Several years ago, I was asked by the Newnan Times-Herald to write columns about current events, with a police perspective.
The recent nonstop coverage of the video of a Minneapolis police officer with his knee in the neck and subsequent death of a restrained suspect resulted in nationwide outrage. Orderly protests have developed into chaos that some police command staff have called “domestic terrorism.” Frustration over an immediate call for justice for the officers involved has gripped the nation and ironically demands another police response to quell the violence.
As police officers, we have all received training on the dangers of positional asphyxia during the use of restraints. The use of hog tying, which involved connecting the hands to the feet of a combative suspect, made it extremely difficult for the suspect to breathe and therefore is no longer a practice in most police departments. In Atlanta, we were not allowed to handcuff a suspect to a fixed object, and we were required to double-lock the handcuffs so they would not continue to ratchet tighter and tighter on the wrists.
Everyone was required to handcuff suspects in the rear because it posed a danger to have a suspect with the ability to still have use of his hands forward of his body. I actually arrested two suspects whose shoulders were double-jointed and they were able to shift their arms in such a way as to bring their handcuffed hands from the back to the front over their heads. It was like watching a circus act, but luckily, they were good sports and we all had a laugh over their incredible abilities.
During the 1996 Olympics, we had training on handling suspects from other countries. We were cautioned not to handcuff a Vietnamese person from behind and then place them on their knees because that was the position of execution in their country.
I had to arrest a man one time that had no arms or hands. He was born with stubs extending from his shoulders about eight inches. After wrestling him to the ground, I had to think quickly with my handcuffs and no wrists. I decided his ankles would do.
I was a paddy wagon driver for several years. We were required to handcuff everyone we transported, but I found that if I hit the brakes suddenly on occasion, my prisoners would fall on the floor because they couldn’t use their hands to brace for the stop. So, against all the rules, I routinely unhandcuffed my prisoners, gave them a bottle of water and granola bar from Walmart for the ride to jail. It cost me about $10 a week, but provided a pleasant ride for those willing to cooperate.
We had a simple rule: Once the handcuffs were on, the fight was over. If you felt a little sidewalk justice was in order, do it before the suspect is cuffed. But you didn’t hear that from me.
I won’t second guess the actions of police officers under the stress of a call. I handled over 27,000 calls for service, and I know I made mistakes I wish I could do over. But I survived, while other officers lost their lives in the process. Let the investigation play out and the results of any trial be adjudicated fairly.
Some never needed to be cops in the first place, but be grateful some really do.
W.J. Butcher is a Coweta County resident and retired 26-year veteran of the Atlanta Police Department. Send comments, kudos, and criticism to: email@example.com .