SO OFTEN, there's been more to the story. That's what I keep reminding myself about other cases of alleged police brutality in which "evidence" was made public before the officers involved were afforded due process.
Given the long history of rushing to judgment in those scenarios, I'm trying to give the benefit of the doubt to the eight cops who Commissioner Charles Ramsey so swiftly disciplined last week.
But so far, that's difficult.
Rodney King set the bar. The nation was understandably horrified when images of his beating at the hands of Los Angeles police first seized our TV sets. Time and again, we saw the same 81-second clip: A defenseless black motorist on the receiving end of a drubbing from four white officers. The sequence was appalling and difficult to watch.
But over time we learned that what we were seeing wasn't the whole thing. The entire video was more than nine minutes, and when it was aired and analyzed in state court, the officers were acquitted. (They were later hauled to federal court, where two were found guilty of violating King's civil rights and served 30-month sentences.) King, meanwhile, continued his life of running afoul of the law.
Then there was Amadou Diallo. At first, all we heard about was the firepower the officers used: 41 shots.
But, again, there was more to the story. The officers approached Diallo because he fit the description of a serial rapist. The officers mistook the wallet Diallo pulled from his pocket for a gun, and fired when they believed their lives were in danger. A jury determined that to be a legitimate reason for police to open up with the storm of bullets directed toward the immigrant.
In 2006, Sean Bell was shot in Queens in a similar confrontation. Undercover detectives hit Bell and two friends with 50 bullets outside a strip club, killing Bell and wounding his pals. Bell had gotten into a confrontation, and the three officers brought to trial maintained they'd heard one of Bell's companions tell someone to get his gun.
The detectives confronted Bell, who was intoxicated, and in trying to escape, Bell hit one of the officers and a police van with his car. Detective Gescard Isnora said that Bell had made a sudden motion that suggested he was reaching for a gun, causing the officers to open fire. Just last month, Justice Arthur Cooperman acquitted the cops in a nonjury trial, saying the testimony of Bell's friends at times "just didn't make sense."
The seminal Philadelphia event occurred in 2000, just as the city was sprucing itself up to welcome the GOP National Convention. On the eve of the gathering, Mayor John Street and Commissioner John Timoney had to deal with the outcry that followed the airing of Channel 6's video of 14 city police officers beating a man named Thomas Jones.
But when the facts came out, it was something quite different. Jones was a one-man wrecking crew whose crime spree began 12 days earlier when he carjacked 67-year-old Madeline Ferriter. (I represented her in a lawsuit she filed against Jones that sought to prevent him from profiting from his crime wave.)
By the time of his arrest, after being stopped by police as he was driving Ferriter's car, Jones had robbed 10 women - four in their 60s.
He sped away, crashed the car and scuffled with police. Officer Michael Livewell was shot in the thumb during the fracas, and Jones commandeered an empty police car and drove off. When he was finally stopped and dragged from the car, Channel 6 was in the sky recording. At the bottom of the scrum, Jones reportedly bit an officer. But for several minutes he'd been resisting arrest, and that's why he was beaten.
I've been reminding myself of each of these cases as I try to remain open-minded about the eight cops disciplined by Ramsey.
Only this time, I can't see what else there might be to the story.
The entire Fox 29 video lasts 11 minutes. While we usually see less than 30 seconds' worth, watching the rest doesn't put police in a better light. And there's also the problem of the cop who appears to run from suspect to suspect to deliver a blow to each of the three, even when they are subdued.
I want to be fair. I want to support FOP President John McNesby when he calls the commissioner's action "a rush to judgment."
But if they want public support in the face of the video, they have to give us something - anything - that can explain the images we've seen so many times.
Did they believe that one of the men they were apprehending was wanted for the murder of Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski? Did they think the three were involved in the shooting of a civilian? Did they encounter resistance that the camera didn't pick up? Were any police injured in any way by the three men? Were racial epithets hurled by the men toward police?
Or is this case one in which there's just no more to the story?*