The Corner

Law & the Courts

What Was McKinney Police Officer Eric Casebolt Thinking?

When arriving at the scene of a call for service, a police officer must ask himself some questions. First, do the circumstances at hand require immediate action to protect innocent life? If not, is there a need for immediate action to protect property? If the answer is again no, is there anyone in the vicinity who is suspected of a crime and whose detention is therefore necessary? And if the answer to that is also no, even in the midst of chaos, some period of assessment and calm reflection is called for. Corporal Eric Casebolt of the McKinney, Tex., Police Department would have been well served to ask himself these questions on Friday.

By now the video has been widely seen (over 8 million views on YouTube as of this writing), and there is no shortage of attendant commentary in the media and on the Internet. For what it’s worth, here is one police officer’s perspective on the video and surrounding events.

Police were called when a party at a neighborhood pool got out of hand, apparently with the arrival of many people who do not live in the neighborhood and whose boisterous presence was found objectionable by those who do. The video begins with people milling about on the sidewalk and in the street, the party-goers having already been dispersed. For reasons still unexplained, Corporal Casebolt and a second officer run across the street, perhaps in pursuit of someone or to intervene in some ongoing offense. A third officer can be seen and heard calmly discussing things with people before Casebolt again comes into view, this time wrestling a black teenage boy to the ground. “I told you to stay!” Casebolt shouts at him before turning his attention to others nearby. “Get your asses down on the ground!” he shouts as he rounds up a few more black teenagers and orders them to sit or lie down on the sidewalk and the adjacent grass.

Casebolt next loudly and angrily orders a group of girls to leave the area, which they begin to do. For some reason, this also still unexplained, Casebolt walks over and grabs one of the girls, slightly built and wearing only a bikini, and wrestles her to the ground. At this point the “temperature” of the crowd, which arguably was lowering slightly, suddenly increased. Some of the girls who had been walking away rushed toward Casebolt, as did two young men. Casebolt reacted by drawing his pistol, at the sight of which the two young men fled. Two other officers come to assist Casebolt before running out of view, presumably in pursuit of the two young men.

Casebolt then turns his attention back to the girl. “Get your ass on the ground!” he shouts, though she was already seated on the grass. He then roughly pushes her face down on the grass and places his knee on her back. He remains atop her as he waits for a colleague to come and handcuff her (I assume his own handcuffs were already on someone else). The video ends with Casebolt lecturing two young men on what they should and should not have done when he ordered them to sit down.

Let us acknowledge that the video does not show all that happened at the pool that day and that Corporal Casebolt had more knowledge of the situation he faced than do I or anyone else offering an opinion about his actions that day. But still, some questions are in order. In watching the video, one can’t help but observe that Casebolt is alone among the officers in being exercised about what is happening. Was he aware of facts his colleagues were not? If so, and if these facts somehow warranted his actions, did he share his knowledge with the other officers? And what of the girl in the bikini? What was it that motivated Casebolt to choose her, among all the others, to be detained?

And as for Casebolt drawing his pistol, in this — and only this — there appears to be some justification. The two young men who rushed forward were both at least equal in size to the officer, and it isn’t unreasonable to suppose they might have been preparing to attack Casebolt had he not reacted as he did. The brandishing of the weapon had the desired effect of making the young men run away.

I’m open to the possibility that facts may emerge that will justify Corporal Casebolt’s actions, but I can’t imagine what they might be.

— Jack Dunphy is the nom de cyber of a police officer in Southern California.

Jack Dunphy served with the Los Angeles Police Department for more than 30 years. Now retired from the LAPD, he works as a police officer in a neighboring city. Jack Dunphy is his nom de cyber.

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