Texas Police Officer Who Pulled Gun On Teenagers Suspended

Jun 8, 2015
Originally published on June 9, 2015 2:24 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

There is a new exhibit A today in the national conversation about race, police and the use of force. It's a video that comes from the Dallas suburb of McKinney. It shows an officer wrestling a black teenage girl in a bathing suit to the ground. He then pulls his weapon and aims at nearby teenage boys. NPR's Martin Kaste has this report.

(SOUNDBITE OF CELLPHONE VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: Move, move.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Like most of these cellphone videos, this one starts right in the thick of things. A couple of officers are running through a crowd of teenagers. The cops were called about a fight near a pool in a subdivision. But at this moment, they seem focused on getting the kids to leave.

(SOUNDBITE OF CELLPHONE VIDEO)

CORPORAL ERIC CASEBOLT: You're leaving now. You are leaving now.

KASTE: That's the voice of a McKinney police officer identified by numerous media outlets as Corporal Eric Casebolt. He's clearly not happy with the kids' slowness in obeying his commands. And then things escalate.

(SOUNDBITE OF CELLPHONE VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Unintelligible shouting).

KASTE: The officer starts to wrestle a teenaged African-American girl to the ground. She's in a bikini. She resists, and then two young men rush in, apparently coming to her aid. At that moment, the officer pulls his gun. It's very brief. Once the males back off, he re-holsters it, and then he grapples with her again, ultimately kneeling on her back.

(SOUNDBITE OF CELLPHONE VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Call my mama, oh God.

KASTE: The incident has caused outrage. For many, it confirms long-held beliefs about racism in the community and the sense that black kids aren't welcome in certain places. But this is also about the police and how much force they used. David Lee is an African-American author and former resident of McKinney, speaking today at a press conference outside police headquarters.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

DAVID LEE: It is appalling that this man would draw a weapon - a weapon - in the presence of not just my children, but your children - children.

KASTE: The officer's been suspended while the police department investigates. In modern policing, drawing a gun is considered a use of force. Many departments even require officers to file a report every time they unholster a gun on duty.

JIM BUEERMANN: You don't pull that gun unless you believe that there's a possibility that you're going to have to use it.

KASTE: Jim Bueermann is a retired police chief who's now president of a research organization called the Police Foundation.

BUEERMANN: And there's all kinds of reasons for that - everything from it might go off accidentally to you've got it in your hand, now what are you going to do with it? If you're not going to use it, it becomes a liability.

KASTE: Still, Bueermann says he doesn't want to judge the officer's actions based solely on the video. He calls this video hard to watch, but he says it may not tell the whole story.

BUEERMANN: The officer had to make some split-second decisions. The officer appeared to be outnumbered. He doesn't know these kids. He doesn't know if they're good kids or they're going to jump him.

KASTE: And in fact, on the video, the officer seems to be trying to explain himself to all the smartphone cameras that are pointed in his direction.

(SOUNDBITE OF CELLPHONE VIDEO)

CASEBOLT: I asked y'all to sit. You became a part of the mob. You could've been the guys that were doing right, and you weren't, so now you're sitting here in trouble.

KASTE: He seems to be echoing a frustration that you hear from a lot of police lately. In chaotic scenes like this, people seem less willing to comply with police orders. Some cops believe that noncompliance has become worse since Ferguson. That's purely anecdotal, but Jim Bueermann thinks things are changing.

BUEERMANN: We're at a different place. When I was 14 and a cop told you to do something, you did it. That's not necessarily the case anymore. We're at a different place. Our society is in a different place. And when you inject race into the equation, it gets even more complicated.

KASTE: The question then becomes how much force are Americans willing to see police use to assert their authority when people - or kids in swimsuits - don't obey? Martin Kaste, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.