Society on the Sidelines: Gawking Instead of Aiding Police

To illustrate the title, a real-life spontaneous incident occurred last night in which I were involved, and so was a sheriff’s deputy armed with a Taser while many onlookers merely gawked while a suspected felon decided to fight the law.

I was in a local Walmart and walking towards checkout when I noticed a gaggle of gawkers blocking the Enter and Exit doors, all flocked on the inside. It was pre-dusk, so as I walked closer to see what the excitement was all about, I saw the distinct pine-green slacks worn by my county’s deputies. Then I recalled seeing a fully-marked police cruiser parked outside when I entered the store 20-25 minutes prior.

As I squeezed through many grown, adult men and a sprinkling of women chaperoning children, I exited to see a sole deputy scrapping with a quite-large male who I’d say reached 6′-3″ and anchored at about 380 lbs. Big boy did not look like he was cogent and clear-minded either, other than to standoffishly signal he wanted nothing to do with the police.

It turns out big boy was observed by Walmart’s loss prevention staff who called ahead, reaching out to the sheriff’s office to report a shoplift in-progress and that the suspect is one who got away with a retail-theft caper days prior. Hence, the deputy was positioned outside to establish the suspect passed all points of sale and exited the store. That is rather routine, and is safer than conducting a custodial encounter inside where tons of people are present.

Only problem is, being outside encouraged big boy to ponder fleeing arrest. And that was exactly the recipe in this incident. Big boy refused the deputy’s lawful commands and, once the deputy took hold of big boy’s rotund and sweaty wrists, the fight was on. It wound up on the ground…right there in the service-road crosswalk. That was the spectacle the on-looking crowd was consuming. Not one citizen motioned to aid that deputy who, by the way, was tall and slender. Physicality-wise, a mismatch existed. In police work, you do not get to choose contenders.

(Credit: Facebook/Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office)

I positioned myself to the deputy’s periphery and verbalized “I’m a retired LEO…I’m with you.” He tacitly acknowledged me by nodding as sweat trickled from his forehead. It wasn’t particularly warm out, so I wondered how long this scrap had been going on. It unnerved me that no one came forward to help. Large men stood there smirking and shaking their heads, from the inside of the doors, like fish watching life outside of the glass bowl.

As a side-note, this locale is in the heart of my county’s Mexican migrant workers populace. Cynicism aside, I pondered the hands-off stance and reasoning for standing idle while crime against justice ensued. Biased? Anti-law enforcement stemming from America’s anti-illegal immigration thrust? The deputy was rather meek, even with me, so I doubted he barked Stand back! at any point in time. I read an article in December 2017 which claimed ICE agents were in this specific Walmart, “shopping” while clearly designated by “ICE” insignia and duty-gear. It was said to be a wave, a round-up operation, targeting illegal immigrants working the surrounding agricultural terrain. Who knows.

In any event, the crowd stood and stared.

Should it escalate, I stayed to the deputy’s left flank, away from line-of-fire of any kind. Big Boy kept tugging on his right-side waist-band. But they were saggy sweatpants, so it was not likely he had a firearm tucked/concealed. Nevertheless, it is treated as if he might.

As repeated verbal commands were issued by the deputy (no law enforcement back-up yet), big boy started to rise from the ground. His head/focus pivoted left and right, an indicator that he was choosing his route of escape. The deputy held onto big boy’s right wrist while his other hand cradled the Taser handle, poised for barbed-projectile deployment.

More verbal commands were issued: “Just lay down on your stomach, and put your hands behind your back!” To no avail. Big boy spewed a series of obscenities and spit-out a wad of Tootsie Roll. He pulled away and motioned as if  to flee. Big boy reached the “passive resistance” mode and was a candidate for “defensive resistance.” I could see it. I could feel it.

(Credit: WKMS.org)

Big boy muttered jibberish, then pushed off the ground with his knee/leg. He flailed his arm as the deputy attempted to grip for control. The deputy released his grip and brandished his Taser with his left hand as big boy lurched towards the expanse of the parking lot. The deputy reacted to this; he reacquired a hold on big boy’s right wrist. I reiterated “Taser.” With the deputy in-tow, big boy yelled “C’mon…c’mon man!” He yanked the deputy in a forward-momentum situation. Big boy leaned forward and the thin deputy leaned backward, his Taser produced.

With all his weight reaching for full-throttle, big boy moved abruptly while flashing an expression of anger, in effect climbing the use-of-force ladder. The deputy maintained a hold.

I reiterated “Tase him” as big boy seemed to torque his large frame in standoff manner. My interpretation was that he was preparing to wind-up and swing at the deputy with his tree-limb-sized left arm.

The standoff lasted no more than four minutes before the deputy, gauging the escalating hostilities, deployed his Taser. Big boy gurgled, stiffened, and was felled like lumber, face first.

From my vantage point, I could see that big boy’s mug never touched the asphalt. A good thing. The sheer size of big boy absorbed the brunt of his impact with the ground. Another good thing. It seems the laws of physics were on big boy’s side on March 10, 2018. His body mass served as cushioning from his large size going to the ground in shocked fashion. Like a big banana, he rocked and rolled on his belly-mass curvature.

I assumed a position at big boy’s head, planted my knee/calf against his upper spine, and pressed a splayed-hand against his shoulder blade, my body weight now added to his. I instructed “Bring your arms back, bro!” He complied pronto, so I guess the zap wore off and his brain cells readjusted. The deputy focused on cuffing while the Taser probes jutted from big boy’s hiney cheeks. The Taser wire was coiled and attached to/from the deputy’s Taser cartridge. Then…the sirens of the cavalry could be heard. Within seconds, they screeched in and relieved my posture.

(Credit: Facebook/West Mifflin Police Department)

Then came the series of interviews by various deputies followed by the squad supervisor. Since Taser deployments are use-of-force (UOF) incidents and measures must be recorded, the supervisor does a separate interview regarding those factors and writes up his/her UOF report.

I couldn’t help but look over at the fish bowl; people still stood there watching a now-defunct situation in which a law enforcer had been in an ominous encounter, akin to David and Goliath.

A slingshot was not deployed, but a Taser was. I went home and watched LivePD, thinking how fortunate that those cops being filmed have readily-available back-up by default. Although it didn’t really take long for back-up to arrive, so much can happen in a very brief window of time.

This incident compelled me to ponder the minority number in which citizens stopped to aid police during ground-fighting encounters with violent suspects. I knew what help meant as a cop, and I know what help means as a civilian provider. One of two squad supervisors among the seven deputies who responded to a “resisting arrest” instance jutted a thumbs-up from his cruiser window and bellowed “Thanks for doing the right thing…appreciate it!”

“Any time, sir, any time.” What would you do in a case such as this?

Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is an OpsLens Content Manager and Contributor. Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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