Police officers unleashed a barrage of commands that were confusing, conflicting and sometimes even impossible to obey, a Times analysis of footage from Tyre Nichols’s fatal traffic stop found. When Mr. Nichols could not comply — and even when he managed to — the officers responded with escalating force.
The review of the available footage found that officers shouted at least 71 commands during the approximately 13-minute period before they reported over the radio that Mr. Nichols was officially in custody. The orders were issued at two locations, one near Mr. Nichols’s vehicle and the other in the area he had fled to and where he would be severely beaten. The orders were often simultaneous and contradictory. Officers commanded Mr. Nichols to show his hands even as they were holding his hands. They told him to get on the ground even when he was on the ground. And they ordered him to reposition himself even when they had control of his body.
Experts say the actions of the Memphis police officers were an egregious example of a longstanding problem in policing in which officers physically punish civilians for perceived disrespect or disobedience — sometimes called “contempt of cop.” The practice was notoriously prevalent decades ago.
“It was far more rampant in the ’80s, when I started doing police work, than it was in the ’90s or 2000s,” said Geoffrey Alpert, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of South Carolina. “Even before body cams, cops were getting more professional and wouldn’t make it personal, like it seemed to be in this case. This is just — it’s so far out of the norm.”
To mitigate the potential for escalation and confusion during police encounters, today’s police training typically calls for a single officer at the scene to issue clear and specific commands. It also requires police officers to respond professionally and proportionately to any perceived act of defiance.
But The Times’s review shows that the officers did the exact opposite, over and over. [Continue reading…]