Responding to a noise complaint early Sunday morning at an apartment building in Tuscaloosa, police ended up arresting three University of Alabama students for harassment, obstruction, and resisting arrest. Those sound like the sort of bullshit charges that cops make up when they have no real justification for hauling people off to jail, and cellphone video of the incident, during which one student was shocked with a Taser and beaten with a baton, tends to confirm that impression.
The students, who apparently were celebrating Alabama's victory over LSU in a football game on Saturday, turned off their music when the police pulled up. You might think that took care of the noise complaint, but the bystander video shows an officer trying to drag a student out of the now-quiet apartment while his friends object. The students are argumentative but nonviolent.
"Please let go of him," says a male student wearing a baseball cap. "You are illegally entering."
"Don't treat him like that!" says a female student. "Why are you acting like this?…Do you have a warrant?"
"I don't have to have a warrant," the cop says.
As if to prove that point, the cop and a couple of other officers eventually force their way into the apartment and drag out the three students, throw them to the ground, and handcuff them. The student who gets the Taser and the baton seems to be the one who was pulling away from the cop's grasp as the video began.
Why was the cop trying to drag that student out? According to the cop, it was because the student grabbed his arm, justifying an arrest for harassment, a misdemeanor that includes touching someone "with intent to harass, annoy, or alarm" him. The student denied touching the cop's arm, and his friends agreed that no arm touching occurred, saying they were confident the video record would confirm that point.
In any case, the harassment allegation appears to have arisen in the context of a home intrusion that was not justified to begin with. It seems that pretext nevertheless begat the additional charges of obstruction and resisting arrest. Alabama's definition of obstruction "is intentionally broad so as to give law enforcement officers ample discretion in their interpretation," notes Steven Eversole, a Birmingham criminal defense attorney. "Arrests for obstruction tend to be made in the heat of the moment. Upon careful review after the fact, there is always the possibility that the arresting officer lacked sufficient grounds for the charge."
A.P. reports that "Chief Steve Anderson of the Tuscaloosa Police Department said he was 'deeply disturbed' by what he had seen in the videos and disappointed in the actions of the officers." Anderson called the incident "a black eye" for the department. The three officers are on paid leave pending an investigation by the department's internal affairs division.
"I respect your authority, but you are not allowed in my apartment," the student wearing a baseball cap told the cop who grabbed his friend. "You are not respecting my authority," the officer replied, and one suspects that was the real issue all along.