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Why the Sacramento cop's UOF was justifiable

Critics say the officer took Cain to the ground for merely jaywalking but the cop took Cain to the ground because of his failure to comply with lawful commands


There has been an uproar on social media over the release of a video that shows an officer throw a subject to the ground and repeatedly strike him in the face.

A pedestrian named Nandi Cain Jr. was stopped by an unknown officer from the Sacramento Police Department. The stop appears to have been initiated as a result of an observed jaywalking offense.

The officer exited his vehicle and repeatedly ordered the man to stop and talk with him, saying, “Hey can I talk with you real quick bud?” and “Come here buddy.”

(Photo/Facebook)
(Photo/Facebook)

Despite clearly hearing those commands, the subject refused to stop, continuing on his way down the sidewalk and then eventually into the street. The officer then said, “Stop right now before I to take you to the ground. If you do not stop right now I will take you to the ground.”

The man, clearly agitated, then threw off his coat and got into an aggressive fighting stance and said, “If you’re a real man, you can take your gun away and fight me like a man.”

It’s not clear from the video whether or not the officer observed other pre-attack indicators (target glances, gritted teeth, etc.), but the subject throwing off his coat, squaring up to fight, and uttering that sentence certainly changed the dynamic of the contact.

A simple solution: Comply and complain

Critics have said that the officer took Cain to the ground for merely jaywalking. No so. The officer took Cain to the ground because of his failure to comply with lawful commands.

However, since there has been so much discussion about the validity of the jawalking stop (with some people saying that there was no basis for it to begin with), let's spend a moment on that matter. 

My read on the pertinent California Vehicle Codes relating to pedestrian jaywalking in this instance comes from 21950(b) CVC:

“The provisions of this section shall not relieve a pedestrian from the duty of using due care for his or her safety. No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard. No pedestrian shall unnecessarily stop or delay traffic while in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.”

It looked to me that the vehicle that passed closely behind Cain was near enough for him to fall into the abovementioned code violation. That is a subjective call, for sure, but I can reasonably see the officer making that determination. 

We can argue until we’re all blue in the face about the necessity of enforcing jaywalking laws, but the fact is those laws are on the books because someone illegally walking in the street is a danger to themselves, other pedestrians, as well as motorists.

That's just a fact. 

Had Cain complied with the officer and not taken an aggressive stance in preparing for a fight, he would not have gotten taken down and forcibly handcuffed. In fact, he probably would have been sent along on his way without so much as a summons for the jaywalking infraction. As can be clearly heard toward the end of the video, the officer told his sergeant, “I just wanted to talk with him.”

Had Cain complied with lawful commands and felt that any of his Constitutional rights had been violated during the encounter, he could have filed a complaint with the department.

Police use of force never looks nice

Does the video look ugly? Sure it does. Is police use of force unpleasant to watch? Most definitely.

I’m reminded of the famous quote by Chief William Bratton. Paraphrasing him: Police use of force is never nice to look at. It’s even worse to view from the perspective of the combatants at the time of the event. Neither the subject nor the officer is enjoying the experience — it is scary and the outcome is uncertain.

Applying the Graham standard

Was the officer’s use of force lawful? It would appear to me (and countless other officers who have viewed the video) that the cop’s actions were reasonable. In other words, this officer’s use of force met the Graham v. Connor standard.

However, the department didn’t see it that way, placing the officer on paid administrative leave pending an IA investigation. They even went so far as to condemn him in written statements.

“The videos of this incident portray actions and behavior that we would consider unacceptable conduct by a Sacramento Police Officer,” the department said.

This raises the question: How would the department like to have seen this contact resolved?

The officer was in a no-win situation. Sure, he could have let the subject continue to refuse to comply with lawful orders — even going so far as to posture for a physical confrontation — but that could have led to the incident escalating beyond the officer’s control. The longer he allowed the subject to defy lawful orders, the more likely it was that something really bad happens.

The fact is, the subject determined the level of force necessary to bring the incident to an end.

One final point of order: One is left to wonder why Cain didn’t comply with commands to stop. Well, perhaps he didn’t want to go to jail. He had an open arrest warrant related to an incident in Fresno in which he “resisted arrest and threatened to headbutt officers,” according to the Fresno Bee.

It was a simple “failure to appear” warrant, but still, maybe that was on his mind.

The aftermath: De-policing and deadly hesitation

Cain was initially charged with resisting arrest, but the charges were dropped and he was released. It is unclear whether or not the five-year-old warrant out of Fresno will be acted upon.

This officer’s firing is almost inevitable — leadership has telegraphed the move as plain as day with its statements about the officer and the incident. This is sad not only for this individual officer, but for everyone else on the force. This increases the possibility that those at the Sacramento PD will be more hesitant to use force even if they know they force is justified. This could lead to tragedy.

I’ve written repeatedly on the conjoined trends of de-policing and deadly hesitation (see here and here and here). This is just one more example. We at PoliceOne even just released the results of an extensive survey conducted by LSU that those trends are real and they are happening.

Unless and until law enforcement professionals find a way to convince people that their compliance is the key to the level of force an officer uses, we will still see videos like this lead to the demise of good officers.

That, too, is a tragedy.

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