The mother of a San Diego 13-year-old who had run away from home two days earlier reportedly called authorities for help; a sheriff's deputy eventually found the boy, hanging out in a parking lot with at least six other teenagers. The runaway didn't want to go home, and became combative according to the sheriff's department, so the deputy used his Taser.
Witnesses to the incident claim the cop also punched the teen in the jaw and choked him. A portion of the confrontation was caught by a bystander, who said he was recording it "low key" because he was afraid of the cops. Several of the teens in the video did not appear afraid enough not to yell at the cop about his actions as heard on the recording:
The mother, for her part, reportedly apologized to police. The boy has been charged with felony assault on a police officer; he allegedly bit the cop in the arm during the confrontation. In typical fashion, the sheriff's department insists the deputy's use of force was justified but will open an investigation anyway. Maybe the deputy's use of force was justified; perhaps it doesn't even merit an investigation. But when a claim of excessive use of force, whether spurious or serious, is pre-judged as without merit by authorities while they insist on an investigation anyway, that does damage to the reputation of internal investigations by the department, and it is an all too common practice not just when police brutality claims seem specious but as a matter of course for most claims of police brutality, even those that end in death. That's gone a long way to deteriorate any perception of transparency in policing that might exist among the general public.
It's hard to say what should have happened here. The mother called authorities. Had the cop left the boy there, might he have been found liable for endangering the teen's welfare? If his mandate in the parking lot, from police, from the law, from the boy's mother, was to bring him home and the boy was non-complaint, is the use of force inevitable? These questions hinge on people's expectations of police, as articulated by the policies people vote for, the laws they demand, and individuals' specific calls for help to police, factors which contribute to the character of police-community relations and how and when force is deployed.
If the sheriff's department believes this, or any other, use of force to be justified, before an investigation, they should be honest about that, and that should also preclude them from investigating themselves. Outside and independent agencies ought to be investigating claims, not the police departments being investigated, something that would benefit the communities being policed and the police themselves, by adding a measure of transparency and accountability and the ability to differentiate between claims instead of using a one-size-fits all approach of finding every claim unjustified that leaves people rightly thinking most claims of police brutality are justified.
h/t Jeff Thomas