Opinion

Demetrious Lowe Incident in Milwaukee — Lessons Learned

The Demetrious Lowe incident was ugly, but it should be used to teach the law enforcement community lessons on training and leadership. It was the type of call that every police recruit is warned they’ll eventually have to deal with while they’re going through the police academy—the type of gritty cluster f**k that reminds us why we need to put badges on tough men and women who know how to fight and win. There’s more to this job than traffic citations and community policing photo ops, but you just can’t tell that to the people calling balls and strikes for some departments.

Four Milwaukee police officers were sent to the hospital earlier this month after getting into a knock-down drag-out with a 6-foot 2-inch 220-pound 25-year-old man seeing demonic spirits. The entirety of the melee spanned over ten minutes, but we live in a society where the final two minutes showing officers finally turning the tide and winning the fight is what has gone viral. Taken out of context, the polyester pile-on that ended the fight had the optics of Hollywood-level police brutality. Back in the real world, officers sustained more injuries than their completely out-of-control attacker in something that I’ve been referring to as the reverse Rodney King beating.

What happened next was as predictable as it was ridiculous. The neighborhood made noise in the streets with police brutality signs, the family threatened to sue, and the media ran the Boston Marathon with it all. Time and time again, this is the kind of anti-cop framing we see regarding the coverage of optically unpleasant incidents. I had to go to the Milwaukee County Sheriff inmate website to see just how large of a human being Lowe is because no one would report on that “irrelevant” detail.

(Demetrious Lowe booking sheet courtesy of Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office)

As a result, Milwaukee PD became just the latest agency to instantly cave to unfair media coverage by throwing their own under the bus. Three officers are under administrative leave and one has been suspended—all for committing the offense of getting their hands filthy while working a dirty job. Name another line of work where you can lose a paycheck for fighting back after getting your ass kicked by a giant in the throes of a mental breakdown. I’ll wait.

Officers responded to 51st St. and Capital Dr. last Wednesday after complaints of a man in a violent rage were made to 911 by his frightened girlfriend. When officers arrived on scene, they encountered Demetrious Lowe—an athletically built 25-year-old standing five inches taller and weighing over 30 pounds heavier than the average American male.

In the immediate aftermath, most outlets were almost exclusively presenting third-party video footage showing no less than six officers piled on top of Lowe. One is holding a taser. Another is delivering “hammer fists” to Lowe’s lower body. A third gets in a kick to the upper body. Community members can be heard commenting, “Oh shit, they punchin’ the f*** outta bro!” and “This is crazy! This is what the f*** I be talkin’ about!” No sensational police recording would be complete without the peanut gallery.

Then another video came out. This one showed a little bit more. When it starts rolling, it shows one dazed officer with his nose already bleeding getting backed up and down the roadway as he pleads with Lowe to stop resisting and to get on the ground. In this video, the other officers on scene seem to be hesitant and reluctant to engage, even with Lowe’s back to them. When they do engage, they seem to be taking potshots at the combatant with their batons before backing away to reassess. Lowe eats the leg strikes and yells “I am Demetrious!” as he flexes his muscles like Mr. Olympia.

My team watched this video at roll call before hitting the road and I must admit, I got on my soapbox a bit prematurely. Judging by what I was seeing, the officers engaging Lowe appeared to not be mentally prepared for what they were endeavoring. There didn’t seem to be any plan or cohesive effort to end the fight. There certainly didn’t appear to be any one officer willing to put his ass on the line and pounce; perhaps this was due to Lowe’s size and a lack of faith that fellow officers would pounce with him.

I imagine most officers are like me when I say that I want to know what the officers to the left and right of me are capable of before I shoot in and grab the leg of someone like Lowe in the street. Will Ofc. Smith instinctively pounce with me or will I get pummeled by a man outweighing me by 50 pounds when Smith freezes up?

We go to the academy and learn some rudimentary self-defense techniques, but that’s as deep as it goes for most officers. They spend the next five, ten, fifteen years inundated with examples of officers getting crucified in the media and by their own command staff for being too aggressive even though the officers being accused don’t even know how to throw (or take) a proper punch.

When it comes to doing some real self-defense training at the departmental level, many officers scoff at the idea. “That’s what I have a taser for” and “I’m not getting hurt in training” and “The department won’t back me if I do that to someone” are the responses you get. Finally, after telling themselves that this job no longer requires them to be a warrior, officers find themselves to be fish out of water when the fists start flying. In the rare worst-case scenario, guns get fired before they should have had to.

Any police academy worth the cloth its PT shirts are printed on has a hell day or two where recruits are either forced to glove up and slug it out or are made to stand their ground against a much larger instructor donning that infamous Red Man padded suit. This type of training teaches prospective police officers who have never been in a fight that they’re not made of glass. This newfound self-knowledge is supposed to help when officers are pushed to the limit in real life, but there’s no point in teaching this lesson only once at the beginning ofa career spanning three decades.  Forget diversity training or the sexual harassment workshop for the 12th year in a row.  If it were up to me, some form of accelerated hand-to-hand combat training exercise would be made annually mandatory for all officers with arrest powers.

Police Academy Red Man Training

Then there was the longer version, with preface footage which culminated in what you viewed above in the abbreviated viral video.

When I finally saw the incident in its most completely recorded form, I realized that even I can fall victim to incomplete footage of these events. When viewing the incident from the very beginning, you can see that one officer does pounce. Lowe quickly overcomes the officer by knocking him to the ground and pounding him. Other officers target Lowe’s arms and legs with their batons as they’re trained to do, but Lowe continues to attack seemingly unfazed. A collective “holy shit” can be sensed coming from these guys as their initial offensive is completely shut down. “We need a taser out here now,” one officer says. “We don’t have a taser,” another can be heard responding over the radio.

Despite the taunting of the officers by bystanders and the unlimited supply of cancer-inducing online comments drumming on about how the officers were “p***ies,” “b****es,” and “weaklings,” they showed the type of fighting spirit I’d want my partner to have in their initial attack. When it comes down to it, I think they were all a bit shocked how easily Lowe dispatched of it and why they needed a moment to regroup. I stand by my statement that we need to focus more on training and maintaining a warrior’s mentality in this line of work.

As for the suspension, Milwaukee’s police union is questioning why front-line officers did not have access to Tasers during the arrest. It turns out that supervisors over at District 7 punished their officers by restricting their access to them. At the same time, command staff is handing out suspensions for actions the officers had to take in the absence of these tools—flag on the play, MPD.

Milwaukee Police Department signage addressing “misplaced” Taser holsters which led to police administration disarming its district officers. In turn, several cops encountering Demetrious Lowe could not abbreviate the time it took gain custody without a Taser among them.

After reading the scrawled message on the Milwaukee squad-room whiteboard (above), ask yourself: Is this proper leadership?

Disarming cops as punishment factored into the entire street debacle you viewed in the videos herein. Although Tasers are not foolproof and 100-percent effective, they typically end physical fights between cops and suspects without ever having to go hands-on. Had a Taser been available on scene, would we be discussing this at all?

You can bet Lowe and his family will be filing a lawsuit based on this. With injured officers potentially facing discipline, Milwaukee PD can probably expect more to come.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
T.B. Lefever

T.B. Lefever is an active police officer in the Metro-Atlanta area. Throughout his career, Lefever has served as a SWAT Hostage Negotiator, a member of the Crime Suppression Unit, a School Resource Officer, and a Uniformed Patrol Officer. T.B. is also a certified Field Training Officer. He has a BA in Criminal Justice and Sociology from Rutgers University. Follow T.B. on Twitter @tblefever.

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