Ask A Lawyer A Stupid Question: Cop Edition
December 23, 2016 (Fault Lines) — A Texas police officer has asked a provocative legal question that only a lawyer can address: under Texas law, can an adult man choke a child for littering? We here at Fault Lines try our best to provide a service to those confused about these complex criminal matters, so I’ll do my best to find the answer.
The officer (who is still unnamed) was apparently called by a mother because she claimed her son had been choked by a neighbor for littering. If true, these allegations are relatively serious, because under Texas law it is a felony to “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly imped[e] the normal breathing or circulation of the blood of the person by applying pressure to the person’s throat or neck or by blocking the person’s nose or mouth.”
In front of the officer, the mother began to berate the alleged child choker, asking why he didn’t just come to her if her son had done something wrong, since they had been neighbors for a year. The officer didn’t’ seem troubled by the truth of the charges. Instead, he asked a totally reasonable question: “Why don’t you teach your son not to litter?”
A truly cutting inquiry, getting right to the heart of the matter. Why indeed, hadn’t she simply told her child that a natural consequence of littering was that, occasionally, an adult might reenact a classic bit from The Simpsons in real life?
The mother responded venomously, by presuming to tell the officer that even if her child did litter, it still didn’t give an adult man the right to put his hands on him. Then, the pivotal legal question. The officer (who may moonlight as a ventriloquist, since his lips don’t seem to move) asked her, “why not?”
Now, at this point, some people might start to get a little upset. There are some people who think police officers have to arrest every person who chokes a child, or at least investigate whether it happened. But of course, the officer had to look further into these littering allegations. And besides, how could he be reasonably sure there wasn’t some sort of littering exception to the Texas assault statute that he’d have to abide by? We can’t expect officers to know every little law, after all.
Unfortunately for the officer, it appears that the child does get off on a technicality here. Technically, there is no specific exception under Texas law allowing an adult to choke a child for littering. But good officers follow their gut, and the officer knew just what to do next.
When the mother insisted that it made no difference whether her son littered, or how she taught her kids, since she reasonably expected them not to be attacked by adults, she had the audacity to raise her voice and say that she was getting “pissed off.”
The officer, with consummate professionalism, told her that if she kept yelling, “it’s gonna piss me off, and I’m gonna take you to jail.” A young woman stood between the two, apparently fearing that things would take a turn for the worst, and the officer arrested the mother, the young woman, and whoever was holding the camera. Around the two minute mark, he generously applies a taser to the mother’s back to keep her from lifting off the ground. But, kindly, he did not erase the footage of the incident, even though the camerawoman was cursing
The officer apparently never got around to writing up a report on the choking incident. There was the much more important matter of ensuring that his authority would be respected in the future. But now the mother, represented by one of those tax-payer draining civil rights lawyers, is apparently interested in suing.
Pursuant to policy, the officer will not have to give a statement to anyone about what happened for at least 48 hours, and only after he’s consulted with a lawyer.
You know, not everyone knows exactly the right way to approach a police officer. They might not say the right things, with the right respectfulness, in the right soothing tone to make the officer feel in control. But it’s possible that arresting them for it may not do much to prevent the “war on cops” that 93% of Police One members feel is underway. It’s possible that addressing people, even poor people, with respect will pay dividends down the line.
Or hell, maybe the Fraternal Order of Police has it right. Maybe they should just focus on censoring unflattering shirts.