Monday, August 17, 2020

LGBTQ community earns a major victory before SCOTUS, but pending police-brutality case in Kansas City, MO, indicates much work remains to be done

Kansas City cops rough up Breona Hill.

LGBTQ Americans earned a major victory recently when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it is unlawful to discriminate against them in the workplace. A pending police-brutality case in Kansas City, MO, however, suggests much work remains in the fight for human rights.

KC officers Matthew Brummett and Charles Prichard stand indicted for assault in the 2019 arrest of Breona Hill, a 30-year-old black transgender woman. As seems to be the case in many cases of police violence, a citizen video has played a key role. From a report at

Two police officers in Kansas City, Mo., have been indicted on assault charges after they were caught on video using what critics say was excessive force while trying to arrest a transgender woman.

The officers, Matthew Brummett, 37, and Charles Prichard, 47, were charged with fourth-degree assault for their actions when attempting to restrain and handcuff 30-year-old Breona Hill last year.

Prosecutors allege that the video, shot by a passerby on his cell phone, shows the two officers slamming Hill’s face against the concrete sidewalk and kneeing her in the face, torso and ribs at various points during the arrest.

According to the indictment, the officers were called to the scene on May 24, 2019, after Hill became involved in a dispute with the owner of a beauty supply store. The owner phoned police to ask that Hill be removed from the premises.

Prosecutors say Hill allegedly flung slurs and insults at the store owner, and the officers decided to arrest her, charging her with trespassing, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and possession of drug paraphernalia.

The officers later claimed she resisted arrest, and was wrestled to the ground as they attempted to restrain her. Hill was later taken to Truman Medical Center and treated for injuries, including a cut above her right eye and bruises on the left side of her face, reports NBC News.

Hill was later killed in an unrelated shooting in October — becoming the 22nd known transgender or gender-nonconforming person fatally injured in an act of violence in 2019. A suspect has since been charged in that case.

The video of Hill's arrest is graphic and hard to watch. (Video is embedded at the end of this post.) An officer pounds Hill's head, face first, into a concrete sidewalk. Hill also winds up with an officer's knee in the back of her neck, reminiscent of the George Floyd killing by cops in Minneapolis. How did the video come to exist? Metro Weekly explains:

The bystander who filmed Hill’s arrest, Roderick Reed, said he was driving by when he saw an officer punch a woman, prompting him to grab his cell phone and start filming. Reed says he saw Brummett and Prichard kneeling on Hill while Brummett slammed her face into the ground twice. Prosecutors say Hill can be heard moaning and crying in pain, and asking for help. They also claim the actions caught on video don’t match with the officers’ statements about the arrest.

Audio from the cell phone video captures Prichard threatening to take Reed’s phone as evidence and saying Reed is going to get “a ticket,” according to the charging documents. Reed was later cited for allegedly interfering with Hill’s arrest and blocking traffic.
Here's how the Advocate describes the video:

The video “shows the officers kneeing the woman in the face, torso and ribs and forcing her arms over her head while handcuffed,” the AP reports. They are also accused of slamming her face into the sidewalk. She “can be heard moaning and crying in pain” on the video, according to the news service. Hill was black, and the officers are both white.

The head of the KC police union, to no one's surprise, defended the officers' actions, but that did not fly with an attorney for Hill's family:

Brad Lemon, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 99, issued a statement accusing Peters Baker of pursuing “a politically motivated prosecution that is unfortunately becoming all too commonplace across our country.” He also claimed Hill “purposefully struck her head against the concrete” and said the charges against the officers were “unjustified.”

But David Smith, a lawyer for Hill’s family, said that Reed’s video footage proves the officers used excessive force and questioned the sufficiency of the department’s internal investigation.

“The police investigate their own incidents with no outside agency involved,” Smith told The New York Times. “The community is in uproar over this. All you have to do is watch the video. A picture speaks a thousand words, but a video speaks two thousand.”

Smith pulled no punches when describing the officers' actions to The Kansas City Star (subscription only):
Part of Hill’s arrest last May on suspicion of disorderly conduct, trespassing and resisting arrest was captured on video by a passerby’s mobile phone. The footage remains painful to watch. While pinned to the ground, Hill’s face was violently slammed to the pavement.

Other transgressions followed. Photos provided by Hill’s attorney show the painful wounds that resulted.

The attorney, David R. Smith, likened the officers’ behavior on video to that of hardened criminals.

“These officers are thugs,” Smith said.

In the video footage, she did not appear to resist and did not appear to pose a threat to police, herself or others. The aggressive tactics continued long after Hill had been subdued.

Here is more from the Advocate:

Brummett and Prichard said she was resisting arrest and that they used reasonable force. She was charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and possession of drug paraphernalia.

But a grand jury Friday indicted both officers on charges of fourth-degree assault, a misdemeanor. David Smith, a lawyer for Hill’s family, said he was “thrilled” the officers had been charged and was optimistic that the charges would be upgraded to a felony, local TV station KSHB reports. “That’s what these officers deserve,” he told the station.

To the AP, he added, “You don’t treat this woman like a piece of trash because you think she is a freak.” He also provided the media with a photo of Hill showing several bruises on her face, and he called on Police Chief Rick Smith (no relation) to resign.

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