On January 26, 2018, what should have been a 10-minute officer-initiated Q&A ending with a parking ticket being issued or stern warning quickly escalated to a violent assault and arrest.
Given the circumstances in totality and the early morning hours- spirit of the law vs letter of the law was on display. Common sense should have been the order of the day – instead what NBA player, Sterling Brown, a guard on the Milwaukee Bucks received was-Contempt of Cop©.
On Wednesday, Milwaukee police department released body cam footage of the violent encounter between several of its officers and Sterling Brown earlier in January of this year.
As Brown neared his car, the officer could be heard as he confronted Brown using an unnecessarily harsh, aggressive and disrespectful tone.
Research has shown that police often speak very differently to black motorists than they do to white motorists upon contact. That morning was no different.
The officer’s tone and the way he questioned Brown was snarky, aggressive and seemed to beg for a similar response from Brown. The officer could be heard asking Brown questions that in my police supervisor mind were intended to escalate the situation; first verbally and ultimately physically.
As a twenty-year veteran sergeant of the Los Angeles Police Department, I have often managed and resolved similar conflicts during an officer-initiated traffic stop. As the professional on scene, the officer’s job was to advise Brown of the reason for the encounter, issue Brown a traffic ticket (at his discretion) and let Brown go on about his business.
So, for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to infer otherwise is insulting and disingenuous. Sterling Brown nor any other citizen has the responsibility to diffuse and de-escalate a police encounter situation. The officers on scene that morning were purportedly trained professionals and an unruly, uncooperative detainee(Not that Sterling brown was either) is inherent to police work and does not give any police officer license to assault under the color of authority.
But the isolation, location and early morning hours seemed almost too irresistible for this officer.
So instead, this first officer requested additional units and continued to badger Brown as he awaited his back-up. At one point the officer can be heard when asked by Brown, “what are we doing? The officer’s response was, “we are waiting.”
This officer requested additional units- not because Brown presented a threat; Not because Brown was being uncooperative; but because once the cavalry arrived they were going to “put in work.” Police talk for “Brown was about to get his ass handed to him.”
The body cam showed Brown was compliant as the officer stalled and awaited the arrival of back-up units.
As more and more responding units arrived adrenaline and excitement no doubt began to rise. Most of the officers exited their patrol cars and took a position of advantage – circling Brown as they awaited the signal. Now Brown, surrounded and alone in this desolate, dark, wet, parking lot. surely feared for his life. These officers were not there to protect- but they were about to serve.
Suddenly, one of the responding officers could be heard yell, “take your hands out of your pocket.”
Based on my years of experience on the LAPD, when an officer yells out some command like “stop kicking me, don’t move, or take your hands out of your pocket”; this is akin to the starting gun being sounded at a track meet.
Like a pack feral dogs, several off the officers, without provocation by Sterling Brown, swarmed him and began barking commands from every direction. Then, Taser! Taser! Taser!
Of course, Brown was subsequently arrested for that thing that cops love to arrest a detainee for when they have nothing else; resisting, interfering. These are the “go-to” charges when officers put hands on someone and now they cannot just let that person go. That person must go to jail for something. Never mind, that it will be a district attorney reject days later.
These officers on that night understood the process. It’s the culture. It’s condoned. It’s the blue wall.
Research indicates racial bias exists; because it is acquiesced, condoned and then minimized and mitigated.
I know firsthand that some white officers yearn to work in those neighborhoods where black and brown folks are plentiful. On the LAPD, the code word for those neighborhoods were “busy divisions”. I’ve heard many white officers gushing at the possibility of being assigned to a “busy division” in south-central Los Angeles. I also know firsthand that some white officers enjoy working “morning watch”- that is generally after 10 p.m. Why? Because under the cover of darkness, these errant, over-zealous officers can conduct themselves in a manner much like they did on January 26th.
It wasn’t a coincidence that so many officers showed up for a mere alleged parking violator. My guess is that those officers on scene at 2:00 a.m. were like-minded. We can surmise this to be true because not one of them stepped in and said, “that’s enough”.
Yeah, it’s been reported, in what I term police code talk by Chief Alfonso Morales that the involved officers were “disciplined”; whatever that means. Understand, Chief Morales decides what “discipline” looks like and refused to answer any questions during his press conference. Discipline can be as simple as a paper penalty or reprimand. Since this incident has been under the radar all these months, my guess is the discipline was minimal at best. What we know is that all of the officers involved STILL HAVE THEIR JOBS.
Now that Chief Alfonso Morales has let the public in on his little secret, no more circling the wagons. Time for substantive accountability and consequences for the officers involved.
So Mayor Barrett and Chief Morales, Sterling Brown and the community which you proclaim to protect and serve are going to need more than just an apology on this one.
Cheryl Dorsey is a retired LAPD sergeant, speaker, and much sought after police expert on important issues making national headlines. She has been featured on such respected networks as CNN, MSNBC, Fox and KPCC. She is the author of The Creation of a Manifesto, Black & Blue; an autobiography that pulls the covers of the LAPD and provides an unfiltered look into the department’s internal processes. Visit www.sgtcheryldorsey.com