Two former police officers from a small South Carolina town were sentenced yesterday to over one year in prison each for repeatedly tasing a handcuffed, mentally disabled woman in April 2013, according to a statement releasedby the Department of Justice.
Eric Walters and Franklin Brown tased 40-year-old Melissa Davis at least eight times on the night of April 2, shocking her even as she was handcuffed and lying face down on the pavement.
When asked by fellow officers why he continued to tase Davis even though she was in handcuffs, Brown reportedly said he “did not want to touch that nasty (obscenity),” according to the Associated Press.
Both Brown and Walters pleaded guilty in October to deprivation of rights under colour of law, a charge which carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison. Brown will serve 18 months — a harsher penalty than Walters’ one year and a day — because he was the one who tased Davis while she was handcuffed.
In the words of former cop and criminologist Philip Stinson, who runs the largest database of police brutality in the country, “you’ve got to really f*ck up to get convicted as a cop.”
Stinson began tracking how often police officers are arrested for alleged crimes back in 2005 out of sheer disbelief that police brutality is so often met with impunity. Having tracked and recorded thousands of police brutality incidents over 10 years, Stinson found that most cops charged with a crime don’t even lose their jobs, let alone serve jail time.
“We have cops who were arrested in 2005 or 2006, and we’re startled to see they are still a cop — maybe still with the same agency, maybe not,” Stinson told FiveThirtyEight reporter Carl Bialik. “That just blows me away.”
Of the thousands of fatal shootings at the hands of the police in the past decade, Stinson and an investigation by the Washington Post found that only 54 officers have been charged for the deaths since 2005. Of these 54, only 11 have been convicted.
In a world where officers who kill are regularly acquitted, the conviction and sentencing of Brown and Walters — who injured and traumatized Davis, but not fatally — is unusual, to say the least.
“To charge an officer in a fatal shooting, it takes something so egregious, so over the top that it cannot be explained in any rational way,” Stinson told the Post. “It also has to be a case that prosecutors are willing to hang their reputation on.”
The repeated tasing of an unarmed, handcuffed mentally disabled woman is one of these rare instances where the desire to uphold officers as “guardians of order,” as the Post puts it, and to give them the benefit of the doubt has been outweighed by indisputable facts — which are available in some cases, such as the recent shooting death of unarmed South Carolina man Walter Scott, but conspicuously absent from others.
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