That didn’t take long.
After mere weeks on the job, Wichita’s new police chief, Joe Sullivan, is facing his first leadership crisis over an altercation between two of his officers and two teenagers at a southside skating rink on New Year’s Eve.
Part of the battle was captured on a cell-phone video that’s been shared all over Facebook and YouTube. Concerned citizens, including the mother of a 15-year-old girl who was part of it and two state lawmakers, addressed the City Council on Tuesday and are complaining that one of the officers used excessive force against a 16-year-old boy in the fracas.
Ordinarily, I’d provide a link to the video, but I won’t in this case, because the male juvenile is clearly identifiable in the clip.
What that video showed was the two officers, one male and one female, attempting to subdue the teens at the behest of the management of the Roller City skating rink. The officers were off-duty and working as private security for Roller City at the time.
In the video, we see the male officer fighting with the 16-year-old boy while the female officer grapples with the girl.
The male officer’s conduct is highly disturbing.
We see the officer tackle the youth. He then raises his fist over his head and brings it down like a hammer at the boy, who’s on his back partially pinned to the floor. The officer followed up with a second punch, then when they both got to their feet, the officer grabbed the much smaller youth, slammed him into a wall and then flung him across the room like a rag doll. Then the officer pepper-sprayed the teen, who was in a defensive stance.
The video ended there with the male youth still on his feet and the female officer on top of the female teen on the ground.
Luckily, the male teen was able to slip the first punch to some extent, because if it had connected solidly, we’d probably be having a whole different discussion today.
It was the kind of punch that could have broken bones, caved in the kid’s face, maybe even killed him.
Don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Tracey C. Mason Sr., owner and coach of the CHD Boxing Club, told the council Tuesday: “He (the officer) threw haymakers to damage that child, with control of that child.” In Mixed Martial Arts, it’s called the “ground and pound” technique, Mason said.
The video doesn’t show what happened before and after the altercation.
Police reported that the incident began when the female teen had some sort of confrontation with skating rink staff and became loud and combative when the officers tried to throw her out. The male teen is alleged to have tried to intervene and hit one of the officers in the back of the head.
But it’s hard to justify the response evident in the video.
It echoes too strongly of last year’s death of Cedric “CJ” Lofton, a 17-year-old in mental crisis who died in custody while being restrained by guards at the Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center, after police cut corners to send him to lockup instead of treatment.
Mia Moore, the mother of the 15-year-old girl, testified to the council that her daughter’s been traumatized by this incident, along with her other daughter and granddaughter, who witnessed it. She said officers kept her daughter in the back of a squad car for hours and laughed at her when she asked to have the girl medically evaluated before going to JIAC, one of the reforms ostensibly put in place after the Lofton death.
Police Chief Sullivan told an Eagle reporter that the male officer has been reassigned to desk duty for now, and he’s not going to make any judgments until the incident is fully investigated.
That’s reasonable. We don’t want a chief who decides cases on incomplete information.
But he needs to move expeditiously.
Community patience for these types of incidents is running thin, especially in Wichita’s Black community, which has borne the brunt of police misconduct for years.
At the very least, Wichita needs a full, credible accounting of what led up to the rage the community saw in that video, and what came after it.
It’s a difficult situation, but transparency is essential, especially with a new chief in charge.