I only commented on it in passing when it happened: a nasty altercation between police and a (corn-fed) 15-year-old boy, Brandon Johnson, that resulted his arrest, looking like an ad for a good, old-fashioned beating and a whole bunch of local police with egg on their face. After a hearty round of investigations, demotions and/or exonerations, officer Jerry Piland emerged as the source of some of the worst late hits; IMPD Chief Cielselski sent him home and recommended termination and there was much recrimination all 'round. The gears of justice ground on and the Police Merit Board unwrapped a decision from around the axles yesterday: by a vote of 6-1, they cleared officer Piland and he'll be keeping his job.
Ask me about it and I'm forced to admit I don't know. I wasn't there. When you see someone really beat up after an encounter with The Law, it generally means the responding officers lost control; the difficulty comes when you have to distinguish between losing control of the subject, the situation -- or one's self.
I do know we're left with a mess and one Officer Piland and his friends didn't help by high-fiving and hugs after the hearing cleared him, and local media made worse during the Mayor, Public Safety Director and Policice Chief's "Please don't hate us, we wanted him fired" news conference by juxtaposing it with footage of the post-hearing celebration and still shots of young Mr. Johnson's bruised, bloody and swollen face.
Yeah. Great choice. --Look, riots may be juicy to cover but some of use actually live in town, okay? Scurrying down the freeway to the 'burbs after inciting hostility is not responsible. If you want to cover both sides, get out there and cover 'em.
I have yet to pick a side. PSH -- er, PSD Straub and Chief Cielselski are promising more and better training but this may have been a battle impossible to finesse. A strapping teen-ager, boiling angry as his brother is being arrested and what looks to have been not enough LEOs on the scene until things were well and truly muddled is a receipe for having to throw someone overboard at some point -- either the police stage a strategic withdrawal at the scene (requiring inhuman restraint and superhuman insight), cause is found to charge the young miscreant with something serously serious (it wasn't), or one or more of the officers involved gets pilloried. The Police Merit Board wasn't going along with that and they spent 24 hours just hearing everyone's story. They have a lot more information than I do and it's likely they are right on the facts -- and wrong on the bigger picture.
The only sure thing is, there' s no right answer left, only damage control. City government is in full CYA mode and the rest of us? Outraged statements from family and clergy notwithstanding, this would be a damn good time to practice smilin' at everyone and sayin' "Please" and "Thank you" a lot. Maybe we can't all get along -- but most of us can, most of the time.
...And it might be time for IMPD to get serious about house-cleaning. From the top to the bottom.
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