Black US Navy veteran files complaint against four San Diego police officers who attacked him after he called them for help

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A black US Navy veteran filed a complaint against the San Diego Police Department after being assaulted in 2020. The 32-year-old called the police after he was attacked, but instead received help , an officer broke his teeth and arrested him.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, on October 11, Stephen Keith filed a lawsuit against the department and claims more than $ 25,000 in damages for injuries, pain and suffering, legal fees and lost wages, and damages. punitive unspecified.

Details of the incident, as recorded in the claim, indicate that a stranger approached him while he was on his property and asked for a cigarette. When he refused to make him smoke, the man attacked him while he was on crutches due to recent knee surgery.

Keith alerted authorities that he had been assaulted and waited for the law to arrive. When they did, four policemen mistook him for the criminal and attacked him.

The record states that “When officers from the San Diego Police Department arrived at the scene, they immediately pinned Mr. Keith to the ground and began to brutalize Mr. Keith. Prior to bringing Mr. Keith to the ground, officers did not issue any orders to Mr. Keith and Mr. Keith did nothing to make a reasonable peace officer believe that any force used against Mr. Keith would be justified.

The beating, as stated in the complaint, was brutal, with an officer kneeling Keith seven times in the back.

He was then taken into custody, where it was decided he needed medical attention for broken teeth and a back injury. After he left the hospital, he was taken to the city jail and then given bail. He paid the deposit and went home. Keith has never been charged with a felony by the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, according to his file.

This type of apparent police error or error in judgment is not uncommon in black communities in San Diego.

According to a newly formed unit within the SDPD called the Force Analysis Unit, there appears to be a systemic race-based bias that prompts officers in the department to mistakenly use force when they see a black person.

Studies show that police officers in communities of color tend to exert disproportionate force to that used when monitoring white communities. This included pointing a gun at a person, deploying pepper spray or a stun gun, using a baton, or forcibly apprehending someone.

“Understanding the contours, triggers and contexts surrounding police use of force and its racially disparate impacts are two urgent areas that require more and better data,” the task force said. “Equally important, the democratization of this data is essential to strengthen accountability and restore confidence in the police. “

The report also shows how difficult it is to gather information on the role race plays in policing.

It states in part that “results based on race are not systematically examined in evaluating police reform measures. This is in part because data on race and ethnicity are generally poor, making it difficult to discern the degree of racial disparity in the criminal justice system and thus establish a baseline. specific against which to measure change. Measures of ethnicity in the criminal justice system are even more ad hoc, with a survey of state criminal justice data revealing that only 15 states have documented the distinct and distinct ethnicity of “non-whites.”

San Diego Police Officer Association president Jack Schaeffer says this research is a great start to finding better ways to train officers who work with diverse communities. He shares: “If we can always adjust our training, it only benefits our cops and our citizens.”

Brandon Hilpert, chairman of the San Diego Police Practices Commission, thinks so too. He suggests that the information collected should be shared with the community: “Collecting the data is one thing, but if no one ever sees it, it’s another,” Hilpert said. “It makes it harder for the public to believe the ministry. ”

The San Diego Union-Tribune notes that the assault and arrest of Keith, a black man, took place after the city adopted the new de-escalation policy, which should have prompted police to treat the incident differently. Had they followed the policy implemented in June 2020, not only would officers have used the newly trained de-escalation techniques and tools, but reported what is now considered “unreasonable use of force.” .

The next step in the Keith case is to see how the city is handling its claim and whether there will be a trial following the filing.

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