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A Voice in the Wilderness

As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there's a twilight where everything remains seemingly unchanged, and it is in such twilight that we must be aware of change in the air, however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness. -- William O. Douglas

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Great Police Relations - Baltimore PD - Officer Salvatore Rivieri - The Making of a Lawsuit

Men are respectable only as they respect - Ralph Waldo Emerson
...We wear the badge with pride. We are privileged because our society has placed in our hands, a sacred trust. Every day when we pin our badge on our chests and we go out on to the streets of our great city, we are given the opportunity to do good against evil... - LAPD Police Chief William Bratton at memorial services held for fallen SWAT Officer Randall Simmons
Partial transcript of the videotaped incident between Baltimore Police Officer Salvatore Rivieri and 14 year old skater, Kyle Bush:
Rivieri: "... Are you from the county or something?...First of all, you disrespected me, this badge and my department! You understand me? When I'm talking to you, you shut your mouth and you listen! Obviously your parents don't put a foot in your butt quite enough 'cause you don't know the meaning of respect! First of all, you better learn how to speak, I'm not 'man.' I'm not 'dude.' I am Officer Rivieri! The sooner you learn that, the longer you are going to live in this world..."

Very nice Sal - I mean Officer Rivieri.

In New Mexico, the law on 'Battery' is: The non-consensual & intentional touching or application of force to the body of another person when done in a rude, angry or insolent manner.

I doubt that it would be much different in Baltimore - it might not be a bad idea for you to look it up in your state. Here is a valuable -albeit general - link for you to reference - (click here).

Anyone else whose actions were caught on tape like this would likely be subject to arrest for charges of assault and aggravated battery. While it is highly recommended that people be compliant with a police officer, there is no law that I know of that requires someone to be respectful.

Officer Rivieri
appeared to have used a kubiton (the "stick" attached to his key ring) to physically control the juvenile. It does not appear that a lawful order for the juvenile to surrender the skateboard was ever given so, escalating to usage of physical force indicates the officer jumped up the use of force scale without properly giving the juvenile a chance to comply. As such, the kid appears to have been attacked by the officer. Also, using an object to batter someone makes the crime more serious because the object is considered a weapon. It is said to be 'aggravated battery'.

I had a hunch this wasn't his first incident of abuse. Someone else caught his abusiveness on tape. Click here to see that incident.

It will be interesting to see how Rivieri's attorney will frame a defense in the face of this video recording in order to justify:

1) Officer Rivieri's lack of officer safety; by turning his back to the 14 year old Rivieri musn't have perceived the juvenile as much of a threat. One can only wonder what could have happened if that allegedly 'disrespectful' kid had a weapon?

Fact: Veteran police officers with more than 7 years of police experience are statistically more likely to be killed in the line of duty because of their lax officer safety. Rivieri is a 17 year veteran police officer.
Police use of force:
Understanding the Use of Force Continuum, or, the Reactive Control Model (RCM) outlining acceptable use of force to control an offender is useful to review at this point:

Basically the Force Use of Force Continuum model of police control aims to outline how force is 'ratcheted-up' the scale according to how much a potential offender becomes non-compliant with an officer's commands. Baltimore PD has either this protocol or something quite similar as part of their Standard operating procedures outlining how to deal with an offender's resistance to lawful orders.

Officer presence is identified as the first level of force, then come verbal commands, then comes physical control/submission by application of force, followed by use of coercive tools (like batons and chemical devices) and finally use of deadly force - again the dictated level of force to be used is directly related to the level resistance posed by an offender. Ideally, police are trained to use only as much force as is necessary in order to gain compliance, maintain control and ensure safety. Such a protocol is aimed at; avoiding complaints against officer for use of excessive force; establishing an ethical response to resistance; reducing legal exposure by minimizing potential abuses.

2) Once Rivieri determined the juvenile was not complying with his lawful orders - and that becomes highly suspect as the interaction progresses - the officer scuffled with the alleged offender. Owing to that, Rivieri was essentially committed to physically restrain the kid ; he failed to use handcuffs to restrain the 'offender'.

Rivieri never did tell the kid to put the skate-board down or to step away from it either. A skateboard could be considered to be a potential weapon. Review of the video
also reveals how Rivieri exposed his weapon to the kid in the ensuing struggle as he moved in to wrest the skateboard away. Shortly thereafter, he alsoturned his back to the other skateboarders at the scene. It is fortunate for the officer that the other kids didn't have bad intentions - or a gun or both.

While Rivieri did tell the kid to sit down twice, his command presence and shoving the kid apparently weren't enough to gain control . Rivieri had already wrestled with the juvenile and even appears to have used a kubiton on him. Bearing this in mind, the juvenile should have been considered to be resisting and non-compliant which clearly should have warranted his being handcuffed - detained for his safety. (Note: a detention doesn't necessarily imply arrest, Officers are trained to articulate in their incident reports that, "the offender was placed in handcuffs for his safety and the officer's safety. Such a statement has been court-tested and is considered to be an acceptable action for police officers by the Court).

If Rivieri's terse commands and agitated verbal tone are any indication, it is clear that Rivieri felt the kid was not complying. However, in the RCM model, Rivieri's actions vacillated from verbal commands to application of physical force and then back to verbal commands. It is not supposed to go that way. Typically, police are trained to establish and maintain
control. Failure to do so risks further escalation and leaves open the potential for serious injury to either or both parties not to mention exposing the city of Baltimore to civil liability claims.

3) Rivieri failed to call for 'back-up' as he was - at least technically - outnumbered. Either his ego precluded him from doing this or he really felt he was in control as he berated the kid while the skateboarders stood by and didn't offer any resistance. It would have been a good idea to have another officer present (as a second corroborating witness for the court should testimony be called for in the future due to any allegations arising from the incident) in order to establish control and provide presence in case the situation happened to escalate.

4) Once Rivieri got the juvenile's information, he failed to radio in Bush's information to the PD Dispatch (he also did not get the kid's date of birth - a piece of information crucial for searching information in the database - in order to check for criminal history (granted juvenile information is highly protected even for law enforcement). Once he got the kids name and address, he did nothing with that information. That doesn't make any sense. He didn't call for a marked patrol unit to transport his 'prisoner' since that little Gem car he was in couldn't hold one - let alone three arrestees. It was clear that Rivieri did not intend to take anyone into custody but rather wanted to shake them up even if he had to assault and batter one of them - ostensibly to make an example of him.

5) Rivieri's obvious efforts to communicate (loudly) to passers-by that the 14-year old was being disrespectful - clearly an effort to rationalize why he was shouting at the kid. It appeared as though he was 'performing' for the public - a means of communicating that he was 'attempting' to verbally control the 'offender' thereby justifying why he was being so harsh on the kid. In police reports, police are trained to verbally articulate their reasons for using force in such a way as to convey to the public that their actions are rational and 'justifiable'.

Unfortunately, Rivieri's unprofessional and abusive conduct were recorded both prior to, and after the passers-by came and went. His somewhat softened tone and word choice when he asked, "What's wrong with you son?" seemed different once the approaching passers-by were out of ear-shot. Fortunately for the kid, the video was rolling as it recorded the abusive officer's changing behavioral and verbal tone as well.

Rivieri also used the word "son" when ironically - just a few moments earlier - he yelled at the kid "I'm not your father!" Could this be some kind of head trip he was playing on the kid? The word "son" implies some sort of familial affiliation - like a concerned parent might say. Considering the kid said he doesn't have a father, could this be even more insulting? It just seemed like an out-of-place if not inappropriate thing to say when taken into account with the general context of the interaction. Plainly put, at best Officer Rivieri sounded insincere and worst, he sounded mocking.

6) Riveiri contended that illegal skateboarding is an affront to his badge, his uniform and his police department.

Woah! Never mind that it is simply a violation of the law.

In short, Officer Rivieri personalized the issue - a very unprofessional approach for someone who is - in principal - charged with reporting, in an unbiased manner, to the court what the elements of the crime were. Ordinarily, police are expected to be the objective 'eyes and ears' of the court during testimony - that is what gives them credibility in the eyes of a judge.

Unfortunately, this probative video seems more indicative of just how badly the officer felt he could behave when he thought no one was watching and it would boil down to his word versus theirs. Any bets he didn't use that tone with the kid's mom?

7) The 'kid' who responded that he doesn't have a father suffered more insults and subsequent judgmental characterization about his mother (it's pretty evident Rivieri does not actually know her personally since) Rivieri described Bush's parents as poor disciplinarians evidently because he assumes they don't actually batter their child into submission enough.

Curiously, by Rivieri's logic, hitting a kid is considered a crime in many states. If parents did what Officer Rivieri was videotaped doing, they could be subject to charges for child abuse and battery on a household member. It begs the question, what does that say about the police officer sworn to uphold the law who bemoans lack of physical abuse in the home as an acceptable form of discipline?

8) Rivieri clearly committed Assault on at least three occasions: first when, in stead of carrying out on his threat to take the kid into custody - he instead followed through with threatening to 'smack you upside the head' for not shutting his mouth. On a second occasion when Rivieri walked toward Bush yelling, 'Don't call me 'dude!'
(this action is called 'closing distance' between himself and the alleged offender - a recognized act of aggression).

Yet another incident occurred when Rivieri hypothetically implied that the kid might suffer a worse fate - something as extreme as - being killed in the event of some future contactbetween the juvenile and Law Enforcement. Rivieri seemed to imply that Bush could die at the hands of either Rivieri himself or perhaps another possibly less 'cool-headed' police officer if the 14-year old happens to 'insult' them because he doesn't know how to respect the authority conferred to someone wearing a badge or uniform?

Of course, this veiled threat by Rivieri easily fits the elements of the crime called, "Assault" - Actions or words which could cause the victim to be in fear of receiving an imminent battery (see definition above), or fears suffering great bodily injury - including threats of death.
9) Rivieri seemed a bit
too thin-skinned when the kid called him 'dude' or 'man.' Perhaps a psychological Fitness for Duty Evaluation is in order for this officer. Rivieri's recorded behavior and actions were characterized by his own police department as 'disappointing'.

Clearly this officer has issues with respect. Moreover, the entitlement of respect as connected to his status as a police officer. Educator and renowned speaker, Ruby Payne PhD, discussed the dynamics surrounding a very similar kind of interaction her book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty. She dissected the incident paying particular attention to how both parties reacted according to the perspectives and attitudes from each individual's respective social class. According to Dr. Payne's model, Officer Rivieri was operating from a middle class frame of reference while the juvenile operated from a lower class, 'juvenile' frame of reference. It is clear from the video that each person had a set of pre-scripted, 'unwritten rules' which they were working from. Dr. Payne's criteria predicts an ominous result, conflict will ensue and the clash's outcome guarantees the police officer is going to win because he holds the power.

Interestingly, Courts could be considered to be structured along a 'middle class' value system (where, if the kid ends up being arrested, he will be charged and tried according to middle-class standards. This yields insight to why the officer behaved as he did; in essence, he knows the system well (better than the kid) and knows how to move in it comfortably - perhaps even being capable of manipulating it to his advantage. That said, the court system slants in favor or can even be said to be biased in the officer's direction. The video recorded interaction changes that as it tends to reveal the officer's capricious behavior thereby seriously undermining his credibility
- perhaps permanently - in the eyes of the Court.

It seems kind of ironic as most police departments use the words, 'To protect and serve' as a motto for their community service in keeping the peace and yet the Officer has clearly lost control because the recording reveals him to be an aggressor rather than a protector.

It is pretty simple, this kind of Battery and assault on a kid by an officer of the law who has a sore spot for the adolescent's presumed 'lack of respect' for authority because the kid responds when Rivieri wanted Kyle Bush to shut up and listen.

That being said, the extreme punishment doesn't fit the crime. While Rivieri's frustration is understandable, a police officer simply cannot beat kids up and then take their toys away when s/he feels personally affronted.

At least Officer Rivieri was correct in observing that he is not the kid's father. Unfortunately, he failed to register the idea that in that situation, he represented the citizens of Baltimore and as such, he shouldn't have violated the community's trust in him when he behaved like a petulant bully with a badge.
Rivieri is suspended - with pay - pending an internal affairs investigation which is not a bad thing because there is a police union for the city of Baltimore to contend with. They will see to it that Rivieri's due process has been protected. Officer Rivieri does have his Constitutionally guaranteed rights after all - you know the same kind of rights that are guaranteed to the kid - the same ones Rivieri violated in this unfortunate incident.

If Rivieri was trying to teach the kid a lesson, he failed miserably. Might does not make right. To be certain, police officers are Human thus, the nature of their duties tends to encroach on people's civil rights as well - however, flagrant violations as observed on this video are definitely not protected according to the Tort Claims Act. Abusive Officers can be personally sued for such unacceptable behavior.

This is a tragedy all around because, the kid who allegedly lacked respect for authority before lacks little incentive to change his thinking pursuant to the way he was treated. Officer Riveri did seem clear on the concept of his badge, and his department, I wonder if he realized how much his actions could seriously damage what he staked so much personal pride in?
While it is undeniable that police authority must be respected it must also be acknowledged that police should have a clear and convincing presence as protectors of society, there is an overwhelming disparity of power in this situation: Adult vs child, Police vs adolescent; Large adult vs scrawny kid; Gun vs skateboard; it certainly leaves the Baltimore PD with a whole lot of explaining to do.
Mayor Sheila Dixon
City Hall, Room 250
100 N. Holliday Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21202
Phone: (410) 396-3835
Fax: (410) 576-9425
Baltimore PD: 410-396-2411
Maryland States Attorneys Office: 1-410-396-4001
citizens review board: 410-396-3141

Here is a link which discusses the incident a little more in depth (click here).

“Never take a person's dignity: it is worth everything to them, and nothing to you.” - Frank Barron

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