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Al Martinez

High-Fives From the Hand of Justice

July 11, 2002|Al Martinez

Once again the most talked-about video in town is that of a white, muscular cop appearing to beat a scrawny, unarmed black person. I say appearing because things are not always what they seem. I ask you, for instance, to consider the case of Officer Marion (Macho) Muscles and the unpredictable Billy Skinny. Skinny, you might recall, was a 14-year-old African American caught by Officer Muscles stealing nails. While being questioned, he resisted and was subdued with the assistance of 17 other officers who had answered the call for backup. As a result of Skinny's resistance, extra force was applied and he later died of what was regarded as injuries suffered during the subduction.

An investigation followed, which included questioning by one Officer Buck (Everyone's Buddy) Budson from the department's Internal Affairs Division. I obtained audio tape excerpts from that interrogation.

Budson: Hey, Mach, how's it goin'? I haven't seen you since the stag party!

Muscles: Been busy, you know, "out huntin'."

(Laughter)

Budson: We got to talk about the... what was his name... yeah, the Billy Skinny kid. Because he died in custody, you know, we got to file the report.

Muscles: Oh, sure, man, I understand.

Budson: Starting from the beginning, why did you detain him in the first place?

Muscles (indignation): He was stealing! We can't have those people just grabbing what don't belong to them.

Budson: Those nails here in the report. Weren't they lying like in the street in front of the hardware store?

Muscles (seriously): They were in the perimeter of the store, Buck. Sort of like coastal waters, you see? They were part of the store.

Budson: Oh, yeah, right. Tell me in your words what happened next.

Muscles: Jeez, man, do we have to go through all this? (An unintelligible mumble from Budson; Muscles sighs heavily.) OK, I stop the kid and right away he sasses me.

Budson (shuffling papers): It says here, Mach, that witnesses testified the kid didn't say a word. Like nada.

Muscles: Right! Silent sass is the worst kind! It sets a guy up! You know what they're thinking by the look in their eyes! (A half-whisper) It was savage.

Budson: Hey, I never thought of that. You're right. Those people want justice but they won't ask for it politely. (The slapping sound of a high-five.) OK, go on.

Muscles: So I cuff the kid and I'm drag ... leading him to the car when he starts resisting.

Budson: I got to ask you, Mach. Skinny was mentally deficient. Did he know what was going on?

Muscles: Oh, he knew, Buck. That's the way it is with those nuts. They have these superhuman powers to see things we don't, you know?

Budson: Yeah, I read that in People magazine. So how did he resist?

Muscles: The little (expletive) twitched!

Budson: He twitched? You mean, like, he jerked or what?

Muscles: You know how when someone's about to fight you there's kind of this small movement, like they're getting set?

Budson: But wasn't he in cuffs?

Muscles: Hey, Buck (laughing), you forget, he's got these superhuman powers!

Budson: Oh, yeah, right. That's when you called for backup?

Muscles: Sure. The guy's beginning to glare too. That's another sign that he's about to do something beyond this world.

Budson: So he's twitching and glaring. It says here (paper shuffling) that with some backup officers watching and others helping, you lifted the suspect off the ground and slammed his head against the patrol car hood. A lot of people think this might constitute excessive police force, Mach.

Muscles: Jeez, man, I told the chief, I was just trying to knock a little sense into the dude's head before someone got hurt. The backup guys were getting edgy.

Budson: But it didn't stop him?

Muscles: Stop him? Christ, no. He began making funny growling sounds like deep in his throat and it scared hell out of me.

Budson: But weren't you choking him at the time?

Muscles (emphatically): I didn't choke nobody!

Budson: But it says here ...

Muscles: I put my hands around his throat to stop those dangerous sounds. I was defending myself. That's when the damned fool died.

Budson: Actually, Mach, he died after you punched him several times in the face.

Muscles: Those weren't punches! I was applying pressure to start his heart beating again. It's what do you call it artificial perspiration.

Budson: It says you were punching him in the face.

Muscles: I was excited in this life-and-death situation and I missed his chest.

Budson: Aha. Then you were just trying to save his life in a moment of extreme emotion after he suffered injuries while resisting arrest, right?

Muscles: Exactly!

Budson: It sounds OK to me, but there's going to have to be some kind of punishment to please the public.

Muscles: Sock it to me, pal.

Budson (sighing): Sorry, Mach. No lunch hours for a week.

Muscles: Oh, poor me!

(Mock groaning, loud laughter, high-five slapping, a door slamming and silence.)

Later, at the behest of the police union, the chief reduced Muscles' punishment to three days without lunch.

Al Martinez's column appears Mondays and Thursdays. He's at al.martinez@latimes.com.

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