The videotapes seem to clearly tell the story — some say police brutality is alive and well in both Oklahoma City, Okla., and even in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood, more than a decade after the Rodney King debacle.
But do the videotapes tell the same story or two different stories? The Inglewood amateur tape shows police officer Jeremy Morse, a three-year veteran of the force, hoisting and slamming a handcuffed 16-year-old, Donovan Jackson, onto the trunk of a police car and then punching him in the face before the other officers with him intervened.
The Oklahoma tape shows two officers kicking and striking an unarmed man with their tactical batons during an arrest. The officers, Greg Driskill and E.J. Dyer, were taped trying to subdue Donald Reed Pete, who appeared to resist various police orders — first to get on the ground and then once grounded, to put one of his arms behind his back.
Both officers, each four-year veterans of the force, used pepper spray and their batons, repeatedly striking Pete and stopping only after they had him handcuffed.
Pete's arrest was captured on video by Brian Bates, a local self-proclaimed "video vigilante," who said it appeared excessive force was used because Pete never threatened the officers but was just slow to respond to orders. The Oklahoma City police department said Pete was resisting but not "actively resisting" and that the officers appeared to have been following a procedure that allowed them to use non-lethal force against an unarmed suspect.
So when does police force become police brutality? Experts say it's when the force continues in excess after a suspect has been clearly subdued.
"A police officer can use as much force as he or she believes is necessary to bring a suspect under control, but no more than what is necessary," said Van Jones, National Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights (EBC) and head of Bay Area PoliceWatch, a police watchdog organization. "Once the suspect is under control, that's it. Using more force than is necessary is excessive force by law."
Reasonable Force, Brutality in the Eye of the Beholder
Still, depending on how they were trained and on the specific situation, officers may have different ideas on what is necessary force and what is excessive.
"Under the law, police are entitled to use reasonable, necessary force in order to gain control of a suspect and take him into custody," said Merrick Bobb, director of the Police Assessment Resource Center. "What is reasonable is a judgment call for an officer well-trained in what to do in those circumstances. It often involves what techniques the officer has been trained to use and how the officer has been trained."
Some police supporters, particularly in the arrest of Donovan Jackson, have warned that critics should not rush to judge Morse and the other officers involved because the tape does not tell the whole story. It does not show how Morse received a bloody gash over his left ear or reportedly received lacerations on his elbow and knee. It does not show how, police say, Jackson lunged at a sheriff's deputy as officers were investigating a car driven by Jackson's father that had an expired registration.