Portland prosecutor says innocent man's classic kung fu film collection warranted brutal police tasing

201204281032A Portland City attorney argued in court that a Portland police officer was justified in brutally tasing a non-violent man with no criminal record because it was later discovered that the man owned a classic kung fu film collection. The jury didn't agree, and the taxpayers now get to pay a $250,000 settlement. Naturally, Officer Benjamin J. Davidson remains on the force.

Wrong Guy


  1. Let me quickly forestall the inevitable:

    “Hey, just because there are a few bad cops . . . ”

    1. There’s not a few, but a lot of them. Because they don’t fire them after they do something like this.

    2. ‘The bishop says, “I’m afraid you’ve got a bad egg, Mr Jones.” The curate replies, “Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!”‘

  2. The trick to using a reverse causation defense successfully is to make it seem as though it’s not completely against the laws of nature.

    Alternatively, perhaps we should be nominating the Po-Po-Po for the Nobel Prize for their recent discovery that statistically-very-rare facts knowable only in the future can travel back in time and justify brutal actions in the past.

    1. The standard when someone who isn’t a police officer uses force is, “What would a reasonable person have believed about the situation, given the facts that were available at the time that the force was deployed?” In other words, if a person threatens to kill me, and I know that the person is in the Special Forces and can kill with a comb, I may be justified in using a weapon against them, but if that fact only comes out afterwards, it can’t be used to justify the use of a weapon.

      Apparently this standard doesn’t apply to the police, who can attempt to retroactively justify their use of force. Glad the jury didn’t fall for it.

        1. Inferring that observation affects the system…

          No armed police should be allowed on duty without constant video and audio recording. 

  3. I really wish this sort of thing would happen to a politician or two… that seems like the only way this rampant abuse of power is ever going to change. I know the rich are pretty much off-limits to the police, but surely there’s an officer out there incompetent enough to make it happen by accident.

    1. New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams has been on the other side of unreasonable stop & detainment…& it didn’t really get anywhere.

    2.  What is unreasonable is the continued employment of the officer.  If an employee of mine did something totally unprofessional and to the point where a jury found my company liable for $250k in damages, that person would be fired on the spot.
      If you sue the city, the taxpayer pays for it.
      If you fire a cop, the rest will think twice about doing crap like this.

      1. Except you have to deal with union contracts where they have to be caught drinking the blood of a virgin under the full moon to actually ever be fired.
        Then you have to deal with irate officers who might get the blue flu and leave the city hanging to remind everyone how much you need them and should never question them.
        Its a brotherhood and they have to support each other! 
        Except everytime you ignore what was done for the sake of the brotherhood you dishonor the badge on your chest… and then you wonder why people on the street have no respect for you anymore.

    1.  Actually, there are some really, really bad things about it.

      But I’m curios as to where you live, ’cause I’m looking for a country that doesn’t have a dark side.

      Thanks in advance.

  4. Portland’s mayor had the temerity to try to fire a cop who shot an unarmed man in the back. The cop was reinstated after arbitration, and it’s unlikely that the mayor will be legally able to defy the arbitrator’s ruling, although he wants to.

    It’s hard not to conclude that the only accountability police face in the State of Oregon is the state’s arbitrators, who keep reinstating them even after they’re fired for the most egregious behavior.

    1. Because if police officers lose the right to shoot unarmed people in the back our world as we know it will come to and end.

    2.  Sounds like there’s a real problem with accountability there. When the investigators are in bed with the investigatees, nothing good ever happens. We have the same problem in Toronto with the SUI, who get called in every time a cop shoots someone. They either don’t have the power or the desire to prosecute.

    1. this happens often. The surrounding and relatively more hillbilly counties are filled with, on the average, much more reasonable and competent cops who also think the Portland Police are a bunch of abusive dickbags

    2. yeah!  can’t be Portland…  as usual Seattle kicks butt by having a more violent police force by far!  (link to various DOJ reports)   so… nyah nyah…  oh wait… hmm

      1. I was under the honest impression that Portland and Seattle were among the nice parts of the US. Is there anything left?

        1.  It is mighty peaceful in the parts where everybody is a white, conservative Christian. 
          I imagine, as I haven’t been there. 

  5. One thing that doesn’t happen often enough is a civil lawsuit specifically against the officer in question. That’s where the real application of change takes place. The offending officer is specifically financially punished, not the whole force and it makes individual officers aware it will come out of their wallet, not the city’s coffers…

    1. Because pissing off a guy who beat your ass and hid behind a badge the first time seems like a good play?
      Not like the thin blue line will close ranks and make your life a living hell for daring to think just because your rights were violated means you have a right to justice against a cop.

      1.  You have a good point.  The settlement would hopefully make a nice indefinite vacation package to another part of the country.

  6. What is wrong with the US? Having a police force (or any other governmental agency) whose members are above the law and brutalizing the rest of the population is not a hallmark of constitutional democracy/nation under law. Glad I’m living in a country in western Europe where equality before the law, human rights and liberty  are no empty phrases to justify wars and win elections.

      1. No, they’d just to be more likely to hide their abuses of authority behind National Security gag orders.

      2. We’ve got local police, county sheriffs, state cops, the FBI, the Marshal service, and so on and so forth. Law enforcement agencies managed at various levels and with differing jurisdictions. Corruption still happens.

    1. You know, the original post makes my blood boil. I won’t defend anything the cops do here, much less Portland, as way too many do reprehensible things and because I just don’t like them. However, I notice you are “living in a country in western Europe” were everything is apparently deliriously fair and and the squirrels fart rainbows. Bullshit.

      Where do you live, Luxembourg? Lichtenstein? Andorra? If you live in any MAJOR Western European country you have a history of war, plunder, and racism, past, present, and future to own and a shitload of dead bodies to go along.  So pull the bullshit off off me, because if you had the balls to say where you lived specifically, not some unnamed “western European” paradise, I could go to Google and in 30 seconds show you where you are either ignorant or lying. And I can do this trick for virtual any “western European ” country starting at the Iberian peninsula and heading east. Maybe the Swiss don’t get nailed on war thing, but everything else, especially the racism thing.

      I have spent a lot of time all over Europe, which I like very much in general (the people, too). While the beer is better (and not that much anymore; too damn many fine small breweries here now), the scenery is better, often the food is better, and I envy the French healthcare system, the people still have all the same failings as the rest of us poor dumb, violent, racist Yanks AND your cops are still dicks. The real difference? European smugness. Yep, you’ve solved all the big problems. And the rest of the world will be working off the effects of the last two centuries of western European history for the next two centuries, so STFU, concern troll.

      1. I live in Netherland, and there have definitely been situations where the police was way out of line and wasn’t held accountable for it. In the 1990s, there was a big but peaceful student protest in The Hague against yet more budget cuts in education. The police presence was very much in their face and provoking right from the start. Halfway during the actual protest, the police charged the protesters (not with a crime, but with horses and water cannons) and turned it into a full scale panic/riot.

        People in charge of that operation should have lost their job over it, but nothing ever happened. I’m still angry about that.

        But to put it into perspective, this was well over 10 years ago. And nobody died (though lots of students were hurt or traumatized). When a cop pulls a gun and shoots someone, it will always be investigated. Individual cops do get punished for their misbehaviour. Whereas we see almost weekly stories about American cops who basically commit murder and get away with it.

        So don’t give me that crap that all European countries are just as bad as the US. They’re not. They’re far from perfect, but they’re not remotely as bad as the US in this.

        1. I don’t think he’s saying that any country is “just as bad” as any other country. The point I believe he was making — and I think it is a valid one — is that all countries have issues, and smugness/criticizing other countries does nothing to address the problems in your own country. And, frankly, that should be everyone’s concern. Yea, it’s fun to feel superior, and criticism is a lot more fun that introspection, but ultimately it does no good.

          1. Exactly. Thank you for translating me.

            I get so tired of the game “y’all are assholes, we’re not”. I see the North vs. the South (US) version of the game played by folks from states with defacto segregation, plenty of racism, and dickish cops (looking at you, NY), here on Boing-Boing and other sites. I see the North American version of the game played by our northern neighbors in Canada, home of Prime Minister George Bush Wanna-Be and the clown who is the mayor of Toronto. Yesterday I saw the Western Industrialized Nations version of the game: Netherlands vs. USA.  And, objectively, they win on current conditions, but what does it add to the conversation to point out that the Dutch rule, the Yanks drool? Nothing! It’s just comments from the peanut gallery. Not saying they have to shut up. You can have a part of the conversation, a valuable part, but don’t be a preachy, smug dick.

            When Dutch (or German, or British, or French…) newspapers cease covering their national news for lack of negative things to report, I’ll sit still  for smug Europeans preaching to America about Paradiso Europeo. Talk about our issues constructively, not about how wonderful you’ve got over there in that theme park called Europe, because your self-congratulations don’t help us solve our problems.  I spent enough time in Europe to know y’all ain’t so different from us here in the US. A friend of mine had all his guitars stolen in Amsterdam when his band was touring, so I know you have crime there. Let’s talk about Gert Wilders, reactionary politics and the 15% of your population who feel that are too brown to really be accepted as Dutch, so I know you have racism there. We know you have homicidal psychopaths, because Joran van der Sloot is a proud Nederlander. That’s just off the top of my head, Martijn. 

            And personally, I don’t feel the histories of the Dutch East India Company and the West India Company (Slavery, Massacres and Boers, oh my!) are counterbalanced by the relative benign period since y’all quit trying to rule Indonesia in 1949, much less by the last ten or so orderly and peaceful years since the “student protest in The Hague”, so there. Sixty-three years is a blink of the eye in historical terms, especially when weighed against a body count.  An example you might feel viscerally: it’s been a whopping great seventy-two years since the Germans came a-calling. You’d agree that their moral slate has been wiped clean, right? It’s been sixty seven years since they got kicked back out. So you would be okay with a German  holding forth about the Niederländischen and about how in Deutschland,  it’s so much better, because after all, it’s been seventy odd years since they bombed Rotterdam to the ground. All is forgotten! Uh, no. Y’all pretty much hated the Germans, and weren’t afraid to say so when I was over there hanging out, drinking the good Heinekin (the export stuff we get is disgusting). So, I guess the current conditions aren’t always the whole story.

            Feel guilty any aspect of your national patrimony, my cousin Martijn? Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, great grandpa was a stowaway and army deserter from Rotterdam, so historically, some of this gets on me. OH! What was wrong with the Netherlands? Why did the Dutch kill and enslave so many brown and black people? Nyah-nyah-nyah. Your nation is not beyond accountability for it’s past, just as my nation is not beyond accountability for our present.  So cut the bullshit.

            We are all sinners, to quote my christianist friends. We are all vulnerable to criticism and one upsmanship, because when one engages in such game playing, one gets to pick the rules and the field of play. Pretty fucking easy game to play, but it’s not productive when addressing police brutality in Portland, Oregon.

            Add something to the conversation or, as I said earlier, STFU. Here is a template: (factual statement about something fucked up that happened in a country at which you look down your nose) + (statement of personal opinion OR factually supported belief  OR deep insight OR suggestion for positive step to solve the fucked up happening OR historical parallel OR expression of commiseration with/support for the victim OR yadda, yadda, yadda, etc.) = a contribution to the conversation. (My country rocks) + (Your country sucks) = FAIL.

      2. I don’t know where ffabian lives (either), but I do perceive a difference in attitude between U.S. cop/non-cop society and the Western European cop/non-cop societies with which I’m acquainted.

        Sure, there are great U.S. LEOs and corrupt European police, as you suggest, but I think there’s a big difference in both the philosophy and numeric density of Eurocops relative to the U.S.

        First of all, USians seem to expect that their communities are constantly patrolled by highly visible, well-armed officers; after all, how are they going to keep crime from happening otherwise? What else will keep the bank from getting robbed, schoolkids from getting kidnapped/abused/shot, storekeepers from getting shaken down by the mafia, government buildings from being blown up?

        Here in Switzerland, the patrols do happen, especially in the larger cities, but I don’t get the impression that the populace is relying on them to maintain order in society; that’s up to all of us. We’re just supposed to behave. (And maybe this is some specialty of this country, but I get the same impression from the Benelux and Scandinavian countries, at least, although I have never lived there.)

        I think folks here expect the cops to show up when called because there is some trouble, and they should then take care of it, in a professional manner, whatever the problem is. The door-storming, tweaker-tazing, hoodlum-shooting, “Everybody freeze!” kind of behavior we see so much of in U.S. TV shows isn’t the norm here. Sure, the cops can and do break down a door when appropriate, but it’s not considered appropriate that often here.

        There seem to be fewer cops per capita here compared to the U.S. I don’t know where to look for statistics, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Germany (and maybe France) had a higher cop/civilian ratio than Switzerland, but I don’t get the impression the cops are everywhere, the way I do in the States.

        Also, I get the impression that there is a higher proportion of American cops who subscribe to the idea that a person with a badge is entitled to push people around (even literally). To be sure, there are assholes everywhere, but I haven’t seen Eurocops behave as if they’re naturally justified in barking arbitrary orders and making unwarranted searches and God help you if you don’t comply immediately, dammit. They (Eurocops) seem to be more like, you know, regular people who do a specialized job for a living.

        All of the above specifically excludes the UK, of which I have heard too many U.S.-like reports. Also (and not unrelatedly), I surely have a certain amount of bias of perception; I read BoingBoing and so get a lot more news about bad cops from English-speaking countries like Canada (whence Cory comes) and England (where Cory lives). Also, there may be several reports of local misbehavior that don’t make it to my personal radar. Some small-town LEO malfeasance in Portugal might completely escape my notice, for example.

        Apologies for a long post in what’s expected to be a short-form medium. TL;DNR: Yes, Sabeletodo, racism and brutality an naughty LEO behavior occurs in Europe, too, not just the USA, but I perceive a significant difference in mentality in and around Switzerland, among both cops and civilians.

        1. The following numbers are: cops per 100,000 capita: 

          Iran: 55              (lol!  Also no gays.)
          China: 120        (Obviously not counting Thought Police.)
          Norway: 158           (Norwegians.)
          Canada: 195        (But Mounties should count triple.)
          Denmark: 196  (All white atheists, retired vikings.)
          Sweden: 199 (Muslimic immigrants to atheist country.)
          Suisse: 214    (Most males have assault rifles at home.)
          Netherlands: 216   (Less drug war.)
          USA: 233
          Deutschland: 301    (Half of them are Nazis.)
          Austria: 320             (              “”            )
          United Queendom: 333      (Whistles and sticks.)
          Ireland: 342             (Drunken brawls.)
          France: 369
          Greece: 452       (I guess they can afford it.)
          Turkey: 484       (And strong military.  In numbers.)
          Portugal: 485    (wtf?!  No drug war.)
          Italia: 552          (Have too much money?!)
          Russia: 773        (All MVD cops, not just uniforms.)

          1. Interesting, thanks, Ipo. Care to reveal your source(s)? Is the numbers from a bunch of googling you did, or is there some Wikipedia article you found?

          2. Yes like the list. I got to say I like Canada’s neighbors on the list in the under 200 club:

            Norway: 158 
            Canada: 195 
            Denmark: 196
            Sweden: 199

            Just two things:

            1) I was wondering was Finland was, and looked it up:
            Finland: 146 (Which is about what I would expect)
            Nordic Countries! Whut Whut!

            2) I am pretty sure China has such a low rate simply because its population is so massive. Looking at:
            India: 130 (I would say that makes a strong argument). Also if you can even believe the Iran number, I would wonder if that doesn’t count the religious police, and also the fact that possibly their military which may have a very large presence may handle a lot of the domestic service.

          3. Ryan Lenethen, 
            China has such low numbers because they only report regular uniformed police. 
            Secret police is secret. 
            The Ministry of State Security is huge. 
            The MSS has the same authority to arrest or detain people as regular police for
            crimes involving state security. 
            Like blogging. 

            Persia is not reporting the numbers for SAVAK (National Intelligence and Security Organization) and Basij, whose job is the policing of morals and the suppression of dissident gatherings and the like.

    2. This is just one of the many stories that has recently convinced me that the US already is a police state. Not on its way to become one, but already is. And that means I will not visit any of the really cool places in the US until you guys fix this.

    3.  Where is that? 
      I’m living in a country in Central Europe, and I’m not aware of any  countries neighbouring to the west where equality, human rights and liberty aren’t just empty phrases to justify wars and win elections. 
      I thought Sweden fit your description best but is northern. 
      I wanna go to your country. 

    1.  I find that second-most interesting. 
      I find it most interesting that his owning kung fu flicks could justify his beatdown and torture under any circumstance in anyone’s mind. 

      Imagine he liked war movies.  
      They would have had to shoot him. 

    2. yeah because JUSTICE IS RETROACTIVE based on evidence found after the fact——amazing how the law twists and turns when it is applied to those who are paid  to enforce others follow it …..

  7. This guy was attacked by police four years ago – he was walking home when some cops (wrongly) tasered him 5 times and threw him to the ground. He’s a really nice guy, and runs the local Grindhouse Film Festival. The station I volunteer at even managed to interview him: http://kboo.fm/node/35494

    The whole kung-fu thing was a really small angle of the story: the police and city were trying to make him appear violent, or criminal, to downplay his whole “completely innocent man brutally jumped by cops” story.

    As others have pointed out here: Portland Police Bureau is crazy! There are quite a few cases like this, and very little accountability. Here’s a short interview I did with a Copwatch activist about the police arbitration system: http://kboo.fm/node/35142

  8. This seems like the kind of thing that we could use the ballot initiative system for.   Try to pass a law requiring that the police fire an officer if he causes a civil suit that the department loses.   Even, perhaps, requiring that, if an officer has a complaint of brutality or unnecessary force, his superiors for two or three rungs up the ladder have to either fire him or sign off saying that he’s not a threat, and if he subsequently winds up causing a lawsuit like this, everyone who signed off on him gets fires.

    I know right.  But I can dream, can’t I?

  9. Somebody should go through the Davidson’s  movie collection to justify removing him from the force. “Dark Blue”, “Training Day”, “Cop Land”…Screw it he owns “The Omen”, let’s burn him.

      1. Bzzzzt.  I’m sorry, the correct answer was “taser him and throw him to the ground.”  Strip and full cavity search are standard, SOCUS-approved, procedure for all arrests.

        1. They had to taser him 5 times.  The first 4 times he kept twitching which is clearly resisting arrest. 

          “Stop moving!”  Bzzzt…

    1. Doesn’t sound like a situation where he’d have done much more than gotten killed if he’d fought back.

      1. deadly force if necessary, gotta hold them accountable somehow… Clearly the courts wont do it, and police… they love violence…

        honestly if some stranger came and beat the living shit out of you wouldn’t you be within your rights to defend yourself?

        i think at some point excessive force on the part of the police ought to make some retaliation from the public justified. the government needs to be afraid of the people.

        we are all complacent and bored, worthless citizens, we’ve got a serious problem with corruption and lack of accountability at all levels of our government now, and almost no one seems to care.

        anyway i’ll quit the crazy talk, big brother loves you, and the state wishes you no harm, we’re only here to protect you and the community at large.

        as i get V&

        1. The only effective way to fight a gang of armed thugs is to be prepared, and for them to not know that you’re prepared.  You’d have to be some kind of Shaolin monk.

          1. Delusional martial-arts fantasies aside, there is NO effective way to fight a gang of armed thugs. They are armed and you are outnumbered. You avoid them or they get you.

            I don’t know what strategy you could possibly employ  to avoid being jumped and tasered for no reason by the police in a police state. Normal armed thugs are at least pursuing understandable goals such as robbing you, and avoiding situations where they will be witnessed and might be brought to justice. The police, when they do this kind of thing, are pursuing irrational goals that they can never satisfactorily explain afterwards, and they do it with no fear of accountability.

        2. I have done that. 
          I fought back cops and caused their hospitalization. 
          It was life changing. 
          I was quickly, almost immediately, released from an insane ward I’d been taken to, in cuffs, ankle cuffs and strapped to a stretcher, by a Doc who was sick of police beatings. 
          My lawyer suggested for me to not go home and to hide until I leave the country, and after I recovered from my injuries, I did. 

          True story. =]

  10. “When you trade freedom for security, you end up with neither”, or something of that sort. That was, I think, a quote from Benjamin Franklin. The only problem is that the founders of this country didn’t actually know what they were talking about. That is why the Constitution is almost completely ignored now and rightfully so. smarter and more powerful people should make our decisions for us, and they should be protected from prosecution if they some rare times make a mistake. Remember 911. Terrorists are everywhere and films are one  of their training tools. The department of future crime doesn’t need fancy computers to work, it simply needs really good lawyers working for the state.

  11. We need more responsibility!

    We need less over reaction!

    We need more accountability!

    We need less immunity!

    We need more action!

    We need less apathy.

    We just need more common sense in dealing with issues instead of just zapping some poor fellow to death.  Violence is easy, mercy and compassion are hard.

  12. The arresting officer claimed that the suspect had killed his master, and that furthermore his Snake and Crane style was superior to the alleged perpetrator’s Eagle Claw Fist, leading to the altercation in question. Witnesses at the scene further allege that the officer’s lip movements were somehow not in synch with what he was saying.

  13. I can sympathize with the officer, some kung fu movies are criminal in their acting, direction and editing. Though, I would think that the officer would have the foresight to realize that he should be going after the producers and writers of those movies, not the simple folks who get stoned and watch the movies.

    1. Well what other genre of movie would let you have the bad guy say “Only deus ex machina can save you now!”, and have deus ex machina show up and save the protagonist?

  14. Sorry, gotta scratch my J-school nitpicking itch:

    The city attorney doesn’t appear to be the “prosecutor” here, but is actually counsel for the defense (the city).

    1. Why yes it would, but only in a matter of perception from the public.
      He OBVIOUSLY would have committed another foul deed, like he has a history of doing, and we just got to him before he turned one you you fine upstanding citizens into his newest victim.

      You hear someone is on the sex offender registry, a majority of people assume the person rapes children.  The list of what can get you on that list is huge and many of them aren’t even sexual in nature.  But if you saw someone beaten like this man and they said, he is on the sex offender registry would you even think twice?

        1. Reading… its fundamental.
          How you turned a discussion about the perceived guilt of someone because they might have done something before and came up with a registry for bad cops escapes me.

          1. sorry playing chess thinking three moves ahead…. at this point after re reading your post, I am not even sure how my twisted mind interpreted, your post about the scenario of being on the sex offender list and how that fact, if known could affect the outcome or public opinion….. jeez leaps and bounds away , maybe I’d better cut back on the medication :)

  15.  Welcome to the United Bedwetting Scared-Stupid-and-Completely-Cowed-by-Incompetent-Authority States of America.

  16. The officer who tased him was trying to GET his rare Kung Fu movie collection and nearly succeeded.  

  17. Why didn’t they use the birth of his  great-great-grandchild (and future world overlord) Celsius Halsted the IV to justify tasing him? It would make more sense.

  18. Brief anecdote about Portland cops:
    I lived in P-town in 2006 and was riding my bike home in the rain one night when a police cruiser creeped up behind me and rev’ed his engine and flashed his siren/lights when he was a few feet back from me, making me jump, slip and fall. When I got back up he shined his spotlight in my face and demanded I explain what I was doing, what my address was, why I was riding up the hill to OHSU at night. He searched my bags for ‘stolen property.’ The reason he gave? I was wearing black rain gear with Illuminite reflective patches and stripes, and he said it was ‘camouflage’. Yes…that sneaky sneaky REFLECTIVE camouflage.

  19. Wow…chalk up one more article on police brutality , with no punishment after the office has been found out to be in the wrong.
    Once again we the people pay the tab for an officer who should not have been on the force to begin with….
    Sue him personally in civil court for discriminating against old kung fu movie buffs ….take away his pension …. Making the citizens pay for the mistakes of the local authorities should be outlawed as there is no repercussion forced on the agency or agents responsible.

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