Editorials, Opinion

The cop culture of violence and silence

The Dominion Post reported Monday that Westover’s insurer settled two lawsuits alleging police brutality.

The suit on behalf of William Cox — who says he was kicked, punched, pepper-sprayed and falsely arrested by Westover officers Aaron Dalton and Justice Carver for recording them with his cell phone as they drove by in a marked cruiser in August 2019 — was settled for $750,000. The suit filed by Andre Howton — who alleges officers Dalton and Zachary Fecsko pulled him from his home and beat him on New Year’s Day 2019 — was settled for $350,000.

As part of the settlement, neither the city nor the officers admit guilt or liability — as is usually the case with settlements. But it’s hard to imagine the city’s insurer would shell out $1.1 million if there was no basis to the claims. Or, specifically in the cases of Howton and Cox, video footage capturing both altercations.

Dalton, a culprit in both incidences, has been let go. We reached out to Westover to ask if Fecsko and Carver still work for the Westover Police Department but did not receive an answer in time for this editorial. We assume the two officers still do.

Acts of unnecessary violence by law enforcement is not a recent issue, but it took center stage in the national discourse when video evidence captured Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes while other officers stood by. Now, police are under constant public scrutiny, not just by watchdog groups and reporters, but by everyday people.

NPR recently featured the podcast “Motive” that, in the first episode of  this season, investigated an Illinois prison where guards routinely use a particular blindspot between two doors to beat inmates — one of them to death — and all levels of management spent years covering it up, even threatening ancillary staff who tried to help the injured inmates. And it was the same handful of guards who were named repeatedly in allegations.

Closer to home, in 2018, a Weirton former officer won a lawsuit against the Weirton Police Department. Stephen Mader was the first on the scene to a domestic disturbance call in 2016. He realized right away the Black man waving the gun was in crisis — he wanted suicide by cop. Mader put away his gun and tried to talk the man down. Then other Weirton officers arrived and one promptly shot the man four times. Weirton PD fired Mader.

What all the above incidents illustrate is a problem that runs deep in law enforcement’s culture of violence and silence: Brutality is OK and they must close ranks to protect the offender, even against fellow officers. It’s become a system that would rather defend and retain its few “bad apples” and throw out dissidents than admit that something is fundamentally broken in the system.

And it may be just a few bad apples, like in Westover, where the same cop was involved in two separate  altercations, or in the Illinois prison, where the same handful of guards were the perpetrators.

But when the “good” ones try to stand up or speak out, the whole system — from the bad apples to apathetic colleagues to upper-level officials trying to save face — works to silence them.