Tale of two videos: Police discuss use of Taser on man at Janesville Mall
JANESVILLE— As Madison and other cities consider body cameras for their police officers, Janesville police can point to body-cam video from a recent incident to explain officers' actions.
The video came from an Oct. 15 arrest at the Janesville Mall, when an officer used a Taser on a man accused of shoplifting.
A local man shot video of the incident and posted it on Facebook. Some reactions were negative, criticizing police for what they saw as unnecessarily forceful action against Reginald T. Cole, 46, of Janesville.
“I felt like it was excessive, for sure, in a public place, but I never felt like they weren't trying to do their job to best of their ability,” said Justin Casey, who took the video.
“My problem was, when do you need four cops on top of—if I had to guess, a 150-pound guy—and tase him in a public mall for apparently stealing earrings?” Casey said.
Casey, 22, said he had never seen an arrest like that and started recording because it was so unusual.
Janesville Deputy Police Chief John Olsen said Friday that the Taser's electric shock probably spared officers and Cole from injury, other than the puncturing of Cole's skin by the Taser barbs.
“Back in the day, we didn't have these tools or weapons. We were forced to fight on the ground with people, and that's how we got injured. That's how suspects got injured,” Olsen said.
Massive demonstrations this week were the result of a decision not to indict a New York City officer after someone recorded the officer grabbing a man around his neck. The man, who gasped that he couldn't breathe, later died.
The lack of a police camera in the police shooting of a man in Ferguson, Missouri, has led to calls for body cameras on officers nationwide.
Both those incidents involved white officers and black suspects. The Janesville mall arrest also involved white officers and a black suspect.
One online commenter, apparently not knowing what led up to the arrest, commented: "I would say that being black is the reason he's getting mistreated, until proven different.”
Officers didn't arbitrarily choose Cole, Olsen said. They were responding to a description supplied by store workers who also pointed out Cole as the theft suspect.
“They're not getting the whole story from that short little phone clip that they took,” Olsen said.
“We respond according to how people react to us. We go in and try to dialog and talk people through it to resolve whatever we need to do. … When they escalate, that's when we escalate because I want the officers coming home at night in the same condition that they went to work in,” Olsen said.
Janesville police have a few Hispanic officers but never have employed a black officer. Police under Chief Dave Moore, have, however reached out to minority residents, and officers are being trained this year to recognize biases they might have that they don't realize.
Olsen said Cole struggled with officers and refused to take his hands out of his jacket pockets, where store security believed he had secreted the earrings.
Casey said he doesn't understand how four officers couldn't pull Cole's hands from his pockets.
Olsen said Cole was also struggling and twisting away from the officers even as he insisted that he was not resisting.
Casey suggested Cole could have been put in a squad car rather than have the confrontation play out in the mall.
Officers have to be concerned that a person who is resisting might be concealing a weapon, Olsen said.
Officers coming to the scene knew that initial reports often are incomplete or inaccurate, so they never know what they might encounter, Olsen said, so it's not unusual for three officers to confront one suspect, as in this case.
Officers told Cole numerous times to stop resisting and to take his hands out of his pockets. They also warned him he would be shocked with a Taser if he didn't comply.
Cole cried out as he felt the shock and became more compliant. He eventually spit out one earring and some cardboard. Later, a hospital X-ray showed a second earring in his stomach, Olsen said.
Even after the second-guessing that comes with looking back at an incident and video, Olsen said, he is convinced the officers could not have handled the arrest any better.
“Our response is based on how they respond to us. We will talk all day if they cooperate,” Olsen said.
“If the police show up, just cooperate. We want to just do our job and go home to our families,” Olsen added.
Police have video from only one body camera in this incident. The other officers were not wearing cameras. Chief Moore said that only in the past few weeks has the department had enough cameras so that most patrol officers can have one, and officers are still being trained in their use.
Cole, meanwhile, is charged in Rock County Court with retail theft and resisting an officer. He was released on a signature bond. His next court appearance is Dec. 19.