I feel the relationship between a police department and the community it serves, like any relationship, must be based on a foundation of trust. I have always tried to honor that relationship by being as transparent and truthful as possible.
There are many facts that police can't share certain information about – an ongoing investigation, or incidents involving juveniles and other sensitive or confidential information. I was on my days off when Dr. Stephen Brennan was arrested. I returned to work the following Tuesday morning. It was a typical morning. For a sergeant, that involves fielding a myriad of questions and inquiries about payroll, schedules, court cases, crash and arrest reports and inquiries from the media.
I hadn’t had a chance to review the police call log about weekend activity. A little later in the day, I listened to my voicemail messages. One of those was from a local reporter. She was inquiring about Brennan's arrest. I was surprised, as many of you were. See, Dr. Brennan was my kid’s pediatrician for a period and was there directly following the birth of one of my sons.
I quickly researched the police log and reported back to the reporter that the log reflects he had been arrested. She had more in-depth questions about the arrest, including about the force used to make the arrest. A police log entry doesn’t show all those details. I told her I would review the case and get back to her.
I reviewed Patrolman Jonathan Rogers' arrest report, the reports of other involved officers and an initial use-of-force inquiry report by the sergeant from that night. The information in those reports indicated to me that the level of police force used was appropriate and justified. I knew the use of force would be further reviewed, and the information I had at that time indicated the force was justified and certainly appropriate for the situation. I called the reporter back and told her my findings, that in my opinion, from the information in front of me, it was appropriate.
Since that day in 2019 there has been controversy, claims by Brennan, a lawsuit and a settlement. When the lawsuit was announced, I was told I may have some liability in this. "Liability?" I asked. There isn’t any liability in telling the truth. I knew the truth would prevail.
I was very disappointed that the insurance company settled. I was disappointed that the newspaper reported Brennan’s attorney said the video contradicts my original statement. The court did not find that my initial report was false, and the court did not find that Rogers and I or anyone else did anything wrong.
I am proud that I displayed police transparency in being able to comment and offer a glimpse of what happened. That’s where I started. We can’t fear the truth. I believe it is paramount for a healthy relationship with our community. Without that, the relationship becomes dysfunctional and we all suffer.
Use of force is ugly, disgusting, dirty and tragic. There isn’t any way to make it look pretty. I believe many of us are visual people. We put a lot of stock and decide a side very quickly from what we see. When we see a police use of force video, the justified use of force looks the same as the unjustified ones. Where I believe we fall sometimes is not looking at the facts and evidence gathered outside of that short, violent, ugly and very frightening video. We base our judgment devoid of the evidence. I believe that is why police shy away from sharing video, that is why insurance companies settle cases. The cost of mustering a defense and presenting it to a skeptical jury is higher than just settling.
I feel when we shy away from the truth, we do a great disservice to the fair, impartial and open-minded majority of people. I have discussed with many of my non-police friends about drafting this column. They all said to cater my comments to those open-minded majority of people, not the few people who will chastise and find fault despite what the truth and the facts are. They told me no matter what you say they won’t change their minds. I believe that the unfortunate thing is, we shy away from being transparent and presenting the ugly truth of police use of force because we fear being chastised and judged by those few people.
We live in a violent society. Policing a violent society and attempting to control the chaos sometimes calls for police to use force. I believe we must have transparency and acceptance that force is ugly, violent and disgusting, and demand it be used only as a last resort. We certainly must hold our police accountable when they are unjustified in using it. But when police are found to have been justified, we must accept that and support the officers involved.
Champion of empathy: York police celebrate Sgt. Brian Curtin's retirement
Brian Curtin retired from the York Police Department at the end of 2021 as a sergeant.
Editor's note: Following Dr. Stephen Brennan's arrest Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, York Police Department Sgt. Brian Curtin said Brennan was pulled over for failure to dim his headlights. Curtin said Brennan "immediately got out of his vehicle and became aggressive, and ran toward" Patrolman Jonathan Rogers' vehicle. "He kept coming toward officer Rogers in an aggressive manner after repeated orders to stop. He did eventually stop and then moved furtively back toward his vehicle," Curtin said. "But then he turned around and again charged toward the officer, who thought he was in danger."
This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Sgt. Brian Curtin: York police K-9 traffic stop was ugly but justified