Members of the Raleigh Police Department had their hands full on Friday, Aug. 17, 2018, while responding to a call of an unoccupied vehicle in traffic with music playing loudly. That’s when they encountered Frederick Hall. He was walking around apparently in a daze without a shirt or shoes on.
An officer tried to tactfully deal with Hall but didn’t have any success. Other officers arrived, and when Hall made a move to go back to his car, one officer attempted to stop him by grabbing his arm.
Things rapidly went downhill from there.
Videos of the incident were captured by the occupants of vehicles stuck in the traffic and were immediately posted to social media. The violent confrontation that followed instantly went viral with one post getting over 12 million views the last time I checked.
Hall was able to punch officers and throw them to the ground, and only by sheer force of numbers were they able to get Hall to the ground. At that point, Hall grabbed an officer’s leg and bit her foot. The officers responded by using baton strikes to get him to stop. Asking him to stop didn’t work.
Two camps immediately formed: those who believe the use of force was excessive and those who believe the use of force was justified, with the more vocal group being those that believe the use of force was excessive.
The Raleigh Police Department responded by releasing videos that were captured by body cams and in-car camera video. The videos show the officers’ attempts at de-escalation and use of pepper spray and a taser. The officers used baton strikes with little effect and the use of physical strikes appeared to be only minimally effective.
Family members, community activists and attorneys held press conferences and denounced the use of force on an allegedly mentally ill man, saying it was uncalled for and that the officers were poorly prepared to deal with a person in crisis.
In an interview with WRAL, Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman stated, “While this incident is unfortunate and troubling to watch, law enforcement officers are authorized under the law to use force to stop an attack when necessary. In this case, officers twice attempted to subdue Mr. Hall by using a Taser prior to using other force. The actions of the officers involved in this incident do not rise to the level of criminal assault.”
In an interview with the News & Observer, Rick Armstrong, a spokesman for the police union, said the officers on scene were trained in crisis intervention, as are many officers in the department.
There is no easy way to put handcuffs on someone who doesn’t want them. There is no easy way to restrain someone when words, pepper gas, a taser, and pain compliance don’t work. It takes overwhelming physical force to get the job done and it isn’t pretty.
Every police officer I have ever known has a story of someone they have encountered in their career where they’ve thrown everything but the kitchen sink at them and the only thing that worked was brute force.
I might also add that those instances are both scary, physically exhausting and, thankfully, few and far between.
Joe Vargas is a retired police captain. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.