CINCINNATI – Cincinnati police investigators said an officer who deployed a Taser to stop an 11-year-old girl from shoplifting violated the department’s use of force policy, but also found problems with his telling the girl: “You know, sweetheart, this is why there’s no grocery stores in the black community.”
The comment was caught on Officer Kevin Brown’s body camera and is the second time the officer is accused of making inappropriate comments while doing his job. Two years ago he was written up for using a homophobic slur in reference to an alleged domestic violence victim, though the woman did not hear him.
Councilman Wendell Young, a former police officer, said “I just don’t know if you have room on the police department for people like this. This guy, from what I am hearing, has serious issues. He apparently polices the way he feels.”
Young said he’s not cavalier about anyone’s employment, but said “there comes a time you have to cut your losses.”
Brown’s punishment is up to Police Chief Eliot Isaac, who will make a determination after an internal departmental hearing. Punishment could range from counseling to termination, and Brown would have a chance to appeal any decision.
Cincinnati police released a use of force report related to the Aug. 6 incident involving Brown, 55, who was working a theft prevention detail at a Kroger in the Spring Grove Village neighborhood of Cincinnati. Body camera footage was included in the release and shows the girl, who is African-American scared and crying as Taser barbs are taken from her back.
Brown, also African-American, violated four policies according to the report:
- The comment constituted prejudice.
- He did not turn on his body camera until after he deployed his Taser.
- He did not warn the girl he was going to use his Taser. He told her to stop three times as she was exiting the store, but did not warn that he was going to escalate his use of force.
- The incident wasn’t serious enough to deploy a Taser. Police investigators said officers should use the least amount of force necessary when dealing with juveniles.
Isaac said Tuesday that using a taser was “unnecessary in this circumstance.”
Brown in his interview with police, according to the report, defended his statement regarding grocery stores. He believed the statement was supported by statistics and was not biased.
Brown was placed on restricted duties after the incident.
Cincinnati Police Union President Dan Hils also defended Brown’s statement.
“I think the officer was trying to express to this juvenile suspect that there are consequences, not only to herself, but to others when you don’t respect the property rights of another,” said Hils.
Hils said there was a “certain element of truth” that grocery stores struggle where there are high incidences of theft. He said there’s been a rush to judgment against Brown.
Hils said Brown’s job was to prevent theft and that was what he was trying to do.
Brown’s failure to turn on his body camera is considered neglect of duty, the other violations are considered failures of good behavior.
The Cincinnati Police Department’s manual of rules and regulations recommends an assistance program, oral reprimand or training for two of Brown’s violations.
Since Brown has a prior, similar violation for expressing prejudice, the manual recommends consideration of a one- to five-day suspension. For using more force than is necessary, the manual recommends a seven- to 11-day suspension.
The incident infuriated city officials, who expressed concern about the incident from the start.
On Aug. 6, Brown was working an off-duty detail at a Kroger in Spring Grove Village when a Kroger employee told him three girls were shoplifting.
Brown saw the 11-year-old girl try to leave through a locked entrance and when that didn’t work she loitered around the customer service desk, before she headed toward the exit.
He approached her, telling her to stop and show him a receipt. She ignored him and he asked two more times as she left the store, the report said.
Brown fired his Taser at her striking her in the back, from approximately 10 feet away, hitting her just below the waist, according to the report.
“(She) sustained a small abrasion to her right forearm, consistent with striking the ground after falling from the taser deployment,” the report said.
He walked her back into the store, making the comment about thefts in black neighborhoods.
As he took the girl to the Kroger manager’s office, he said, “I didn’t want to do this, but y’all knew what you were doing. Sweetheart, the last thing I want to do is tase you like that. When I say stop, you stop. You know you’re caught. Just stop. That hurt my heart to do that to you.”
The girl can be seen on the body camera footage asking Brown whether the Taser barbs were still embedded in her skin.
“It’s in my body?” she asked. “They in my body?”
He explained, that yes, they were in her skin, but he’s not supposed to take them out.
She was scared and crying at times as an all-male team of EMTs urge her to remain calm.
The fire department removed the barbs and she was taken to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
The report, for the first time revealed, in the girl’s drawstring backpack, Brown found clothing, food and drinks worth $53.81. The backpack was stolen, along with candy, beef jerky and baby clothes.
The girl later explained it was her friend who took the infant clothing, for her baby brother.
The girl was charged with theft and obstructing official business, but Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters dropped the charges saying police are supposed to confer with his office on charges related to children and that did not happen.
“Unfortunately there are times when children can act out violently, they are using a weapon,” Isaac said. “In those times we may be forced to use some type of force. Those are rare and extreme cases.”
However, Isaac generally stood by the department’s broader use of force policy.
The policy allows, in certain situations, officers to deploy a Taser on children as young as second grade. Specifically, it says they can be used on anyone age 7 to age 70.
Iris Roley is the program director of the Black United Front and a veteran of efforts to improve Cincinnati police relations with the black community.
“If this officer thinks little kids stealing food is the reason for not having grocery stores in the black community, he should be out working in the woods,” she said. “That Kroger is surrounded by black communities and black people, and he is there to provide reasonable security, not to be causing this kind of mayhem. I don’t believe they should tase a child of any age unless there is a clear danger. National studies show the damage that this does to children.”