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Featured Opinion

We should hold law enforcement officers to a higher standard

By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

On the video, the man is on his knees, his hands bound behind him, but he is calm, barely moving.

Suddenly, another person in the room walks over and hits the bound man. Hard. Unable to defend himself, he starts to slump forward, curling his body into a fetal position, trying to protect himself the best he can.

But the beating continues. Two, three, four swings.

Would it make it worse if I told you that the man on the floor is a law enforcement officer? That the person inflicting the beating is a convicted criminal?  What if those roles were reversed, and the officer was doing the beating?

It shouldn’t matter, right? Beating a handcuffed and defenseless man is just wrong, and I can’t think of a scenario that would make it right.

Unless you happen to live in Elmore County.

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This week, a jury in that county was shown video of the attack I described – this one by former Elmore County corrections officer Juanice Cole on prisoner Nedrick Boyd.

In the video, Cole marches Boyd into an office at the facility, orders him to kneel – which Boyd did without, apparently, as much as a word of objection – and then Cole walks over, and with Boyd’s hands secured behind his back, starts hitting him.

The Alabama Department of Corrections saw the video and, to its credit, fired Cole and another officer who watched the incident without intervening. A third officer resigned over the incident.

Cole was indicted on third-degree assault charges. A misdemeanor meaning only that a person intended to cause bodily injury and then did so.

She was not convicted.

A jury in Elmore County watched that video and said not guilty.

Seriously, what do law enforcement officers have to do to be convicted of assaulting or murdering citizens in this country?

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Over the last few years, we’ve watched as cops skated on charges of murder – even when the murder was clearly caught on tape and was clearly excessive or unnecessary force – and on various assault charges – even when, again, their deplorable acts were caught on film.

It’s not OK.

And it’s also not an “attack” of cops to expect that they behave with more restraint and control than the criminals they arrest. The same for corrections officers.

If the guys with badges and guns, who have the legal authority to deny us our freedoms, are no better than the folks being locked up, we’re pretty much done as a society.

I’m sorry, but it’s not too much to ask. And it’s also not OK that cops seem to be held to a lesser legal threshold than the average citizen.

They get the benefit of the doubt at every turn, have DAs and other cops going to bat for them and expect a rigged system.

In February 2016, a Montgomery Police officer, A.C. Smith, shot and killed Greg Gunn, an unarmed black man. Gunn was walking home in his neighborhood, was about a block from his own house, when Smith stopped him.

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According to testimony from an SBI agent who interviewed Smith twice after the shooting, Smith admitted that he never had probable cause to stop Gunn or to chase him or to Taser him several times or to hit him with a metal baton or to shoot him five times. But Smith did all of that.

Oh, Smith also admitted, according to the SBI agent, that Gunn never threatened him.

Despite all of that, Montgomery cops threatened to walk off the job because Montgomery DA Daryl Bailey and SBI had the audacity to arrest Smith – and treat him like an ordinary citizen – instead of waiting months on a grand jury to decide in secret what should happen.

That’s not OK.

Yes, being a cop is tough. And I thank the men and women who do it, especially the 99 percent who do it at a level beyond expectations.

But law enforcement shouldn’t be given a pass because they do a tough job. We have laws and rules for a reason, and our lowest expectations for those who enforce those laws is that they abide them while doing so.

And as citizens serving on juries, or merely serving in the court of public opinion, it’s our job to make sure law enforcement officers are held accountable – even held to a higher standard.

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Because if you don’t, next time, it might be you taking that defenseless beating.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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