Monday, March 5, 2018

Grand jury in Troy, AL, lets cops off the hook in KeAndre Wilkerson beating, but a federal investigation still could heap severe punishment on officers

KeAndre Wilkerson

If you live in or near Alabama, that foul smell you are noticing likely comes from Troy, a town of about 20,000 in the southeast corner of the state. That's where a Pike County grand jury last week refused to indict four officers from the Troy Police Department in the brutal arrest of a local teen last December. The grand jury essentially found the officers acted within the law, and used reasonable force, in the arrest of 17-year-old KeAndre Wilkerson. We invite you to examine the above picture of Wilkerson, taken after his encounter with Troy cops, and ask yourself: "Did it really take four heavily armed cops to use that much force to subdue a juvenile?"

It's hard to see how a sentient being could answer yes to that question. But a Pike County grand jury, which reportedly took up the case last Wednesday and reached a decision early enough on Thursday for the outcome to make that day's news, found it's fine for cops to leave a suspect with a face swollen, bloody, and re-arranged to what appears to be Mike Tyson's specifications. The photo above suggests someone punched or kicked Wilkerson in the face -- probably more than once -- and it was enough to leave his left eye swollen shut.

Are we to believe it's actually fine for cops to inflict this kind of savagery on anyone while trying to make an arrest -- while they have a four-to-one advantage in numbers? We can hope the turnips on the Pike County grand jury will not have the final say in the matter. For one, a civil complaint -- led by Florida-based civil-rights lawyer Ben Crump and Dothan attorneys Dustin Fowler and Stephen Etheredge -- is in the works. Also, the officers might not be out of the woods criminally.

The U.S. Department of Justice is a wreck right now, under the "leadership" of Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions, but there remains the possibility of an federal civil-rights investigation. Federal charges could come under 18 U.S.C. 242 (deprivation of rights under color of law), and that statute can pack a wallop. From our post of 12/27/17:

As for federal charges, those would come under 18 U.S.C. 242 (deprivation of rights under color of law), and that could spell big trouble for the cops who beat Wilkerson. They could face up to 10 years in federal prison, and depending on the circumstances, punishment might become even more severe than that. The statute reads in part:

Whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or to different punishments, pains, or penalties, on account of such person being an alien, or by reason of his color, or race, than are prescribed for the punishment of citizens, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both; and if bodily injury results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include the use, attempted use, or threatened use of a dangerous weapon, explosives, or fire, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both . . .

Bodily injury obviously occurred in the Wilkerson case, but the possible punishment can go well beyond 10 years:

If a court finds the cops tried to kill Wilkerson -- and the photo above suggests that might have been the case -- the cops' problems grow exponentially. From the statute:

. . . and if death results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.

The Wilkerson case is difficult to analyze because the public knows so little about what happened. A report last week from provides insights:

According to police, officers saw Wilkerson walk from behind a closed downtown business just before midnight on Dec. 23. He then allegedly fled on foot as the officers got out of their vehicle to investigate. While being apprehended, police say Wilkerson refused to put his hands behind his back and reached for his waistband, as if reaching for a weapon. That prompted officers to use physical force to restrain him.

Question: Did Wilkerson actually have a gun? If so, why didn't officers shoot him, or take cover?

Here is more about what apparently caused the confrontation to become physical -- and brutal:

[DA Michael] Jackson said the video showed the officer trying to get the second handcuff on Wilkerson and when he refused to comply, the officer struck him several times. [Supernumerary DA Tommy] Smith said a number of witnesses addressed the jury, including some who saw the incident. Smith said based on all the evidence, witness interviews, and analysis, he is "satisfied" with the decision that was reached. 

Question: If an officer has trouble applying a second handcuff, that gives him and his colleagues the right to pound the suspect's face into mush? With a four-to-one advantage in numbers, they can't figure out a way to subdue the suspect without turning his face into hamburger?

The Troy Messenger adds to the confusion with this, which includes a statement from Troy Mayor Jason Reeves:

Reeves released a statement Thursday stating that a gag order has been made that prevents him from commenting further.

“Today it was announced that a Pike County grand jury determined that probable cause did not exist to charge Troy police officers with any offense related to the well-publicized arrest of a juvenile in December of 2017,” Reeves said. “The matter was independently investigated by the Alabama (State) Bureau of investigation and an outside, independent prosecutor appointed by the Attorney General, who presented the matter to the grand jury which heard the facts and reviewed the evidence and came to a decision.

“Because of a judicial order in the pending criminal case against the juvenile I can make no further statement or release any further information at this time. I appreciate the public’s patience as we continue through the judicial process.”

Question: So, there is a pending criminal case against Wilkerson? Was that why cops approached him? Is that why he ran?

Even if the answer to all of those questions is "yes," does that give cops the lawful right to inflict so much damage on Wilkerson that he winds up in a hospital?

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