While I needn't remind those who know me, for those who may have been drawn to my blog by this article, I am an advocate of the law enforcement community. I'm a retired, 20-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (1987-2007). Since I was 23-years-old, and until my dying breath, the law enforcement community has been and will be family to me. I love my brothers and sisters behind the badge.
In the minds of some I am a "homer" when it comes to the law enforcement community, even though I have said innumerable times that the law enforcement community is far from perfect. The law enforcement community draws from the same fallible human race as every other profession.
At the same time, I can't abide arm-chair quarterbacks--pundits (pastoral or otherwise) who are ignorant of what life is like behind the badge--people who don't have so much as a rudimentary level of knowledge regarding law enforcement policies and procedures, officer safety tactics, or the law (local, state, and federal) and its application. I get particularly riled when I see Christian social media sycophants jump on the "no justice, no peace" bandwagon to court favor with the unsaved masses, at the expense of a law enforcement community that, by and large, are motivated by a commitment to protect and serve.
There are few activities in law enforcement more harrowing or more dangerous than a pursuit. It doesn't matter if it is a vehicle pursuit or a foot pursuit. Likely the most dangerous part of a pursuit is the pursuit termination--when the pursuit comes to an end. An officer is at considerable risk at the end of a pursuit--both physically and professionally. While the physical dangers are probably obvious, even to a civilian, the lesser considered danger is the danger to an officer's career.
This is one of those times when, unless you have been involved in vehicle and/or foot pursuits, your understanding of what I'm about to say is woefully limited. Oh, you'll understand every word. This is not a matter of intelligence. But you won't be able to rightly or fully discern the emotion behind the words, because of what you lack. This is a matter of experience.
Elevated heart rate and blood pressure. So much adrenalin released into your system that you can almost taste it. It's like the taste of lead with sulfur-based antibiotics. Respiration fast and shallow. Fear. Heavy, blinding sweat. Barely-controllable shaking. Indignation. Determination. Exhilaration. Relief. Anger. Hate. Rage. Massive emotional release resulting in unexplained and unstoppable tears. All of these emotions and reactions, and many others, are experienced either in part or in whole by officers at the end of pursuits.
Any civilian who says he or she knows, without a doubt, how he or she would feel and behave at the end of a police pursuit is simply ignorant and arrogant.
I say that the end of a pursuit is a very dangerous time for an officer's career because if an officer looses control of his emotions and is unable to keep himself in check, his career could be over. One too many punches; an out-of-character, gratuitous kick; an errant swing of the baton; one too many pounds of pressure applied by a shaking finger to a trigger, and a career could be over. Livelihood lost. Reputation forever sullied. Freedom taken away. Or suicide.
Why I Refrain from Commenting on Police Videos
I rarely, publicly comment on videos involving law enforcement, unless it is to call some of the before-mentioned people to account for their incendiary rhetoric in which they call for an officer's head on a platter based on a video clip chronicling only a portion of a much longer incident. I would like to think my engagement in these situations is consistent. "Wait." Wait for the investigation to run its course. If the investigation reveals the officer acted outside department policy or the law, then I will join you in calling for disciplinary action at the hands of the officer's department and/or through criminal court proceedings.
I rarely comment on videos involving law enforcement because I don't want to become the arm-chair quarterback I loathe.
Bad cops (and there are some) should be exposed and dealt with according to the law. If an officer's actions rightly warrants him to be at the defense table in a court room instead of at the prosecution table, so be it. That being said, I don't know if any of the deputies involved in this incident are "bad cops." This is to say I don't know if any of the deputies came to the end of this pursuit with malice aforethought or with a willful premeditation to do bodily harm to the suspect in the video. I don't know if any of the deputies in the video have a "jacket"--a reputation for having a heavy hand. I don't know if any of the deputies have prior incidents involving questionable uses of force.
Integrity and conviction compels me to comment on the above video. I will not prejudge the deputies' hearts. But I have to say something about what I see in this video.
What I Know
These are the facts, as I know them. There are plenty of holes that need to be filled, which I'm sure the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department will fill and make known to the public in the appropriate way and at the appropriate time.
San Bernardino County Sheriff's deputies executed a search warrant at a location, as part of an investigation of identity theft crimes. At some point during the execution of the warrant, Francis Jared Pusok fled the location in a vehicle. Deputies initiated a pursuit. Pusok subsequently abandoned the vehicle and fled on foot. A coordinated manhunt ensued. Deputies received word that Pusok had stolen a horse and was trying to flee through rugged terrain. Pusok was spotted and deputies converged on his location. It is at about this point, or shortly thereafter, the above news chopper video begins.
What I Saw
A police helicopter appears to spook the horse (nice move). Pusok soon falls off the horse and scrambles behind what appears to be a low shrub. After slipping and falling, a deputy contacts Pusok. It appears that Pusok initially prepares to flee or fight. It appears at this point the deputy deploys his taser.
Pusok goes to the ground, either voluntarily or as a result of being tased. Pusok quickly extends his arms to his sides. Just as quickly, Pusok places his hands behind his back, palms up. Thus far, there has been no mention of Pusok being armed at the time of his arrest. As this is happening, a second deputy arrives.
The second deputy appears to kick Pusok directly in the side of the head.
There is a standard that governs the law enforcement Use-of-Force Continuum. An officer may use the level of force that is both necessary and reasonable to overcome the resistance of a person.
In my opinion, the second deputy on-scene engages Pusok by using what can be described as lethal or deadly force. No, he didn't shoot Pusok. But lethal force can be applied in many different ways--not the least of which is a forceful booted kick to a person's head.
The first officer immediately follows the second deputies head strike with a forceful, booted kick to Pusok's groin. At the very least, the force of this kick could have caused great bodily injury. There are documented cases in which men have died as a result of a kick to the groin.
Over the course of the next two minutes, as many as eleven officers arrive on-scene, with several of them participating in the subduing of Pusok, by using various forms and levels of force. Channel 4 News reported:
"In the two minutes after the man was stunned with a Taser, it appeared deputies kicked him 17 times, punched him 37 times and struck him with batons four times. Thirteen blows appeared to be to the head."If Channel 4 News reporting is accurate, Pusok was struck 58 times in two-minute's time, after he lied on the ground and put his hands behind his back.
I've watched the above video many times. Over the course of the last 24 hours, I have thought so much about this incident that I can see it when I close my eyes.
Pusok is no angel. Three children out of wedlock (yes, that makes him a bad guy; in God's eyes Pusok is an adulterer and a fornicator). In addition to being the primary suspect in an identity theft case, running from police, and stealing a horse, the Los Angeles Times reports the following about Pusok's criminal history:
"Pusok’s previous brushes with the law span more than a decade through several counties in California, according to public records.Another online news source added:
"He pleaded no contest to felony attempted robbery in a 2006 incident as well as to several misdemeanor charges, including disturbing the peace and animal cruelty. In December, he was charged in San Bernardino County with a misdemeanor count of resisting arrest; he pleaded no contest."
"[Sheriff] McMahon said deputies had previously been called to a home where Pusok allegedly made threats to kill a deputy and fatally shot a family puppy in front of his family members. 'We were very familiar with his aggressive nature,' McMahon said."It is unlikely the media will ever refer to Pusok a hard-working, white, father of three. But I digress.
What I Believe
The deputies who wrote and executed the search warrant against Pusok no doubt were well-aware of his criminal history, including the fact that he is known to resist arrest.
Having written many search warrants myself, knowing a suspect had prior physical confrontations with law enforcement always put me and my team on a heightened sense of awareness. And we went into such search warrants ready and willing to fight, if the need to do so presented itself. The deputies' state of mind likely included the real possibility that Pusok would go "the hard way."
However, what I saw in the video, without knowing any of the possible, prior, extenuating circumstances that may yet come to light, was an unlawful use of force. What I saw from the distance of a hundred miles (the distance from my living room to that plot of ground in the desert), and separated by the zoom lens of a television camera in a helicopter a thousand feet above the scene, was several deputies unlawfully assault Francis Jared Pusok, under the color of authority.
How I Feel
My heart sank as I watched the video, over and over again. Another black mark in the history of my noble, God-ordained profession--for my family behind the badge. As of the writing of this article, the latest news reports indicate ten of the deputies involved have already been placed on paid, administrative leave. Some of them will likely be disciplined (suspensions, loss of pay, mark in their service records). Others may be fired. Some might face criminal prosecution.
Earlier this afternoon, I had a brief online conversation with a retired officer. He served with a large agency and retired a commanding officer. One of the thoughts I shared with him was this: Was there a man of God in the group of deputies on-scene? Was there not one man among the lot who had the integrity and courage to try to put a stop to what was happening?
I've had another reoccurring thought--one that has troubled my spirit. What would I have done if I had arrived while the deputies were beating Pusok?
And that thought is always immediately followed by an image in my mind.
As the scene develops, I see myself yelling at the other deputies to stop striking Pusok. When that doesn't work, I lie down on top of Pusok and shield him with my body.
Before you scream, let me assure you my thoughts about this scene, each time I see it in my head, never turn to heroism. There is absolutely no chest thumping or thoughts of, "Well, if I had been there, I would have....." The thought of shielding Pusok's body with my own causes me to cringe. It curls my toes. The visceral fear of the possible physical and professional consequences for taking such action is palatable.
I don't think I can love Francis Jared Pusok enough to do that for him. My heart is not as pure as it should be. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
There wasn't a deputy present who had the temerity to stop the beating. Pusok is a criminal. To some, a dirtbag. To many in law enforcement, people like Pusok are job security--the "them" of society. Yet what happened to him on that patch of desert dirt was wrong.
To many outside of law enforcement, the deputies involved in this situation are the criminals. To others, the deputies are what's wrong with society.
There are no winners in this situation.
Everyone--the deputies and Pusok--need someone to step in, to put himself in harms way for them. More than that, the deputies and Pusok need someone who will literally lay down his own life for them.
What I Want Every Deputy, and Pusok, to Hear
Jesus Christ is Lord.
He is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. He was with the Father in and at Creation. All things—all things—were created by Him, and through Him, and for Him. Nothing has ever been made that was not made by Jesus Christ. He is the sinless Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world. He is also the Lion of the Tribe of Judah who will judge both the living and the dead. He is King of kings and Lord of Lords. He is sovereign over all things.
He owns every person, just as He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and it matters not if, at present, the person is in wanton rebellion against Jesus Christ or one of His born-again, beloved children. Jesus owns it all. Jesus owns us all. God is. God is one. God is Three in One—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—One God in Three Persons—the Triune One—the Trinity—God. And this God, for there is only one God, is the God before whom every person will one day stand to give an account for their lives. Because God alone is truly and perfectly good, He will judge each person according to the perfect moral standard He has written on every human heart.
Every person reading this knows that it is a sin to lie because you were created in the image of God, and God is not a liar. You know it is wrong to harbor bitterness, resentment, and hatred in your heart toward another person because God is not a murderer. You know it is wrong to fornicate (to engage sexually with a man or a woman outside the bonds of marriage between one man and one woman). You know it is wrong to look and think with lust. You know it is wrong to commit adultery. You know it is wrong to engage in homosexuality, lesbianism, or any other form of sexual depravity because God is not a fornicator or an adulterer. You know it is wrong to take the name of the Lord your God in vain, to bring his name down low and use it as an adjectival term of excitement, anger, sorrow, or fear, because God is not a blasphemer. God is true. God is love. God is faithful. God is holy.
For the above reasons, and others, everyone who stands before God, including you, to give an account will do so without excuse. You won't be able to claim innocence or ignorance of violating God’s law—whether in thought, word, or deed. Because God is good, because He is holy, righteous and just, He must punish sin. The punishment God has determined for sin, all sin, is eternity in Hell.
It matters not whether you, the reader, believe this. What matters is that it is true. Truth is not determined by what one believes. God is truth, though every person is found to be a liar. Truth is that which comports to reality, and any attempt to live life apart from the reality of God is to live a life of chaos, absurdity, arrogant denial, and sin.
This same God—again, for there is only one God—who is angry with the wicked every day, whose wrath abides upon the ungodly, who will judge the world in righteousness, is the same God who is loving, merciful, gracious, and kind. And He showed His great love for mankind when He sent His Son to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ—fully God and fully Man, yet without sin.
Jesus of Nazareth, born of a virgin just as the prophet Isaiah declared more than 700 years before Jesus’s literal, physical birth, lived the perfect, sinless life you cannot live. For some 33 years, Jesus lived a life in perfect obedience to the law of God—in thought, word, and deed—a life you and I could not hope to live for a mere 33 seconds. And then He voluntarily went to the cross. Yes, it was the Jewish people who hatefully and viciously demanded Jesus’s execution.
Jesus shed His innocent blood on the cross. He died a literal, physical death on the cross. And He was buried in a tomb not His own. Three days later, Jesus forever defeated sin and death when He physically, bodily rose from the grave. And unlike every false god created in the imaginations of men—whether the false gods of Islam, Catholicism, Mormonism, Hinduism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Oprah-ism, or Atheism (a religion like every other spiritual “ism.”)—Jesus Christ is alive today and He will return at a time of the Father’s choosing.
What God commands of you is the same thing He commands of me and all people everywhere, and that’s that you repent—turn from your sin and turn toward God—and by faith alone receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
You must come to God on His terms. God does not negotiate with sinners. God will not be bribed by your religious practices or what you may perceive as “good works” acceptable to God. God will not weigh your “good” against your “bad,” for God does not see you or anyone else as good—good in keeping with His standard of moral perfection. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
If you do not read the gospel of Jesus Christ and see it for what it is, good news, it is because you love your sin more than you love God. It is because you love yourself more than you love God. It is because the love of God and the Truth of His Word is not in you.
But if God causes you to be born again and extends to you the gifts of repentance and faith, which only He can give, then He will take your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. You will begin to love the things God loves and hate the things God hates. You will stop presuming upon God’s forgiveness as if it is something you have earned or deserved. Instead, you will have the confident assurance He has forgiven you—not on the basis of any deeds you have done in righteousness, but based entirely upon God’s mercy, grace, and love.
And why would God allow His one and only Son to die a sinner’s death He did not deserve in order to take upon Himself the punishment sinners rightly deserve for their sins against God, so that sinners could be forgiven and saved? “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
May all (including the deputies and Francis Pusok) who read this who do not know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior repent and believe the gospel while God has given them time. May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward for His suffering!