LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton said Saturday that he plans to review the department’s policy of allowing officers to strike suspects with flashlights, following the videotaped beating of a black man last week.
“The image of the flashlight looks problematic,” Bratton said. “It looks awful, quite frankly.”
Bratton, who has headed police departments in Boston and New York City, said the authorized use of a flashlight on resistant suspects was new to him and needed to be re-evaluated. Bratton, who took control of the LAPD in October 2002, said neither East Coast police department allowed flashlights to be used that way.
The announcement came after Bratton participated in a closed-door meeting with about 60 religious, city and community leaders in midtown Los Angeles to discuss Wednesday’s violent arrest. He showed the group still images of the arrest and said he planned to review the witness statements and the officers’ backgrounds as part of the department’s inquiry. Two television news helicopters taped LAPD Officer John J. Hatfield hitting a suspected car thief 11 times with a flashlight at the end of a car chase. The man, Stanley Miller, stopped the car, jumped out and sprinted alongside a concrete flood channel before raising his hands in the air. One officer then tackled Miller ; another officer grabbed him and tried to handcuff him. Hatfield was the third officer to reach the suspect.
Criminal and administrative investigations are already under way into the use of force by the officers. All eight officers at the scene have been placed on desk duty pending the outcome.
Under department policy, Bratton said, officers are permitted to use “distraction blows” with flashlights to gain the compliance of aggressive or combative suspects. They can strike suspects in the arm and shoulder, he said, but not in the head.
“No matter what we authorize, to the public, it looks awful,” Bratton said. “If it is authorized, then our obligation is to explain why it’s authorized and what it’s intended to do.”
Bratton said the department is trying to determine where Hatfield hit Miller, who was treated for minor injuries and had bruises on his cheek and shoulder. Miller told investigators that he had been hit in the head.
Hatfield told police investigators that he administered distraction blows to the arm and shoulder blades – not the head – and that he stopped hitting Miller once the handcuffs were on, sources told the Los Angeles Times. Hatfield also said he kicked and then beat the suspect because another officer yelled that he had a gun.
Mayor James K. Hahn said Saturday that he did not want to speculate about what was in the officer’s mind but said he still has serious concerns about the use of force. “I am demanding a complete investigation and explanation and it better be good,” he said.
Geraldine R. Washington, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said she believes that officers should not wield flashlights as weapons.
The NAACP also issued a statement Saturday calling the arrest “an ugly case of police brutality” and urging that the officers be brought to justice.