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Understanding law enforcement's "duty to intervene"

Posted at 9:03 PM, Jun 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-10 23:12:39-04

CAPE CORAL, FLA — When it comes to a law enforcement officer's "duty to intervene," FGCU forensic expert and former police officer Dave Thomas says the rules are pretty clear cut.

"The statute quite simply says when a person is under control you stop," said Thomas.

He says this is especially in a case like George Floyd's.

"They should have got up and snatched [Derek] Chauvin off of him. And that's their job and they know that," he said.

According to this rule, it's law enforcement's job to call each other out on excessive use of force and physically intervene if need be, not the public's job, which a lawyer for one of the officers involved in Floyd's case recently suggested on CNN.

"If all these people say why didn't my client intercede. Well, if the public is there and they're so in an uproar about this, they didn't intercede either," said Earl Gray.

It's also important to note that a lot of departments already have these kinds of rules in place, including the collier county sheriff's office, who reminded the public of that Wednesday.

According to Thomas, it's clear that in the case of the Minneapolis officers involved in Floyd's arrest, the lack of intervention was learned behavior.

"When I look at that and I look at the picture of [Derek] Chauvin on Mr. Floyd's neck what I see is an issue where the culture of that organization has allowed that to happen, because he's very comfortable," said Thomas.

And though this doesn't appear to be the case for Mr. Floyd, Thomas says excessive use of force typically happens after someone puts up a fight.

He says that adrenaline rush, mixed with sporadic required training after the academy, can cause officers to forget what they learned in the heat of the moment and rely on excessive techniques.

"I go out on the streets and I may not have to use my hand, my baton, or a taser for a year. So I get into an altercation [and] what I learned in the academy is gone," said Thomas.

Enforcing the concept of "duty to intervene" is something that former Buffalo police officer Cariol Horne is working to get enforced at a state level.

Horne says in 2008 she was fired from the department after stopping her partner from choking a handcuffed man they had in their custody. Her partner was white and the man they had arrested, is black.

In 2018, her former partner, Greg Kwiatkowski, was sentenced to serve time in federal prison for using unnecessary force against four teens that were already being detained by other officers.

We asked David Thomas how law enforcement offices can effectively enforce rules to weed out bad apples like that. He says the only way is if there's some type of oversight at a state or federal level

"So in this instance the officer is required to do it, because if I don't do it I am losing my job so you can have something else to blame it on. That's the only way it happens because I will tell you that in her instance she was viewed as a rat," he said.

Since 2016, Horne has been working to pass "Cariol's law," which would enforce the concept of "duty to intervene" at a state level in New York and protect officers, like her, who speak out about mistreatment that they see on the job.