Alabama Police Officers Lose Jobs Over Suspect Beating, But Should a Cover Up Lead to Criminal Charges for Others?
Five Alabama police officers have been fired over the beating of Anthony Warren as he lay unconscious following a high speed chase and wreck in Birmingham. The video footage, which can be seen on CNN, is shocking, but perhaps just as alarming should be how long it took for the video to get discovered and actually lead to any consequences. The chase is believed to have occurred in January of 2008, more than a year ago, but just recently (and perhaps accidentally) came to light.
Now, obviously the five police officers who lost their jobs could face further penalties of both civil and criminal nature. Beating an unconscious suspect, even for a relatively short period of time, opens the door wide open to claims of excessive force in the context of a civil rights suit, as well as criminal charges to boot.
But setting aside what happens to the five policemen directly involved in the beating, perhaps it should be just as important to consider what happens to anybody involved in a coverup of the video. Indeed, an AP report indicated that authorities "believe numerous Birmingham officers and as many as a half-dozen supervisors saw the video over the past year, but none reported it."
Warren himself had no clue he was beaten, as he was unconscious throughout and presumably assumed his injuries came from the wreck. The only reason the beating was even discovered at all was because a prosecutor in the criminal case against Warren (he had faced charges of attempted murder) wanted to play a video of the chase for the jury, and needed a copy of the original dashboard tape. Noteably, "the beating was not on the copy" prosecutors were first given. A prosecutor then discovered the footage of the beating, and "contacted the defense, the Alabama Bureau of Investigation and the Birmingham police chief."
Warren ended up pleading guilty to first-degree assault and getting a 20 year sentence. The story notes that the Alabama Bureau of Investigation is taking a close look at the case, and it remains to be seen whether any further consequences are out there for anyone involved in any alleged tampering of the video, or in turning a blind eye to the officers' actions in this case.
- CNN: 5 Alabama police officers fired over beating caught on camera
- AP: 5 Ala. officers fired for beating caught on tape (Yahoo! News)
- Star-Ledger: Two Irvington police officers indicted for alleged evidence tampering (www.nj.com)
- Alabama Law on Tampering with Evidence (Alabama Legislature)
- Criminal Law Center (FindLaw)
- Constitutional Protections for Defendants (provided by Greenspan & Greenspan)
- Police Misconduct and Civil Rights (FindLaw)