There is never an excuse for our police officers to torture anyone

Failure to signal a left hand turn while driving is the kind of minor offense that Americans would assume, that at worst, would receive a ticket from police. Far more often than not, a verbal warning would be sufficient. But newly released video footage of a police stop in Arizona in 2017 shows what can happen when officers viciously abuse their authority during a trivial traffic stop. The victim of their excessive force committed no crime, did not actively resist, and was not even driving the vehicle in question.

During a routine stop in the parking lot of a Motel 6, John Wheatcroft was threatened, violently grabbed, put into a painful compliance hold, thrown onto cement, and tasered nearly a dozen times, including on his genitals after an officer pulled down his pants as multiple officers held him down. All of this was done while his wife and two small children watched from the backseat, hysterically crying and pleading with the police to stop inflicting unspeakable pain on their incapacitated father. The bodycam video and surveillance camera footage is clear and gives multiple angles.

It shows horrific abuse of police authority that should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Instead, the officer primarily responsible only received a slap on the wrist. It did not have to be this way. The interaction between the vehicle driver Shawn Blackburn, the victim John Wheatcroft, and the police began in a professional fashion. The wife of the victim, Anya Chapman, sat calmly with their children in the backseat. Officer Matt Schneider asked for identification, and Wheatcroft said he had none.

ADVERTISEMENT

This is a critical point in the video. Wheatcroft was not the driver of the vehicle. The police had no reason to suspect him of a crime, and he was under no legal obligation to show any identification at all. Schneider then loudly threatened to detain and fingerprint Wheatcroft at the police station, which he also would have had no legal right to do. Schneider then asked if anyone had “anything with their name on it” to show him.

In response, Wheatcroft looked in the bag he had at his feet. Schneider became agitated, and his tone turned aggressive. He then put Wheatcroft in an arm lock to force compliance, even though Wheatcroft had neither presented a threat nor refused to comply with a command. In frantically trying to explain himself to the officer, Wheatcroft said things like “I didn’t do nothing wrong” and “I apologize.” In response to the officer asking if he was going to fight him back, Wheatcroft said emphatically, “No, I’m not.”

What followed is a stomach churning abuse of police authority. Schneider applied a painful compliance arm hold to Wheatcroft and kept telling him to relax, all while Wheatcroft was tangled in the seat belt around his right shoulder. It is hard to relax when a cop is getting close to snapping your wrist or dislocating your shoulder. The situation then radically escalated.

Wheatcroft was tasered while sitting in the car, and then tasered again from distance after being dragged out of the car onto the pavement. Then while he was handcuffed face down on the ground with multiple officers on top of him, and his children crying hysterically, his shorts were ripped down by Schneider, who then tasered him on his bare genitals, as stated in his federal lawsuit against the city of Glendale and the officers. He was tasered 11 times in total, including while lying handcuffed on the ground.

This is appalling, and the penalties for this abuse should be severe. Police do a tough and dangerous job, and they deserve our support in difficult situations. But this was not a difficult situation, at least until the officers made it one. Schneider plainly did not like the attitude of Wheatcroft, and decided to teach him a lesson. If there was any doubt about the mindset of the officer, it dissipates when he says, after shocking a man multiple times including in his exposed groin in front of his wife and children, “You want it again? Shut your mouth. I’m done f-----g around with you.” He went on, “Shut up. You shouldn’t have been stupid. Quit acting like a big baby.”

ADVERTISEMENT

That Wheatcroft and his wife were charged for assaulting the officers, and spent months in jail because they could not afford to pay the bail, only compounds the grave wrongs done here. To be clear, Schneider was disciplined. The Glendale Police Department rightly recognized that his actions crossed a line. But his suspension of 30 hours is a slap in the face to justice in this country. How does his transgression in this incident not warrant termination, if not criminal and civil rights charges?

Journalists get fired for plagiarism. Doctors lose licenses for malpractice. If dragging a man who committed no crime out of a car and electrocuting his genitals with his wife and children screaming is not a fireable offense, then we need to drastically rethink our law enforcement standards. Basic human decency is not a suggestion for those entrusted with power from the government to use force. It is an expectation that all Americans share, regardless of party, gender, or ethnicity. During the millions of police and civilian contacts that occur every year, the police officers in this country almost always get it right. But even if extreme brutality is statistically rare, it has a corrosive effect on public perception if it is not swiftly punished. What this horrific video shows is an injustice that must not be repeated.

Any person should be able to trust that police would take their obvious agony into account during a use of force encounter in law enforcement. There can be no room for sadism or score settling from officers operating on behalf of the state. After watching what the officers did to Wheatcroft, many Americans will wonder what level of violence police could subject them to, on video and in front of their own families, for no evident reason. That is shameful and unfair to all the good officers who put their lives on the line for us every day. It forces us to ask fundamental questions as a society about state violence that we should have answered long ago.

Buck Sexton is the cohost of the morning show “Rising” on Hill TV and the host of “The Buck Sexton Show” on radio and podcast. He is both a former officer at the Central Intelligence Agency and a former analyst at the New York City Police Department. You can follow him on Twitter @BuckSexton.