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Content Note: This article discusses excessive force by a police officer regarding two handcuffed minors.
Alton, Illinois – Police officer Vince Warlick is on administrative leave, as he should be. Last week, video of Warlick pepper spraying two teenagers who were restrained and not resisting him in any way surfaced on the internet. Of course, Officer Warlick is on paid leave, despite the very strong evidence (police station security footage) showing him committing a crime against two unarmed and handcuffed minors who reportedly kicked the door of the room and yelled something prior to the incident.
The incident in question took place on January 16, 2015, at around 11:30 at night, according to the time stamp on the video. Two young men sit in a holding cell in handcuffs. Officer Warlick sprays both one, then the other, with mace from across the room and leaves one of the two teenagers writhing in agony, his hands bound, unable to even wipe the noxious chemical from his eyes. The other teens, who was wearing glasses, appears less affected, likely because of the glasses and because the video seems to show a much smaller spray sent at him. Warning: the video shows one of the teens in distress after the mace is sprayed.
The Chief of Police, Jason Simmons, has been aware of the incident and the video since March, but only placed Officer Warlick on paid leave after the footage was leaked to the media. Someone mailed the video to the President of the Alton NAACP, James Gray, who turned it over to the local In other words, he had known for weeks that one of his officers abused his position of power and used it to needlessly torture two teenager boys, but he chose to do nothing about it, citing department policy that does not place a time limit on when action must be taken in these situations. He claims it took two months for his officers to complete their report on the incident, which he claims was only finalized on May 6th.
Chief Simmons and his supporters are crying foul because of the timing of the release of this video (days before his reappointment hearing). Regardless of who leaked the video and what their motives were, there is no question that the police department failed to uphold their responsibilities to the two teenagers who were unnecessarily maced and the community at large by failing to respond appropriately to this disgusting attack on minor children.
Bureaucracy should be no excuse for this kind of inexcusable behavior. If anything, these kinds of policies are evidence that the law enforcement system, especially the culture of power in law enforcement agents, is toxic and broken. Of course, this system protects its own. Chief Jason Simmons has rightfully come under fire for his handling of this situation, and last Wednesday, after hearing from upset and concerned citizens, the City Council voted 4-3 to not reappoint Simmons as chief of police. The Mayor then invoked his powers under the city code to reject that move, stating he would not remove Simmons from his post or nominate a replacement, despite the clear abuse of power and lack of actual consequences (other than a paid vacation) for the officer involved in this incident.
No matter how annoying, verbally abusive or frustrating teenagers in police custody may be, that is no excuse for administering a chemical weapon against them. Mace is dangerous, painful and long-lasting (up to 45 minutes of burning and tearing up). It should only be used to subdue those who present a clear and unquestionable threat to the officer or bystanders, which is not what happened in this case. This video, like many more before it, show how abuse of power (and prisoners) is standard operating procedure for far too many departments and officers in this nation.
Photo Credit: Fibonacci Blue under (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr