The following video was first uploaded to YouTube a few days ago, and made the rounds on Facebook. It depicts a traffic stop of one Patrick Politte by a Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputy in December 2010. This video was originally posted by Politte, who subsequently made the video private. Someone else copied and uploaded it, however, so I can present it to you. Note that there is no audio until the 6:20 mark, when the deputy apparently turns on the microphone on his in-car camera system. Also note that there is speculation this video has been somehow altered, although a YouTube commenter who seems to know says it was not. If the video does not appear below, click here to view it.
Some will argue police abuse when they see this video, others will say Politte should have gotten out of the car and not driven drunk. I think it is safe to say that the physical force used was excessive. If you go to YouTube and search for “Patrick Politte,” the first result is the profile photo that used to accompany Politte’s account with the site. Assuming that it was taken after the traffic stop, he was knocked around pretty bad. Also see the very end of the video.
The aggressive action starts at about the three-minute mark, when the deputy opens the car door and grabs the driver by the face. This may have been preceded by a brief initial request to exit the car. The overriding sense one gets from this video is one of unprofessionalism and lack of competence, a cop who quickly lost control of the situation and became increasingly invested in “winning” the confrontation.
After the first physical contact, some more conversation occurs, then at the four-minute mark, boom, out comes the deputy’s gun, in another seemingly excessive escalation. Apparently deciding that shooting Politte was unwarranted, the deputy pulls out his pepper spray. After a few yanks on the driver’s collar, he gives him a shot of the good stuff right in the face. Whether he was refusing to get out of the car out of DWI avoidance, imagined defense of civil liberties, or a bit of both, one has to admire Politte’s resolve here. Most people probably would have given up the fight at this point.
After another shot of pepper spray and more collar yanks, the deputy makes another foray to this tool belt, this time pulling out a retractable baton. He appears to place it at the driver’s throat, then makes a few whacks at his leg. At this point, we get audio, and we hear the deputy repeating, over and over, between whacks and yanks, “Get out of the vehicle!” That is all he can come up with to say at this point, I guess. How long had he been chanting this before the audio came on? The driver responds that he wants to know why he was pulled over. Sounds like a fair question to me.
At the seven-minute mark, backup arrives in the form of a younger, smaller, more fit deputy. He starts pulling on the driver’s arm and delivers a couple of right fists to the face. With a little tag-teaming, they finally drag him out of the car just before the eight-minute mark (Politte must have had an iron grip on the wheel or something to have resisted this as he did). At 10:14 on the video, the handcuffed driver is sat upright, and you can see that his shirt has been shredded and the right side of his face is quite bloody.
The deputy conducting this traffic stop is Vern Martin, whose job is devoted entirely to DWI enforcement, I believe. The deputy who arrived to do backup is probably Daniel Spradling, who was subpoenaed, along with Martin, as part of the court proceedings in the case resulting from this traffic stop. Both deputies were “reprimanded,’ I have heard. I don’t know what that entailed. Spradling is no longer with the Department, but I don’t know if that is because of this incident. The county prosecutor reviewed this incident, but declined to press charges.
I served on a jury some time after this, and Martin testified in the case. He had a lot of difficulty explaining from the stand how to do a field sobriety test, and the defense lawyer made much hay out of this, considering that DWI enforcement is the guy’s job. It was not helpful to the prosecution.
For background information, see 11JE-CR00370-01 – ST V PATRICK ANDREW POLITTE on Casenet. This resulted in guilty pleas for Persistent Offender DWI and Resisting/Interfering With Arrest, Detention Or Stop. He spent a year in jail. This was his third DWI, he has since received one more. A reading of the resisting arrest statute suggests that this charge was unwarranted; it seems to require “using or threatening the use of violence or physical force or by fleeing from such officer.” Politte did none of these; he merely passively resisted. The law does say a person is presumed to be fleeing if he doesn’t stop when he sees the police lights behind him. Politte didn’t stop until about a minute after the video starts, but one could argue that he was looking for a good place to pull over. There wasn’t much of a shoulder anywhere along the route. He also was not going very fast during the minute before pulling over. Now, I don’t know if this is how the law is enforced, but based on a reading of the statute alone, that’s what I see.
On the subject at the center of this incident, it appears that the driver was in the wrong. According to my legal staff, the Supreme Court has ruled that police have the right to order someone to exit their vehicle on a traffic stop. And of course driving drunk is bad. However, none of this excuses the behavior of these officers. It seems to me that a cop should react to this driver as one reacts to one of those hippies who chains himself to a tree. Get a third officer, pry his fingers loose, cuff him in the car, cut his steering wheel off, etc. But don’t hit him, punch him, pepper spray him, and point a gun at him because he non-violently refuses an order. How often does this kind of thing happen in our county without anyone hearing about it?