A verbal exchange between a St Petersburg Florida detention officer and an inmate escalated to an excessive force claim which turned out to be true after Detention Officer Hull admitted he taunted an inmate who was wheelchair bound. The Officer admitted his actions were not up to the professional standards for the authoritative position he held at the prison, and he has been fired. This encounter would have been snuffed out by the use of de-escalation training techniques.
De-escalation Training is Not Mandatory in Florida. What is de-escalation training? The Department of Justice defines “de-escalation” as “the strategic slowing down of an incident in a manner that allows officers more time, distance, space and tactical flexibility during dynamic situations on the street.” Training methods for police officers include: 1) Listen respectfully. Don’t argue or interrupt. People calm down when they feel they are being listened to and taken seriously; 2) Crowd control. Don’t allow an audience to gather. If two people are having an argument, isolate them from friends or family members to reduce aggressive behavior; 3) Courteous example. Use courteous, professional language to uphold the idea that talk must be calm and respectful; 4) Body language. Be aware not to use intimidating body movements; 5) Control encounter. Reduce offensive speech, cursing, and yelling by explaining that acceptable language would more likely get the point across; 6) Don’t publicly humiliate anyone—especially when others are watching. Be respectful of embarrassing questions and pat downs; 7) Don’t waste time and energy trying to convince a citizen that he’s wrong and you’re right. Do what you need to do without becoming defensive; 8) Remember that “broken record” is a useful way to achieve two goals—conveying the message that you’re in charge while keeping the lid on a potential conflict. “Broken record” means repeating a message as many times as needed: “I’m writing a citation. You’ll have an opportunity to state your case in court.” If a citizen argues, you refuse to take the bait. You simply repeat your message until the citation is written and your job is done.
Officer Hull did not utilize any of the de-escalation training techniques as he argued with the inmate, had an audience to the interaction, was not courteous, used intimidating body movement by poking the inmate in his head, and did not treat him with respect. Hull’s “actions provoked and escalated the inmate’s behavior.”
Excessive Force. The use of excessive force is a violation of civil rights laws that are in place to protect citizens against arbitrary and negative action from law enforcement officers. Officers are allowed the “use of force” including hands, batons, tasers, or other weapons when necessary, and in accordance with officer training and department policy, to remove the threat of violence by subduing criminals. However, this broad-based authority is based on policy that dictates what is considered “reasonable” force in any given situation and is often subjective to the instance when force is used. The subjective action Officer Hull took against the inmate was not reasonable for the verbal escalation during the incident, resulting in his use of excessive force.
Laws on “Use of Force.” The 2018 Florida Statutes Chapter 776 outlines the law on “Justifiable Use of Force” as it pertains to Police Officer activity in Section 776.05 whereby an officer is justified in the use of any force: 1) which he or she reasonably believes to be necessary to defend himself or herself or another from bodily harm while making the arrest; 2) when necessarily committed in retaking felons who have escaped; or 3) when necessarily committed in arresting felons fleeing from justice. There are various federal and state laws that insure remedy to individuals who have suffered the negative effects of police brutality.
Seek Legal Counsel. If you feel you have been a victim of excessive force by a police officer in the St. Petersburg, Florida area, you should seek professional legal counsel to help to file a claim and have them review your case to see if you can sue for damages. Damages may include hospital/medical expenses; past and future permanent disability payments; emotional distress including depression and anxiety; loss of enjoyment of life; physical pain and suffering; and loss of love and companionship due to a death or serious injury caused by police brutality through excessive force.