A police officer in a small Arkansas town pulled a man over for driving suspiciously near some railroad tracks. The driver—Adam Finley—turned out to be a railroad employee just doing his job.
Here's what happened next, as evidenced by video footage of the encounter. Even though the cop, Matthew Mercado, had no reason whatsoever to escalate matters, he ordered Finley out of the car, became aggressive with him, shoved him against the car door, handcuffed him, swore at him, and threatened to use a taser on him.
Meanwhile, Finley kept remarkably calm. He didn't get angry, and he followed Mercado's confusing instructions as best he could.
After Mercado let him go free—again, because Finley had done absolutely nothing wrong—Finley went to the Walnut Ridge police station to speak with the chief and make a complaint. For this, Finley was punished: they decided to charge him with obstructing justice during the Mercado encounter. They made this decision only after Finley decided to object to his treatment. They also spoke to Finley's wife, suggesting to her that if she saw the video she would realize that her husband had committed a crime. This was an outright lie, but it apparently played on some suspicion Finley's wife had about him, and they later divorced.
A town's law enforcement apparatus conspired to ruin a man, all for being the victim of a bossy, incompetent cop.
Mercado is no longer on the force. But he appears to have resigned because he didn't get a pay raise he wanted, not because anyone decided to discipline him.
That's all according to The Washington Post's Radley Balko, who has just written about the case:
Finley wasn't shot, or choked to death, or found hanging in a jail cell. He didn't suffer any permanent or lasting physical injury. Mercado didn't even use racist or bigoted language. But Finley did everything he was supposed to. From the footage we can see and hear, he was polite, provided ID when it was asked of him and stepped out of the truck when ordered. Despite cooperating, he was treated poorly, detained and roughed up. When he then tried to file a complaint, he was harassed, and the chief of police attempted to turn his own wife against him—by citing video she hadn't seen and that ultimately vindicated her husband. Yet even after viewing that video, city officials proceeded to prosecute. And even after the video was released, city officials maligned Finley in the press and insisted that the residents of Walnut Ridge believe the assertions of authority figures over the video evidence that contradicted them.
The "lesson" Finley learned here is pretty clear. Power usually wins. You can be as cooperative as possible, but if a police officer wants to dish out some abuse, he can. And he'll probably get away with it. Try to hold him accountable if you'd like, but just know that doing so may come with a heavy price.
Having watched the video footage of the initial encounter, and footage of Finley and his wife meeting with the police chief, it is clear to me that the authorities abused their power. No reasonable person would conclude, after seeing Mercado's encounter with Finley, that there was any legitimate reason to rough him up or handcuff him. And yet the police let Finley and his wife believe the video would show that Finley had acted criminally.
As Balko points out, it could have gone worse for Finley. For many others unfortunate enough to come in conflict with hotheaded cops, it does. This incident is a reminder that not ever example of police abuse is a bloody or deadly affair.
Finley has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city and the officials who wronged him. He is undoubtedly owed compensation for the indignities he suffered at the hands of some very petty authoritarians.