Sleepy Beatdown Buys Metro Cop a Ticket to Unemployment
Oct. 5, 2016 (Fault Lines) – It’s early in the morning, and you’ve fallen asleep in your seat at the local railway station. A transit cop walks by and sees you. Does he
- Leave you to your nap
- Wake you and remind you, with a friendly smile, that your train’s going to be here in five minutes
- Beat you with his baton
If you’re Darrell Giles, a homeless man from Houston – or if you’re an experienced cop-watcher – you already know how this story ends.
At around 7:30 a.m. on September 15, Giles, who is black and deaf in one ear, was wedged into the corner of a bench at Burnett Train Station, clearly asleep. Two Houston metro cops, one black, one Hispanic – later identified as Jarius Warren and Daniel Reynoso – can be seen converging on him from different directions, trapping him in his seat.
Officer Warren takes point, waking Giles by jiggling or kicking against his feet. As he engages Giles, who’s slow to wake up, in conversation, he appears to give him a quick once-over; meanwhile, Reynoso looks inside the pink plastic bag sitting next to him on the bench.
Giles unsuccessfully tries to go back to sleep, but since the cops aren’t going away, he starts to slowly rise to his feet. Inexplicably, Warren responds by pulling out his baton, holding it by his side and making a threatening gesture with his other hand.
Unfortunately, as the video was released without sound, it’s impossible to tell what, if anything, Warren and Giles said to one another before the officer decided to reach for his weapon. But the extreme lethargy of Giles’ movements, Warren’s relaxed body language and his refusal to take a step back or otherwise put distance between himself and the seated man make it unlikely that Warren was afraid of being assaulted. Rather, it seems to be a totally gratuitous escalation of the encounter, the kind progressive Texas cops are no longer supposed to engage in.
Faced with this newfound threat to his well-being, Giles slumps back into his seat. He and Warren exchange words for ten more seconds before Warren chooses to punctuate his last remark with a kick to Giles’ foot. This appears to send Giles into a rage: he jumps out of his seat and advances on Warren, who steps back, raises his baton and delivers a vicious overhand blow to Giles’ head.
Regardless of what Warren did to provoke Giles, as soon as he found himself under attack, he was justified in using force to defend himself. But blows to the head are a dicey and potentially fatal proposition. It’s not clear whether the Metro Police has a use-of-force policy governing what may be done with a baton; the Houston PD, however, does, under which blows may only be aimed at the head if the officer’s striking to kill. Whether or not Warren was allowed to hit him like that, his willingness to countenance deadly force against the unarmed homeless man he’d been agitating is, at the very least, disturbing.
Making matters worse, Warren immediately escalated things beyond self-defense. The first blow sends Giles reeling back, but doesn’t drop him. After a pause of less than a second, Warren can be seen running up to Giles and furiously beating him with his stick. He hits him at least ten more times, including in the arm, shoulder, stomach, legs and twice in the head; Giles rolls around on top of the bench, writhing in pain, before collapsing onto the ground, clutching at his stomach and moaning. Officer Reynoso doesn’t so much join in as dance around the beating, pointing and hooting in a way familiar to anyone who’s seen a middle school fight.
And the cops still weren’t done. As Giles rolls around (at 0:55,) Reynoso grabs him and turns him onto his side. Warren then jerks down his victim’s pants, pulls back his underwear and beats him on his buttocks and legs as if the cops were teachers at a British public school.
To their credit, it seems the Metro Police immediately understood the severity of their cops’ misconduct. When the local news started to ask questions, one day after the beating, Chief Vera Bumpers made the following statement:
I will not tolerate inappropriate use of force by officers. Officer J. Warren is suspended pending the results of a criminal investigation and an administrative review. A second officer, D. Reynoso, who was on the scene, is also suspended pending our reviews.
Unlike her peers in other police departments, Chief Bumpers chose not to rely on obfuscatory language to distract the public from the issue at hand. In a follow-up statement, the Metro Police promised to release footage from the station’s surveillance cameras as soon as they completed their investigation.
To be sure, this is still a double standard: if the officers had defended themselves after Giles assaulted them with a stick, it seems unlikely that anyone would have waited before releasing the video. But on the whole, things were nowhere near as bad as they’ve been in other cities. Chief Bumpers kept her promise, the video was released, and Officer Warren (though not Reynoso) was recommended for termination. One day before the video went public, he resigned from the force.
Even more unusually, the matter was forwarded to the Harris County district attorney’s office. DA Devon Anderson* decided to put Warren’s and Reynoso’s cases before a grand jury, and on Sept. 29, Warren was indicted on a charge of assault. For his part, Reynoso was cleared and is now back at work; because his suspension was with pay, he’s suffered no obvious consequences aside from being ordered to undergo retraining. It’s doubtful whether any amount of training can fix a broken moral compass, but given how difficult it can be to hold officers accountable for this kind of thing, even one indictment counts as a win.
Cases like this one highlight the need to stop people like Warren and, to a lesser degree, Reynoso from serving the public as police officers. It’s true that prosecuting cops isn’t cheap or easy, and it requires a degree of political courage that many DAs lack. But when the alternative is wasting taxpayer money on § 1983 lawsuits and devastating the public trust, it’s a no-brainer. There is a financial and moral imperative to keep officers who’d pull down a homeless man’s pants and literally beat his ass from wearing a badge.
*Who’s also pursuing indictments against the cops who searched Charnesia Corley’s vagina on the side of the road.