Atlanta, GA -- As news media organizations attempt to make sense of allegations of "excessive force" by police officers towards the public, experts in law enforcement are routinely consulted. One such expert, Vincent Hill, claims officers have the legal right to punch seemingly compliant suspects in the head -- repeatedly.
Hill was asked to review the complaint filed against Atlanta police officer Quinton Green who was caught on camera beating a homeless man in the head. Ricky Williams was laying face down with Green sitting atop him, knee in his back, while another officer was seen controlling his legs.
Hill says that while he can fully understand why the public would conclude the use of force was excessive, the former police officer concluded he did nothing wrong, legally.
I can clearly see how the public would think it's bad...They see a police officer with his knee in someone's back and he's punching him. But here's what I saw. Someone who's resisting arrest. You can see a handcuff on his left hand. You can see he's not putting his other hand behind his back. You don't know all the circumstances that led to what you saw in that video.
Williams did, in fact, have a handcuff attached to one wrist, and it appears Green was attempting to get the other wrist cuffed. But Hill says the officer didn't do anything wrong.
There's six steps that officers are allowed by law to use. Number four is hard empty hand control, which does allow punches to the face, punches to the body, to effect your arrest. So if you have someone resisting arrest, by law, you're allowed to do this. so from a legal standpoint, the officer didn't do anything wrong here,
Those six steps in the use of force come from the National Institute of Justice's own guidelines. Here's what the guidelines state and it turns out Hill's correct. To control an empty hand, the federal government has authorized police officers to be able to punch someone, and even kick a person.
Empty-Hand Control — Officers use bodily force to gain control of a situation.
Soft technique. Officers use grabs, holds and joint locks to restrain an individual.
Hard technique. Officers use punches and kicks to restrain an individual.
Recommended for You
While the legal question of whether or not Green's actions were justifiable has been answered, ethical questions remain. Why should a police officer, who has backup in the form of two other officers, be allowed to punch and kick an already downed suspect?
Why should an unarmed suspect lying face down on the ground be considered a combatant? And aren't there other means which should have been employed before potentially deadly strikes are administered?
Thankfully, Hill's contribution to the discussion of police brutality has revealed a source of police power and immunity; federal guidelines on use of force procedures. Should the federal government's guidelines change, the number of incidents of alleged police brutality, and excessive use of force, likewise will presumably decline.
Activists on the local level, who are expressing their desire for a revision of use of force procedures, may need to turn their attention to the National Institute of Justice and demand change.
There's no reason a man who weighs so little, who poses no threat to three heavily armed officers, should be subjected to getting punched in the face for possessing something you can buy at just about every gas station in the state -- a glass pipe -- no drugs. Just because a police officer has the legal right to beat someone up doesn't mean he has the ethical right to do so.
Not to mention, beating someone in the face goes against de-escalation techniques. The natural reaction, arguably, to getting punched in the face is to cover up or fight back. Both actions lead to frivolous charges of "resisting arrest," precisely what Williams was charged with.
When someone is punching you in the face, the last thing going through your mind is, "oh, let me put my hands behind my back to stop this."
In the meanwhile, at taxpayer expense, Green was given administrative leave for his service to the public. Predictably, officer Green will return to duty, without any reprimand, and will likely continue abusing unarmed, compliant suspects. Currently, he has another outstanding misconduct complaint against him.