In November 2013, a secret policy allowed Dallas police to take 72 hours to review any evidence before making an official statement. The policy was instituted in response to a police shooting report that was contradicted by a home surveillance camera.
On October 14, 2013, Joyce Jackson called the Dallas Police Department because she feared that her son, Bobby Gerald Bennett, who suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, would hurt himself. Within minutes of arriving, Officer Cardan Spencer shot Bennett four times in the stomach, nearly killing him. The official report justified the shooting, stating that Bennett moved “in a threatening manner” and “lunged” at the officers with a knife, causing them to fear for their lives.
Luckily for Bennett, Maurice Bunch, a neighbor of Bennett’s mother, captured the entire confrontation on a home surveillance camera.
“When the officers told him to freeze, he complied,” Bunch said. Bunch’s video showed that Bennett never lunged at the officers and that he never threatened them in any way. Bennett stood up when officers arrived, did not move, and kept his hands at his side. Then, for apparently no reason, Spencer began repeatedly firing his service weapon.
Surprisingly, Bennett was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon on a public servant, a felony, even though Dallas police were shown the surveillance video. Police Chief David O. Brown decided to pursue felony charges because “Officer Watson’s statement really overrode what the video showed.” Brown went on to state, “We put a lot of credibility on officer’s statements until we have other evidence to prove otherwise.” Watson was suspended shortly thereafter for making false statements in the report. Spencer was terminated from the force, and the case has been referred to a grand jury.
But this is only the beginning of a much, much larger national conflict between government double standards, public scrutiny and special treatment for law enforcement.
It is clear that the home surveillance video contradicted Watson’s testimony and undermined the criminal charge against Bennett. But rather than make an example of the lying officer, Brown secretly implemented a 72-hour review policy during the 2013 Thanksgiving break that would protect officers from similar situations in the future. The policy, which may be the first of its kind for a municipal police force in the United States, says that “any Dallas officer involved in a police shooting – whether the officer fired a weapon or witnessed the gunfire – will now have the right to remain silent for 72 hours. … And even before they give a statement about the shooting, the officers can watch any available video before they give a statement.”
In response, Dallas Communities Organizing for Change, which describes itself as a “new school civil rights organization that mobilizes people and resources to change policy” filed an ethics complaint against Brown on February 25, 2014. According to the filing, which is the first challenge to the new rule, “The ’72 Hour Review’ policy will create an environment where the public will no longer trust officer-involved shootings reports, and elevates public perception of officers as receiving special treatment. It decreases any semblance of transparency in the period between when the shooting happens, and when a report is filed. The public interest of the residents of the City of Dallas do not support the “72 Hour Review” policy, and demands exactly the opposite.”
Implications of this new policy may be felt far and wide, as more and more police chiefs opt to start implementing similar rules that allow law enforcement to craft statements to avoid contradictory evidence in officer-involved shootings and avoid accountability. According to a guest commenter in this article, “Defendants break rules and face the unbridled wrath of the criminal justice system (which seeks to take their money, time, and sometimes freedom). But what happens when the Government breaks rules? More often than not, the government changes the rules so that they don’t get caught again.”