Cult of Compliance: 77 Year Old Blind Man Beaten by Police; Police Department says “Within Department Policies”

This case is from 2012, but I first noticed it on this DailyKos diary. It’s a perfect example of the “cult of compliance,” a phrase I’ve been using since 2013 to link otherwise discrete incidents of police brutality, creeping authoritarianism, and broader examples of cultural discourse that venerate compliance as the greatest of all virtues.

Here’s a 77-year-old blind middle class white man beaten by police. It’s not knowable how this case would have turned out had he not been disabled, or been black, or been younger, but it’s important to mark the ways in which he could resist police narratives of justified use of force, at least in the eyes of a jury. It often takes a “perfect victim” to win any kind of restitution. He sued and just won $400000. Here’s what seems to have happened:

White of Eagle was trying to get back home from a conference on technical advancements to assist the blind. He arrived at the Greyhound station downtown to learn the bus he wanted to get on was full. He says the employee told White he could stay at the station and wait.

Then a security guard told White he was trespassing and called police. The security guard did not tell White the police were on the way. When Officer Kyllion Chafin arrived on scene White asked to see his badge.
“He says how are you going to look at my badge if you’re blind?” explained White. “I said I just want to touch your badge. He said you’re not touching me.”
That’s when the incident escalated. Chafin pulled White’s arms behind his back and threw him onto the counter, hitting and causing bleeding to White’s head.

After putting the man in cuffs, Chafin’s supervisor Sergeant Robery Wyckoff began to record an interview with White without reading him his Miranda rights.

Wyckoff was promoted to Lieutenant last year.

Another article notes: “Bleeding from the head, White was handcuffed and taken to the Denver jail. He was released about eight hours later, near midnight. No criminal charge was filed against White.”

Both Chafin – the officer who decided that a blind man asking to touch his badge – and the Lieutenant, are still Denver police officers.

The Denver Police Department did not respond to specific questions but did send the following statement:
“We believe in the judicial process and respect the jury’s decision. The Department of Safety and the Denver Office of the Independent Monitor took part in reviewing the incident, and the Denver Police Department found that the officers’ actions fell within department policies. We are always looking for ways to improve.”

Here we have a civilian, as nonthreatening as could be, asking for a reasonable accommodation to verify the identity of a law enforcement officer (LEO). Instead, the LEO decided that his non-compliance justified force, and slammed him down on a desk (there are pictures of his bloody head, if you’re the doubting kind). Notice, though, the chain of the cult of compliance, starting with the bus employees who decided that throwing out an old blind man was the right call.

Here are two principles:

  1. Lack of compliance, on its own, absent other threat indicators, must not be used to justify force. 
  2. Officers who violate principle #1 must be held accountable for their actions by law enforcement itself. If such actions do not violate department policies, change your policies.

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