CNN LIVE TODAY
Caught on Tape: California Officer Relieved of Duty
Aired July 9, 2002 - 12:36 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Shades of Rodney King: an arrest caught on tape, images that even police admit disturb them.
CNN's Thelma Gutierrez has more on the incident under investigation now in a Los Angeles suburb.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please, you guys, do not resist him!
THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sixteen-year- old Donovan Chavis on the ground, surrounded by six officers.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just don't want the boy to lose his life.
GUTIERREZ: He is lifted to his feet, grabbed by the collar and belt, and slammed on the hood of a police car. Seconds later, an officer identified as Jeremy Morse with the Inglewood Police Department throws a punch at the teenager's head.
MITCH CROOKS, AMATEUR PHOTOGRAPHER: It's just disgusting, you know? We all love our police and our firemen, but this is just -- this has got to stop.
GUTIERREZ: Mitch Crooks shot the videotape from his hotel room Saturday.
CROOKS: I had moved it around because I was afraid that the police were going to come up for it. And I went into my room, changed my clothes. And then there was seven sheriff officers knocking on the door, asking questions.
GUTIERREZ (on camera): For the Inglewood Police Department, the videotape has been a public-relations nightmare. Now one of their veteran police officers has been placed on administrative leave. And internal affairs has launched a full investigation.
LT. EVE IRVINE, INGLEWOOD POLICE DEPARTMENT: What occurred within the video is extremely disturbing to the Inglewood Police Department, as well as the administrators of the city of Inglewood.
GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Inglewood police aren't saying much about what led up to the incident, only that Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies had stopped the car, the license plates has expired, and Koby Chavis, Donovan's father, was driving with a suspended license.
Police say Donovan lunged at an officer. They say Officer Morse sustained cuts. On the video, he appears to be bleeding. Donovan's family members say they don't believe the teenage was the instigator.
TALIBAH SHAKIR, COUSIN: But Donovan has always been a very subdued type of child. He is quiet. He doesn't bother anyone. And I don't believe Donovan fought those police. I really don't.
DONOVAN CHAVIS, ARRESTED BY POLICE: Why I was arrested? I don't know.
GUTIERREZ: Family members say Donovan is a special-education student, that he has an auditory disability and a speech impediment and is sometimes slow to react.
IRVINE: The incident is being taken very seriously.
GUTIERREZ: Because this is an ongoing investigation, the officers involved aren't commenting.
As for Koby and Donovan Chavis:
KOBY CHAVIS, FATHER: At nighttime, he is scared to go sleep by himself at night. He wakes up, like, screaming.
GUTIERREZ: They say an apology isn't enough. They want justice.
Thelma Gutierrez, CNN, Inglewood, California.
PHILLIPS: Well, police say Chavis lunged at the officer before the videotape began. But the lawyer for the boy's family says Chavis was caught -- quote -- "being in the wrong place and being the wrong color" -- end quote.
Here is what he said on CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING" about the incident itself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE HOPKINS, ATTORNEY FOR CHAVIS: Well, what happened at the scene is Donovan and his father essentially pulled in to get some gas. They were not stopped. While Donovan was going to the booth to pay for the gas, two L.A. County sheriffs drove by, took a look at Mr. Chavis, who was still sitting in the car, made a U-turn, came back.
By that time, Donovan was coming back from paying for the gas. He had some potato chips in his hand. He was told by the sheriff, who had now exited their car, "Drop the potato chips and step back from the car." And essentially from that point on, the police had created an emergency.
Donovan stepped back from the car. He was basically taken by the sheriff, sat in their car. But before he could hardly sit down, the Inglewood Police Department -- I don't know whether they had been called or what -- but four of their officers showed up. Donovan stood up, and as he stood up, the sheriff grabbed the kid by the neck and held him, essentially, while the Inglewood Police Department, four officers took turns beating him. That was the beginning.
It went from there to him being slammed onto the ground, onto the cement, drug by an 18-inch metal chain, which almost -- what -- five days later, the prints are still there as if they were -- or had attempted to hang him. The kid is essentially traumatized even today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIPS: Authorities also have collected the images from the gas station surveillance cameras -- no word yet on what they could show.
Well, joining us from New Orleans with some insight on the incident and its legal implication is Howard Robertson. Howard is the chief investigator for the New Orleans district attorney's office. And he's a former SWAT commander with the New Orleans Police Department.
Howard, good to see you.
HOWARD ROBERTSON, FORMER NEW ORLEANS POLICE OFFICER: Good morning, Kyra. How you doing?
PHILLIPS: Very good.
You got see the tape, so what is your overall reaction, first of all?
ROBERTSON: Well, my overall reaction is, the tape is only the end result. The tape doesn't show me what happened, what led up to the incident, only the final result.
What I did see, naturally, bring some -- if it was here in New Orleans, the district attorney's office would immediately start investigating because there's criminal implications. And the FBI has to immediately start investigating because they are civil rights violations.
The main thing that I did not see was a supervisor on the scene. You know, the first thing we look for is a supervisor to come in and make sure that he takes control of the scene, so that, once the subject is handcuffed, he is no longer touched.
PHILLIPS: Now, we are talking to you today, because, when you were SWAT commander and with the New Orleans Police Department, you were very involved in cleaning up the corruption in that department. So, when you look at something like this, are these cops corrupt or are they just not trained well?
ROBERTSON: No, they are not corrupt at all. There is no -- you shouldn't put any correlation between the two. The thing have you to remember here is that, not knowing what caused the incident, people get -- especially police officers get -- their adrenaline starts pumping. They are all involved in what is going on. They are making an arrest. And, at this case, it looks like they are not sure what the arrest is about.
And the most important thing is, somebody has to step in and say: "Your adrenaline is a little too high. Step back." If somebody doesn't do that, the officer has an opportunity to overreact. When he does, he steps over the line.
PHILLIPS: And, especially, it looks like a scuffle did happen. He has a cut on the side of his head. He is bleeding. You see something with his shoulder. Put us in the mind-set here of this officer, Jeremy Morse.
ROBERTSON: Well, I'm saying, not knowing what caused the incident and what happened -- all I know is what I have heard from the mother and from looking at the tape.
And when a police officer gives somebody an instruction, he expects them to follow it. When they don't follow the instruction, what starts going through the officer's mind is, this person is hesitating because he is thinking of a plan to escape, a plan maybe to draw a weapon to attack the officer. So, the officer gets very defensive.
In this particular case, this boy may have just been slow, where it is not that he didn't want to react immediately. He just was processing everything slowly. When he didn't react, the officer took aggressive action, which would be to handcuff him, put him on the ground and handcuff him. You could see where the officer was bleeding from his head. And he showed another officer there was an injury. So, obviously, something happened, but I didn't see that on the tape.
PHILLIPS: Now, does this surprise you? Because, after the Rodney King incident, I know departments all across the country, even the departments within Los Angeles, they were -- officers were on guard. They had to be so careful about how they treated the public. So, does this surprise you that this happened?
ROBERTSON: It doesn't surprise me at all.
In every academy class I teach, especially supervision classes, the key to remember is, you know that when an officer responds to a call, the siren is on. The adrenaline gets pumped up that an officer is responding. He has -- there is always a possibility that he is going to overreact. And because of that, you teach the supervisor to respond to the scene. And his job is not making the arrest, but making sure everything is handled properly, and, once that person is handcuffed, that he is put into a police car.
And, actually, the police officer becomes a protector of the person they arrested once those handcuffs are on.
PHILLIPS: Chief investigator for the New Orleans district attorney's office, Howard Robertson -- thanks, Howard.
ROBERTSON: Thank you, Kyra.
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