by Max Brantley
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported this morning that Little Rock will pay $10,000 to settle a lawsuit by a man, Demetrius Curtis, who said two cops brutalized him in a 2008 arrest. He says they smashed him into a store window and a police cruiser when arresting him for driving a car with a license plate that had been reported stolen.
The bigger news is that one of the officers was Chris Johannes, the more aggressive cop in the dubious arrest of Surgeon General Joe Thompson in his home for, well, for not being sufficiently obedient to Johannes. Cops had come questioning why Thompson had earlier had the temerity to question the presence on his street of a security guard for billionaire Warren Stephens.
Johannes, while working private security off-duty, also shot up a car in Park Plaza when its black occupants attempted to drive away before Johannes could question them for talking to a white teenaged girl. He said they were driving the car toward him.
After KUAR, I'll get to work and dig up my records on Johannes, who's reported almost 70 uses of force in arrests on his eight or so years as a cop. I'll find, too, the eight complaints made by citizens like Curtis over his use of force. None of those complaints resulted in a suspension of Johannes. And because there is no suspension, the public is only able to know — thanks to bad law — the fact that a complaint was made. It is not allowed to be privy to any information about why superiors found nothing wrong in officers' use of force in the case.
The city, of course, is not admitting any wrongdoing by paying $10,000.
It's not easy being a cop. They meet up with bad people. But it's also not easy proving when they step out of line, particularly when accountability is so lacking. Video cameras and audio tapes can provide some backup in the accountability process, as we've learned in the Thompson case. A high incidence of officer contact with suspects isn't necessarily proof of anything. But, at some point, you'd think the pattern might give superiors some reason for some review. Joe Thompson's very bad night — if it occasions that here — might have at least one useful outcome.
UPDATE: I've reviewed the files provided to me by LRPD in December when I FOI'ed Johannes' records on use of force and citizens complaints.
* USE OF FORCE: The 72 reports I received on Johannes' self-reports on either use of force or chases in his patrol unit do not include a report for the April 2008 arrest of Demetrius Curtis. Some of his reports appear fastidious, including accounts of almost incidental contact, but I can find nothing on the Curtis arrest.
* CITIZEN COMPLAINT: I do have the complaint Curtis filed April 11, the day after the 2008 incident. It shows only this brief description of the complaint: "Off. Johannes used excessive force when he was arrested and Off. Temple struck him in the face." The form bears no notation on action on the complaint. I was informed at the time that the form would bear notation only if an officer had been suspended or fired, in which case I could see more information about the complaint. We don't have any way of knowing about the process that produced no meaningful disciplinary action against Johannes at the time but will now cost the city $10,000.
UPDATE II: I went to the police to see if the report had been overlooked. The department's response:
Attached you will find a stored vehicle report involving Demetrius Curtis. This incident involves a Stolen AR license plate. There is not narrative to the report because it was simple created in order to tow the vehicle and store the stolen plate.
A use of force was not completed by Officers because "one simply wasn't filed". The officer(s) did not need to do a use of force at the time of the incident because force was not used. Mr. Curtis did file an excessive force complaint however after Internal Affairs conducted their investigation they concluded that the allegation was false and the officers were exonerated. [Yes, this is same incident for which city is now prepared to pay $10,000.]
The arrest report itself is in archives. I've asked for a copy just to see what it might say about the night that Demetrius Curtis got $10,000 worth of handling by cops for a stolen license plate arrest.