Cameras’ value proven in Texas

The Observer editorial board

Eric Casebolt tells a teen with a camera to leave.
Eric Casebolt tells a teen with a camera to leave. THE WASHINGTON POST

Another day, another sickening video of another out-of-control police officer assaulting an unarmed person who posed no threat.

This time, it was a 15-year-old girl in a bikini at a suburban Dallas pool party. McKinney, Texas, Cpl. Eric Casebolt grabs Dajerria Becton as she’s walking away and slings her to the sidewalk. After pulling a gun on two people who run up to the scene, Casebolt picks her up again, slams her to the ground, shoves her head down and yells, “On your face!” before jamming his knees in her back.

The scene plays out in the middle of a 7-minute video in which Casebolt repeatedly uses profanity and forces teens to lie down even as another officer is calmly talking to others nearby. In the end, tellingly, the girl was charged with nothing and released to her parents. Casebolt resigned Tuesday.

There are conflicting accounts of what happened before police arrived on Friday night. Authorities say they were responding to reports of a disturbance at a party that got out of hand when uninvited teens showed up. Some kids may have been acting improperly at some point. But the long, uninterrupted video shows a raging officer running about as teens in swimsuits stand around. There is zero sign of physical threat to the officer, from Dajerria or anyone else; no one appears armed and no one, other than Casebolt, acted violently.

An interesting aspect of this case is how the presence of smartphones recording his every move did not deter Casebolt for a minute. At one point he looks directly into a 15-year-old boy’s camera phone and says, “Get your butts out of here!”

Camera phones and YouTube have made police officers’ actions instantly visible for the world to see. A national debate over how officers do their jobs – and particularly how some white officers have treated some black citizens – has been fueled by raw footage that just several years ago was rarely available. When a video camera taped the beating of Rodney King, it was an unusual occurrence. Now police actions are routinely filmed.

That’s a powerfully good thing. Who knows what would have happened in the death of Walter Scott if a bystander hadn’t happened to walk by and film North Charleston Officer Michael Slager shooting at him eight times as Scott ran away? A grand jury indicted Slager for murder on Monday.

Each patrol officer in Charlotte-Mecklenburg is expected to start wearing a body camera this year. Those cameras, no doubt, will record CMPD officers’ professionalism far more often than improper police behavior. They will also show the challenging situations officers face.

With the proper training, the very presence of those cameras will influence how both officers and members of the public behave. Even in Casebolt’s case, a teen’s camera will likely lead to discussion in his department about proper policing. An ever-watchful eye has a way of influencing one’s actions.