Monday, April 16, 2012

White Plains police’s medical emergency training needs updating from Medieval barber days

During the Memorial Day weekend of 2008, two brothers of Jordanian descent were arrested in White Plains, New York for “disorderly conduct” by police officers who single them out among the evening downtown crowd, although there is a question when the “disorderly conduct” actually occurred—and by whom. When the brothers were brought into the precinct house and handcuffed to a metal pipe in the booking room, one of the brothers claims to have been beaten repeatedly, mainly by one officer; a photograph taken after his stay at the precinct shows one eye completely shut from bruising. The officer accused of being the principle assailant is also accused of using a “racial” slur—“rag head.” I have to admit that I find it curious that the media refers to Arabs as a “race” when in fact they are classified as Caucasian, while Hispanics who are of mostly or all of indigenous Indian blood are referred to as an “ethnicity,” but we’ve discussed this hypocrisy before. Anyways, this officer explained in an affidavit that the bruising on the arrestee—which plainly occurred after he was in police custody—was “self-inflicted” when he repeatedly hit his head against the partition that separates the suspects in the back seat from the police in the front seat. This claim is almost surely patently absurd on its face. The charges against the brothers were eventually dismissed, and the city and the police officers involved are facing a $10 million civil suit in court this month.

Interestingly, this case is only receiving attention now because of the officer who was the principle instigator in the case is also accused of a “racially-motivated” shooting of a 68-year-old black ex-Marine named Kenneth Chamberlain in November of last year. Chamberlain, who had a heart condition, apparently accidentally triggered the Lifeaid medical alert device he wore around his neck while asleep. The Lifeaid dispatcher alerted police and emergency medical personnel, but when they arrived on the scene Chamberlain refused to open the door, telling them it was a mistake and that they could leave. Officers not only refused to leave but forced open the door. The Lifeaid device also triggered an audio recording device, which plainly details out-of-control officers mocking the old man, and ignoring his pleas to leave him alone; when he said he was a “sick old man,” he is told “We don’t give a f—k, n---r.” The Lifeaid dispatcher, listening to the audio live, is alleged to have tried to contact police to call-off the medical aid alert, to no avail. Chamberlain’s sister and niece, who also lived in the building, tried to persuade the officers at the scene to allow them to talk to him, but were told that they didn’t need a “mediator.” The police claim that after they broke the door down, Chamberlain confronted them with a knife, but a camera attached to a Taser shows Chamberlain dressed in his shorts and arms at his side. Soon afterward the camera was shut-off, and after that Chamberlain was shot. An autopsy revealed that the angle of the bullet trajectories indicate that Chamberlain was not facing them, and his arms were down. People in Seattle might recall that SPD officer Ian Birk also claimed that John T. Williams, a Native American woodcarver, lunged toward him with a knife, when the autopsy revealed that Birk’s bullets entered Williams from the side with his arms down.

The identity of Chamberlain’s killer remained a secret until Juan Gonzalez—a reporter for the New York Daily News and co-anchor of Democracy Now—exposed his identity recently: Italian-American Anthony Carelli, who also happens to be the principle offender in the ethnically-motivated beating of the Jordanian-American, and is also believed to have used the racial epithet heard on the Lifeaid audio. One must confess that what is of most interest in this case is the rather appalling, incomprehensible show of deadly force in a medical emergency mission whose presumed intention is to save life, not take it. The police knew Chamberlain had a heart condition, yet the use of a Taser for no explicable reason would certainly have potentially caused a cardiac event. Why medical personnel on the scene did not intervene is also highly suspicious if not completely unacceptable behavior. Furthermore, why did police react as if a crime had been committed when they had been called merely about a possible medical emergency? When Chamberlain told them he was fine and did not need assistance, that should have been enough for them. If Chamberlain wanted to “die,” that should have been his choice, not the officers’.

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