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Burden of Proof

Arrest After High-Speed Chase Raises Questions of Brutality

Aired July 14, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: A high-speed chase, shots are fired, and a controversial arrest captured by a television news helicopter.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Did the police follow procedure, or is it a case of police brutality? That's today on BURDEN OF PROOF.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JERRY MONDESIRE, PRESIDENT, PHILADELPHIA CHAPTER OF NAACP: This was a case where force was used above and beyond the call of duty. Officers were seen jumping over their cars to kick and stomp Mr. Jones, who had already been wounded multiple times by police weapons.

MAYOR LEE BROWN, HOUSTON, TEXAS: It looks bad, there is no doubt about that, but let us not rush to judgment. The police department has to conduct the investigation to find out exactly what happened.

COMM. JOHN TIMONEY, PHILADELPHIA POLICE: We need to do a thorough investigation. We need to interview those officers. What did they hear, what did they see, what are they reacting to?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.

COSSACK: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

Thomas Jones has been charged with two counts of attempted murder, aggravated assault, car theft, and reckless endangerment following a high-speed car chase in Philadelphia.

According to the police, the first time they pulled Jones over, he sped off and crashed the stolen car. As bullets flew, Jones escaped on foot, he jumped into an empty patrol car, and allegedly shot an officer in the hand, as he reached in to turn off the ignition.

VAN SUSTEREN: The second car chase ended when police officers surrounded and dragged Jones from the stolen patrol car. A helicopter news camera captured what appeared to be about a dozen police officers punching and kicking Jones for about 30 seconds.

Joining us from Boston is Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree. And in New York, we're joined by criminal defense attorney Joe Tacopina.

COSSACK: And here in Washington, Brian Hauk (ph), former president of the Fraternal Order of Police Gary Hankins, and Beth Weiss (ph).

And in the back, Caroline Rantz (ph), Emily Rust (ph), and Shantell Feeser (ph).

VAN SUSTEREN: But first, we'll go to CNN's Deborah Feyerick, who is in Philadelphia.

Deborah, the investigation is just starting, but tell me, what are both sides, the police and also the family of the man who was arrested, what are they saying the facts are?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, to bring you up to date on everything that's happening here, the mayor this morning was in meetings all day, you know, business leaders, city council members, members of the clergy. A source close to the mayor tells CNN that they really feel that the police department is being unfairly portrayed.

They say that the brutality that characterized the police department back in the early '70s is not the case now, that major efforts were made back in the '80s, and early '90s to try to change that and build relationships between the police and the community.

Now, the mayor and the police commissioner each joined together at a bike race -- or a bike ride for children earlier today. I asked the police commissioner what he thought about the procedure that was followed based what he saw in the videotape. And he said, when asked about the kicking, he said, well, no, it is not something that police officers learn in the academy. And no, it is certainly not the way to do business. But he said, in a life and death situation, officers do what they feel they need to.

The big question, Greta and Roger, is this gun. The officer was shot in the hand, but right now police have not recovered any sort of a weapon, that they have gone into question several people who were in the neighborhood who saw what happened.

We spoke to two eyewitnesses. One young girl said that she saw something in the suspect's hands, in Thomas Jones' hands, but she cannot positively identify that as a gun. A second eyewitness also said that he saw something in the suspect's hand, but he thought it was sort of a dark piece of cloth.

So that is a big question: Where is this gun that was allegedly used to shoot the police officer?

Excessive force, well, that is a big issue that's being looked into by both the Justice Department and also the police department because you have to keep in mind more than 40 shots were fired, and this was even before suspect, Thomas Jones, fled in a police car. So all of this under investigation here -- Greta and Roger.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let's go to Boston and to Harvard law Professor Charles Ogletree.

Tree, an awful lot of shots are fired, I'm looking at the tape. What do you discern -- what is your view? And I realize this is early in the investigation.

CHARLES OGLETREE, CRIMINAL LAW PROFESSOR: Well, the worst part about it, Greta and Roger, is that this is Rodney King all over again. People will try to deny that, but what we see on videotape are police officers, who were sworn to serve and protect and uphold the law, engaged in lawlessness. It is one thing to stop a suspect, to apprehend, arrest and have prosecuted, but to kick and beat and stomp and choke.

We've seen this in Los Angeles, we've seen it in New York, we've seen it in other parts of the country. And it is a sad commentary on the fact that even though you can't excuse the conduct of the suspect here, you cannot either excuse police lawlessness, even in enforcing the law.

COSSACK: Tree, is it fair to say that this is Rodney King all over again? And let me just make my point. In King, it was clear, it seems, that King was doing really nothing to battle these police officers, and there was just sort of a gross and violent beating of King.

VAN SUSTEREN: And he was down on his hands and knees.

COSSACK: And he was down on his hands and knees. In this case, what we see on the videotape is stage three of a guy who didn't just say: OK, you can arrest me or, yes, you can take me into custody, or even put up a little bit of a battle. Apparently, he was first seen trying the get over a fence, he broke away from the police officers, then fought it out with them in a patrol car, tried to get away in a patrol car, and finally was subdued with this scene we've seen on tape. Not good, but is it right to compare it to Rodney King?

OGLETREE: Absolutely, Roger, for this reason: think about it, there are a lot of things police officers can do, they have weapons, they have handcuffs. I don't know anywhere in the police manual where it says that one of the things you need to do is kick a suspect repeatedly and repeatedly and repeatedly. They have the right to arrest him, they have the right to be upset. They have the right to prosecute him to the full extent of the law. They don't have the right to treat him like an animal simply because they are upset.

Police have to be judged by a different standard, that's absolutely clear. And the reason that we have this is that we get it from television.

Let me tell you this: I have no doubt that in the next 48 to 72 hours we will know everything bad about this suspect's record, and it will be front line information. But I urge and implore the media to look at every one of these officers. We know their names, we can see their badge numbers, and see what we know about prior cases of excessive force or brutality. And to not let this become another case like Patrick Doorsman, where the person who was interested, Patrick Doorsman was the security guard shot and killed in New York City, we focus more on what he did in the past, and not about the police conduct.

I really implore the media to look at this case, not wait for the Justice Department, not wait for Philadelphia, not wait for the commissioner, who I respect, the Philadelphia commissioner, but the media has to look at this right now so that we don't get a spin on this story, and never get the full truth about what happened after the arrest. That is what is key.

VAN SUSTEREN: Gary, I saw you shaking your head.

GARY HANKINS, FORMER PRESIDENT, FRATERNAL ORDER OF POLICE: Well, I like to say that this gentleman does a disservice to anybody who has truly been the subject of police brutality and excessive use or force by trying to compare this to Rodney King.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me stop you.

HANKINS: Let me finish. This is a case where the information the officers have available to them at the time they are trying to make this arrest: This is a subject who has resisted arrest violently, he has already managed to get away from multiple officers, wound one of them in the hand, he's armed with a weapon.

So when they stop him, this isn't a question of: What is this person going to do? This person has demonstrated that he will use deadly force on police officers, this information they have.

VAN SUSTEREN: Gary, let me just ask you one question...

HANKINS: Now, they are acting as human beings.

VAN SUSTEREN: I got to tell you. Let me ask you about the deadly force question. I've got to tell you, I've done enough cases as a defense lawyer is that oftentimes police officers say that a suspect shot him and they can't found the gun. They haven't found the gun yet here. And I've got to tell you that I'm a little bit suspicious. The facts are unknown, a lot of good officers out there, but I'm not so sure.

HANKINS: That's spoken exactly from the defense attorney's perspective, and I congratulate you on that professional perspective. But, as a police officer, and you've got to see this yourself, people who are being pursued by the police get rid of evidence. We chase drug dealers, they are throwing away money, they are throwing away drugs. We chase people who are armed with weapons, they pitch the weapons. It is not at all unusual for us...

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me follow-up on Gary one second. There are two other things that strike me as odd is this videotape that we refer to as 30 seconds, I think probably 26 seconds is a more accurate description I have heard, is an awful long time to be kicking someone.

I also saw in the videotape, and I don't know all the facts, but I also saw on the videotape police officers jumping over cars and sort of piling on to, which was rather -- and the fact that he shot five times, twice in the abdomen, three times in the arm. You know, police certainly had a right to stop him, but doesn't it at least -- don't you become suspicious that they crossed the line when you have those facts?

HANKINS: Let's look at the facts, and the facts -- or the information they had available. And remember, there are 13,000 dead police officers' names on a memorial not five blocks from here because they often said: Well, I'm going to take a chance here and try to handle this, and the suspect surprises them.

When you are trying to arrest someone who has a weapon, and that's what the information they have is, that he has had a weapon and he has used it, you don't want to give him an instant to be able to control himself or the situation. And you are scared to death.

Anybody who looks at police officers and has the audacity to say: Well, we want them to be emotionless and we want to hold hem to a higher standard, unless of course we want them to exercise compassion and discretion in their duties, is denying police officers the humanity that Title 7 of the code says we all have. We're not to have the rights that these people want to have who complain about them.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, we're going to take a break and we're going to continue this discussion. We're going to bring in Joe Tacopina from New York. We'll bring him into the discussion. We'll be right back. Stay with us.

(BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF)

Marlboro Township is the first New Jersey community to ban the use of hand-held cellular phones while driving. Violators face a fine of as much as $250.

(END LEGAL BRIEF)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSSACK: Good news for our Internet-savvy viewers: You can now watch BURDEN OF PROOF live on the World Wide Web. Just log onto cnn.com/burden. We now provide a live video feed Monday through Friday at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. And if you miss that live show, the program is available on the site at any time via video-on-demand. You can also interact with our show and even join our chat room.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COMM. JOHN TIMONEY, PHILADELPHIA POLICE: This is not Rodney King. Rodney King was a guy who wasn't resisting, who was in a fetal, supine position, being wailed away with billy clubs: 56 blows over a two- or three-minute period. This is not the case. This is the heat of battle, and then the issue is, did emotions run too high? We have to look at all those things.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: Welcome back.

We're going to go now to New York to Joe Tacopina.

Joe, is this Rodney King at least in some form?

JOE TACOPINA, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Greta, I don't see how anyone, including Charles Ogletree, can make that assertion. I mean, it's almost ridiculous. Aside from the fact that what Rodney King was doing, as you just heard John Timoney say, and what this person was doing and all the differences there and all the different actions of the police officers, what you have in this case that you have to acknowledge is that you have a video that doesn't allow you to see what this guy is doing on the floor -- what Mr. Jones is doing. And unless you can say you see him resisting or cowering or doing nothing, how can you challenge just by way of the videotape what these police officers did.

COSSACK: Joe, let me...

TACOPINA: The -- yes?

COSSACK: Let me see if I can answer that question.

TACOPINA: Go ahead.

COSSACK: And I -- and, again, I -- you know, we don't know yet and we want to keep an open mind. But what the video does show is about, you know, eight or nine police officers around this guy who apparently is clearly down on the ground. And for a period of 25 to 30 seconds, these eight or nine police officers are, however you want to say it, attempting to subdue him, whatever they may be, but they are clearly beating on this guy.

Now, I think you can make an argument that, perhaps, that while not the same as Rodney King, it's symbolic of a Rodney King-type activity. How would you answer that?

TACOPINA: It's symbolic for people who want to, you know, slander the police and be quick to judge them and condemn them. It is symbolic. It's great. It's another videotape. But until all the facts are out, look, did any of these officers overstep their bounds, Rogers? Perhaps, but that's what investigations are for. And how can we, a day after this case has happened, say we know what happened?

And think about this for one second: Here is a guy who the police believe carjacked this vehicle two weeks ago. They're chasing him. He overpowers police officers on two occasions before what you see on that videotape.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, let me ask you about that, Joe.

TACOPINA: He shoots a cop, he bites a cop.

VAN SUSTEREN: Joe, let me ask you that.

TACOPINA: Yes, Greta. VAN SUSTEREN: You know, yes, that is all bad, that's horrible. The police had an obligation...

TACOPINA: It's not bad, it happened.

VAN SUSTEREN: Wait a second. The police had an obligation to chase him, they had an obligation to subdue him...

TACOPINA: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... but what we look at on the tape, the 26 seconds, let's say, hypothetically, give the police the first 15 seconds, they're still in the heat of battle.

TACOPINA: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: But at 26 seconds, there came a time when -- and it could very well have been excessive force because there came a time they knew they had subdued him, they know that he was out-manned 16 to one.

TACOPINA: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: And it's at that point. That's when, you know, it was no longer a subduing.

HANKINS: You're ignoring a very important part.

TACOPINA: Greta, so that means the last 11 seconds is the only thing that's wrong with this video?

VAN SUSTEREN: No, no, I'm saying that you can analyze it that way, that at some point -- that the police had an obligation, but at some point they went too far.

COSSACK: All right, let's let Gary -- hold on Joe, let's let Gary get in.

HANKINS: That analysis ignores several things. First of all, at a point, be it at 15 or 25 seconds into this, they did subdue -- consider him subdued, secure him, arrest him and lead him away. There's a lot of talk about the officer who jumped over the car. He jumped over the car, and when he saw what was happening he stepped back. He didn't get involved.

When you're dealing with someone who has -- may have a weapon and you have information to believe that he has shot someone, I would, and I think any human being would, take every measure they can to make sure that person...

TACOPINA: That's right.

HANKINS: ... cannot exercise deadly force against them. And what we're down to now in this setting, 24 hours or 48 hours later, is: Was 15 seconds OK? was 16? Are we going to be talking seconds? What we're ignoring is the very real threat these officers were facing, and they took what they had to do, the steps necessary.

COSSACK: All right, Tree, let me ask you to respond to this -- to what I think the conversation has now gotten down to. Look, this is a dangerous guy, no question about it. This was a guy who didn't give into arrest. This was a guy that, by the time the police got there, a lot of things have happened. It was a state of flux. Perhaps 15 seconds was necessary; perhaps 10 seconds wasn't. Does this make this a Rodney King, does this make this a police brutality case?

OGLETREE: The answer is, yes, Roger. And let me tell you why, with all due respect to Gary Hankins, who I remember from my days in Washington. Remember Rodney King? I'm hearing this incredible, revisionist history. Remember, he was this monster, "Gorillas in the Mist," he was buffed in prison, that he might have been on PCP, that he resisted arrest over and over and over again. He was made a monster. He had violated the law, he was driving more than 100 miles an hour. The idea was that Rodney King was an evil person, now you make him like a saint.

This guy, just like Rodney King, is a criminal. Three points: He should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law for every crime he committed.

VAN SUSTEREN: Tree, let me ask -- OK, go ahead.

OGLETREE: Second point: Police officers have no authority at all to use excessive force. They can use reasonable force in response to the situation.

TACOPINA: So you're the one who decides that?

OGLETREE: And the third point: If it's determine -- if -- the third is if any of these police officers, after a true hearing and all the evidence is in, committed excessive force, they should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. That's all I'm saying, three- points. He should be punished...

TACOPINA: That's not what you said before, though.

VAN SUSTEREN: Tree, define for me, what is excess...

OGLETREE: What I said is Rodney King all over again because I thought that the kicking, just at -- not much about law; I'm talking about what the case will show -- the kicking, from my eyes, has little to do with saying this suspect is fleeing, he's resisting or he can't be apprehended. That number of officers, the kicking was gratuitous, it was excessive and it was troubling.

TACOPINA: What would you say if they had shot him or hit him with the baton? If they hit him with the baton, would you have been happier or what?

COSSACK: Let's take a break here because we have to.

We'll more on this when we come back. We're going to talk about Philadelphia's police force, which is still recovering its reputation from the 1960s and the 1970s as one of the most brutal in the nation. But is it ready for the 2000 Republican convention? Stay with us.

(BEGIN Q&A)

Q: On this day in 1966, Richard Speck committed what was then called the "crime of the century" in Chicago. What crime did he commit?

A: Speck was convicted of killing eight student nurses at the South Chicago Community Hospital.

(END Q&A)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSSACK: And we're back talking about charges of alleged police brutality by the Philadelphia police department.

VAN SUSTEREN: Not by the department, by a few, make sure. Because there's a lot of good police officers who are not getting alleged against.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amen.

VAN SUSTEREN: There you go.

COSSACK: Greta, I'm going to have you sit over there on that panel.

Gary, you saw the tape with us. Is there any part of that tape that disturbs you as a police officer?

HANKINS: I don't know what was going on the ground. What I...

COSSACK: You saw officers kicking.

HANKINS: Right, and I wouldn't...

COSSACK: Does that disturb you at all?

HANKINS: No, because I don't think we should say to police officers it's all right to use your fist, your baton, whatever, but if it comes to the foot, then take the shot because you are not allowed to use your feet.

What we are dealing with are individuals, police officers who have been advised that they have an armed suspect. An officer's down as a result of an encounter with him moments earlier. And they get him out of the car. He's on the ground. We can't see what is going on. But if we allow him the luxury of controlling himself for a moment, when we know he may have a weapon and has used deadly force, then we are not human. Human beings are not going to do that.

VAN SUSTEREN: Tree, in order to -- I mean, obviously the facts need to be figured out some point. COSSACK: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: But tell me, in order to at least figure out whether there's excessive force, we need to know what excessive force is. How does the law looks at it?

OGLETREE: It's defined as the amount of force reasonably necessary to apprehend or subdue a person. I didn't say a suspect, it could be a witness, it could be any person who is resisting and that's what is allowed. And police have authority to use both non-deadly and deadly force. They can use a firearm to kill a person when there's a threat to the safety of the officer or others. That's completely legal. There's no question about the authority that they have to use.

The test, I don't want to get overly technical here, is part objective and subjective. Subjective, as Gary Hankins mentioned, the police officer's in a hot situation trying to figure out what to do. And they have to use their best judgment on the spot of the moment -- the spur of the moment, to make a judgment.

Objectively, the court has to come back and look at that conduct and decide whether or not it's reasonable or within the terms of what that means in the law. And I think that's going to be the real question here in terms of what each of these officers did, why they did it.

And we will have testimony from all of them. We will have the videotape. We will have their injuries. And hopefully we will have a weapon, if one exists. And we will have some reason why there were 43 cartridges, I believe, found in the area. All that evidence will go to the totality of the circumstances, to understand what happened here, and why it happened.

COSSACK: Let met just interrupt you a second.

OGLETREE: I'm not being critical of the police, either, let me just be clear about this. We wrote a book that's called "Beyond the Rodney King Story; An Investigation of Police Conduct in Minority Communities." We did that in 1994, after Rodney King. And the point is that most police officers are honest and law-abiding and I don't question that. My sister, as you know, is a police officer who was murdered. And so -- I've represented police officers, I've been character witnesses for police officers.

The point here is that when somebody does something wrong, we have to make them accountable even if we -- on the other hand, I think they are perfectly legitimate in enforcing the law, protecting the public.

VAN SUSTEREN: And you know, Tree, I hate to cut you off and the discussion short, but -- with all of you, but that's all the time we have today. Thanks to our guests and thank you for watching.

COSSACK: We'll be back on Monday with another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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