Letter to the editor: Middlebury police chief weighs in on Floyd case
George Floyd died after being taken into custody by officers of the Minneapolis Police Department.
My initial familiarity with this case began with media images and reports. I see Mr. Floyd, handcuffed behind his back, face down on the pavement, next to a police vehicle, with a police officer, knee on the back of Mr. Floyd’s neck using his own body weight to pin Mr. Floyd down. Mr. Floyd is in obvious distress and repeatedly tells the officers he can’t breathe. The officer maintains this position for a reported 8-9 minutes until at some point Mr. Floyd is in respiratory distress and unresponsive and the hold is released. He subsequently dies at the scene.
The chain of events leading up to the final act, where Chauvin pins down Mr. Floyd are irrelevant with respect to Mr. Floyd’s treatment. Mr. Floyd was by that time under control. The application of torture, and there can be no other way to describe it, to a person who was restrained and prone, face down, who begged for relief and was denied, was beyond horrific and repugnant. And exacerbating this were three other police officers, sworn to protect life, who stood around, failing to intervene, not providing aid, and in fact turning away aid. No one seemed to be in charge. Chauvin wasn’t even a first responder. He arrived after Mr. Floyd had been taken into custody and then asserted his dominance over him. None of this has any resemblance whatsoever to my concept of police work. What I saw was an example of pack mentality. This was an example of cruelty, negligence, and intentional disregard of the inherent dignity of a human life.
I condemn the actions of these officers, while also standing proudly by our own values in our own department, which are clearly contrary to what I saw in this case:
To guide the department in fulfilling its mission, certain values and beliefs are espoused, to wit:
*The Middlebury Police Department believes in the integrity and special value of each human life. All activities of the department are therefore undertaken with the resolve that preservation of life is the utmost priority of the department.
*The Middlebury Police Department recognizes the inherent rights of people as guaranteed by the constitutions of the United States and the State of Vermont and shall ensure those rights are equitably preserved for all people.
And from our force policy is this preamble, which is reinforced in every training, several times a year:
The Middlebury Police Department recognizes and respects the value and special integrity of each human life. In vesting police officers with the lawful authority to use force to protect the public welfare a careful balancing of all human interest is required. Therefore, it is the policy of this department that police officers shall use only that force that is necessary to effectively bring an incident under control while protecting the lives and safety of the officer or another.
I could get into the technical aspects of what this officer did — restricting breathing is NOT a part of any use of force or restraint training, but that’s not the point. This was a case of a bully dominating someone he perhaps viewed as beneath him, whether based on a racial bias, cultural bias, viewing this person as sub-human, “us-against-them,” or some other bias I don’t know. The whole thing deeply saddens me, that after 46 years in the police service, striving for professionalism, I still see this going on in some corners. To what end?
And the ramification of this event, aside from the greater societal ones and erosion of confidence in the police, is that it is difficult to a attract quality people into the service. We feel it here. We cannot fill an existing vacancy while demands on the service increase. We’ve eliminated the few applicants we had, and won’t just hire people to fill spots for expedience sake.
In the meantime, I’m proud of the officers that serve Middlebury and we remain committed to our values and ideals and put them into practice every day.
Chief Thomas Hanley
Middlebury Police Department
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