By Mindy Ragan Wood
A state house bill that would amend Oklahoma’s law on the use of excessive force does not have local police chiefs or county law enforcement officials worried.
House Bill 2328 defines the use of physical force and excessive force, restricting the definition according to state law only. Previously, the law stated that the use of force was determined by the state and by internal police department policies and guidelines.
Piedmont Police Chief Scott Singer said he is not concerned about the proposed amendment but spoke about the use of physical force and why it is sometimes necessary.
Singer was a young officer when he faced down an intoxicated man who had been shooting up a neighborhood in 1978.
“I found him hiding,” Singer recalled. “He got off one shot and I got off three.”
Sometimes physical force does not involve a shooting, but an all-out fight for one’s life ends just the same.
“It’s difficult for people to understand that it’s fast, furious and all out,” Singer said. “It’s no holds barred. I’ve had my glasses broken, my nose broken. I’ve been stabbed, hit on the head with a pipe. There are people who are not going to submit to an arrest. In those situations, where force is necessary, they happen very fast.”
With the innovation of cell phone camera technology, hundreds of videos of officers fighting with suspects have been posted to social media sites and YouTube. Those videos have called into question the need for physical force and when it goes too far.
Oklahoma state law defines excessive force as “when a police officer continues to apply force to a person who has been rendered incapable of resisting an officer.”
Canadian County Undersheriff Kevin Ward said even when someone is in handcuffs a suspect can still resist arrest.
“We’ve handcuffed them and sometimes they’ll still be kicking you, but once you get them in handcuffs, that’s when it (force) stops,” he said.
Ward recalled the case of an Oklahoma state trooper who was prosecuted for kicking a man after he had the suspect in handcuffs and was on the ground.
“He took a plea deal and had to give up his CLEET commission,” Ward said.
He recalled another incident when he awakened an intoxicated man asleep in his car. Then an Oklahoma Highway patrolman, Ward tried to get him out of his car and that’s when a fight ensued. The two wrestled on the ground and rolled onto the interstate. He can still remember seeing the headlights of a truck that nearly killed them both.
“I stand him up, he breaks the antennae on my car, my wrist watch, but I finally got him in handcuffs,” he said.
Singer pointed out that if a suspect is to be arrested, officers cannot walk away from the scene no matter how out of control a person may be. Officers are trained to apply pain through various techniques to get them under control. Stun guns, tasers, and submission moves are all deployed to quickly subdue a suspect.
“I was in a breezeway arresting a guy who was really drunk,” he recalled. “I had him on the wall, this was years ago, and we were arresting several people. There were two others (officers) trying to get a couple of other people under control. I padded this guy down and he didn’t like it and acted like he wanted to resist. He became belligerent and he turns around and swings at me. I duck and he got my (neck) tie off me and he got off balance and was on the ground. I had to sit on him and administer as much pain compliance as I could. I was using wrist techniques which can be very painful (bending the wrist). There are a number of techniques, including head locks and arm locks. I got one arm under control and it was enough to keep him from coming off the ground. I used my weight on top of him until the other guys got their people under control.”
Sometimes pain techniques are not enough. Suspects who are on drugs or mentally ill cannot be reasoned with and sometimes do not feel pain. When an intense and dangerous struggle begins, Singer said every officer knows it comes down to just one thing.
“In order to survive, you have to win,” he said. “I think when you consider the phrase, in the fight of your life, I think people don’t realize the meaning of that statement. We’re trying to do a job and then go home to our families.”