Thursday, December 29, 2011

Police: No charges yet in Park Plaza shooting UPDATE

Posted By on Thu, Dec 29, 2011 at 6:59 AM

OFFICIAL SECRETS: Chief Stuart Thomas still mum about October wreck involving former assistant police chief.
  • OFFICIAL SECRETS: Chief Stuart Thomas still mum about October wreck involving former assistant police chief.
Sgt. Cassandra Davis said the Little Rock police have NOT filed charges against Joseph Williams, the driver of a car seriously wounded Tuesday by police officer Chris Johannes' gunshot in the Park Plaza parking deck. Johannes has said he felt threatened when Williams' car backed up fast toward him and others as it backed out of a parking space. The car was going forward when it crashed following the gunshots.

Johannes wanted to stop the car to talk to occupants about a report from a Cabot woman that the men had asked her 17-year-old daughter to join them in the car. I wrote earlier, based on a Democrat-Gazette account, that Williams, who is hospitalized at UAMS, faced charges of aggravated assault, first-degree battery and possession of drugs (presumably the white powder found in the car). In an e-mail this morning, however, Davis said no charges had yet been filed against anyone in the incident. The charges listed are among those listed as being investigated in detectives' summary of the initial report, which you'll find linked below.

The investigation continues. I can't recall, however, a police investigation that failed to justify a Little Rock officer's use of deadly force. Given the haze of fast-moving events, it's understandable that officers get benefit of some doubt in enforcing order. But I do think it's important to keep in mind the probable cause for stopping this vehicle — a spoken overture, with no physical contact, to a young woman.

I was surprised by Sgt. Davis' statement to the D-G that the police were considering filing harassment charges against the two other men in Williams' car for talking to the woman. An officer firing at a car moving toward him his one thing. Stacking charges against two passengers to improve the appearance of the attempted stop is another. If the police believe that words spoken by these men constitute criminal activity, they should have charged them already.

Speaking of police investigations: Does Police Chief Stuart Thomas ever intend to tell the public what officers found about the curious late-night car wreck in which former Assistant Chief Carlos Corbin was involved? Corbin was allowed to retire without completion of that investigation and the chief has been sitting on it since. The investigation of the wreck is a public matter, no matter how badly the chief wants to deem it a personnel matter and thus an official secret.

If you've time, I'd recommend the comments thread on the KATV report of the Park Plaza shooting. It captures the dominant themes of virtually every episode of its type: 1) absolute support for police; 2) skepticism about police self-investigation; 3) racism. I'm still undecided. But I think a lot of people have been influenced in their thinking about this case by use of words like "force" and "abduction" relative to the words spoken between the men in the car and the Cabot 17-year-old. And, yes, clearly, some have been influenced by the fact that the men are black and the young woman white. Those quoted words were not used by the police or intimated in their reports, however. Some, too, don't understand that deadly force may not be used simply because someone an officer would like to talk with is fleeing. It may be used because of threat of harm to the officer or others, which is what Johannes has expressed about the vehicle backing out of its parking space at a high speed.

UPDATE: To add to your information on the case, here's a summary of the incident compiled by the detective division. Note the description of how events were set in motion. The 17-year-old from Cabot found a mall security guard to report that "a black male rolled down his window and asked her if she wanted to get into his vehicle." Harassment?

UPDATE II: I received a large stack of incident reports this afternoon reflecting the number of times Johannes has reported using force or other extraordinary means, such as vehicle or foot pursuit, in an arrest. He reported use of physical force — takedowns, knee strikes pressure points — in dozens of cases, most involving domestic disputes or drunk and disorderly people in public places (also a naked couple arguing in a downtown hotel). The dozens of incidents of physical force, often described as minor, include no incidents in which Johannes used a firearm. He did report use of pepper spray several times to subdue unruly suspects. The police have no record of complaints to the agency about use of force by Johannes.

Johannes has reported several run-ins with suspects in his private duty job at Park Plaza, beginning with resistance from his attempt to evict a man who'd been banned from the mall in 2005. Three times in 2008 he reported using "knee strikes" to subdue people resisting — shoplifters in two cases and, in one case, a man who'd been banned from the mall. He had to chase and take down a man in 2009 who ran when Johannes tried to enforce a previous ban from the premises. Also in 2009, he arrested a man who resisted when Johannes tried to break up a fight between the man and a woman in the parking deck. Aug. 5, 2010, Johannes arrested one shoplifter in a mall shop, but had to chase another. He said she resisted, so he pulled her to the ground and landed on her back while holding her wrist. He called for help when the suspect continued to struggle and use obscenities. She wasn’t found in possession of stolen articles, but articles she’d left in a dressing room were found without tags. She was charged with possession of crime tools — wire cutters and a pry bar.

PS — Read no editorial comment into this brief recitation of a volumninous record. Life on patrol produces may confrontations with stubbornly aggressive (and often drunk) people. If I formed an opinion it is that the lack of complaints against Johannes is significant as is the absence of a record of previous firearm use.

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