Memphis, TN — Antonio Strawder is an unfortunate reminder of the lengths police officers in America will go to enforce arbitrary laws such as paying the government for the privilege of driving. For a suspended license, Strawder was handcuffed, thrown to the ground and repeatedly tasered as he cried out in agony. He had just gotten home from church.
Victimless "crimes" such as suspended licenses or expired registration are disproportionately aimed at poor people and minorities. Often times people have to choose between paying for food for their family or paying the government for a sticker to put on their car. When they buy food and the government doesn't receive their money, as Strawder's case illustrates, they will kidnap you.
When people are thrown in jail for arbitrary offenses like driving on a suspended license, they are put into further turmoil as they are unable to go to their jobs, get fired as a result, and kept in a perpetual cycle of poverty ensuring further interaction with police. What's more, as Strawder's case shows us, police have no problem torturing people who fail to pay the state to drive.
Stawder's case happened in 2016 but the video has only just been released thanks to the Memphis police department's ridiculous requirements for obtaining information from them. It can cost upwards of $1,000 to get information like police reports and body camera footage from them. Thanks to a joint investigation by the University of Memphis Institute of Public Service Reporting and The Daily Memphian, the public now knows how that fateful day unfolded.
On March 13, 2016, Strawder and his family had just returned from church when Memphis Police Officer Otto Kiehl showed up outside his North Memphis home. Kiehl was the same cop who pulled Strawder over a month earlier for driving on a suspended license. Kiehl knew Strawder hadn't paid to renew his license, so he moved in to kidnap him.
“I got out of the car,” Strawder recalled. “He was like, ‘Antonio did you ever get your license?’ I was like, ‘Nah.’ He said, ‘Come here.'”
Strawder said he originally walked inside his house but then turned around, came outside and allowed the officers to handcuff him. Strawder says after he was placed in handcuffs, Kiehl tasered him in the back.
“When he hit me with the Taser, I fell,” Strawder said.
Strawder's girlfriend then pulled out her cellphone and began recording.
“There was this little puddle of water right there, so every time you hit the Taser, he would tell me to get up, and I would tell him, ‘I can’t move.'” Strawder said. “Every time I moved, he hit that Taser.”
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Every time the officer told Strawder to get up, he shocked him. No one can stand up while getting shocked with a taser as this is what the taser is designed to do.
“I was praying in my head that nothing else would happen,” he said.
As the video shows, Strawder was seen writhing in agony in a mud puddle on the ground as Kiehl doled out taser strike after taser strike. Finally, after he stopped tasering the man for a brief moment, Strawder was able to get up and was put in the patrol car. He was arrested for a suspended license and resisting arrest. He was found not guilty on the resisting charge as there was no evidence that Strawder resisted.
Strawder filed a complaint with the department after the incident which prompted an internal affairs investigation. Kiehl told fellow officers that Strawder “snatched away” when he tried to get him in the squad car, so he used the stun gun on him. Kiehl said while he understood “the muscles lock up” when both prongs hit the body, he continued to shock him because he felt Strawder “was still resisting.”
No resistance was evident in the video and as a result, Kiehl was disciplined — but not fired or charged.
Kiehl was suspended for 10 days for excessive force and not obeying multiple sections of the weapons policy, like not giving “great care and consideration” to “any environment where the individual could fall” and get hurt. They also said the officer “should be aware” the “individual may not be able to respond to verbal commands during or immediately after” the shock, according to WREG.
MPD decided not to forward the case to the district attorney's office for criminal charges against the officer — despite clear evidence of criminal actions.
“What this does to our community, it emphasizes that Black lives don’t matter,” Josh Spickler with Just City, a criminal justice reform advocacy group said. “There again we have an officer standing over a Black man screaming in pain.”
By making these incidents public, Spickler said the community has a better understanding of what needs to change, WREG reports.
“That’s exactly the kind of thing that will build trust back in this community, that yes, you do matter. The Black lives we are mostly policing matter,” he said. “That’s one way to do it. Open this stuff up.”
As you watch the disturbing video below, remember that the reason Strawder is in handcuffs and on the ground is because he didn't pay the state the money they claim he owes them for a license to drive a car. This is the land of the free.