the video, according to the lawsuit, “despite Mr. Pettaway’s obvious and profuse bleeding and his apparently going into shock, no policeman examines or evaluates JLP’s wound and no policeman administers any of the most basic, essential, obvious and immediately required care to stem or reduce his bleeding.”
Instead of helping the family get justice for their lost loved one, the city and department instead circled the wagons and have refused to cooperate. Refusing to release the video is a key part of this lack of cooperation.
“To be sure, the video recording is damning,” the plaintiff’s motion to strike the confidential designation states. “However, neither the extreme odiousness and the shockingly reprehensible release of the police dog to attack Mr. Pettaway and the failure of defendants to attend to Mr. Pettaway’s soon-to-be-fatal injury their dog inflicted upon him, does not entitle defendants to hide or secret the video recording of those actions and inactions.”
Barber has yet to face charges in this case and whether or not he faced any internal discipline remains a mystery as the department won’t even acknowledge that he is even employed with them.
Joseph’s sister made an astute observation after her brother’s death. Had the roles been reversed and had Joseph injured the K-9, rest assured that he would be in a prison right now. However, because the individual, who had his K-9 kill an innocent man, wears a badge and a gun, no one has been arrested and it’s likely that no one ever will be.
“They stood up there and let the dog kill him,” Lizzie Mae Pettaway said. “They need to pay for what they did. If someone had killed the dog, they’d have made them pay for it.”
“He was somebody’s son, somebody’s brother, somebody’s uncle. He wasn’t just a piece of meat,” Frazier-Pettaway said. “At some point, they just judge somebody by the way they look or where they hang out. They wouldn’t like to be treated like that. I don’t wish no bad luck on nobody, but you shouldn’t judge nobody on the way they look or how they dress. [You shouldn’t] just stand out there and hold a conversation after letting the dog chew him like a piece of meat, watching him bleed to death.”