The video posted on Twitter by a Black Lives Matter group showing a Meridian police officer beating a suspect who’s lying on the pavement was shocking.
As the suspect, Colt James Seward, tries to cover his face, the officer repeatedly punches Seward, pushes his head into the pavement and pins Seward to the ground. As a second officer holds Seward’s right hand behind his back, the first officer hits Seward in the face again.
In his police mugshot, Seward’s right eye is swollen shut, he has blood on his face and he has several cuts on his forehead.
It was a gratuitous display of excessive, unnecessary force, for all the world to see.
And yet, Meridian Police Chief Tracy Basterrechea said Donald Heida, the officer who punched Seward, acted “within policy,” adding that “these incidents don’t happen if the suspect cooperates.”
This is certainly not to defend Seward, who is charged with driving under the influence and was, according to police, found passed out “in traffic” reclined behind the wheel of his vehicle, with the engine running, the car in gear and his foot on the brake. That’s obviously inexcusable.
Police say that after failing a sobriety test and being taken into custody, Seward slipped his handcuffed hands under his legs and to the front of his body, eventually leading to the altercation caught on video when police attempted to cuff him again.
At the beginning of the video, officers are seen pushing Seward down to his knees. Seward falls forward and rolls over, sending Heida rolling backward. That seemed to incite Heida, who appears to lose his temper and acts out of anger as he punches Seward in the head.
Outrage over what took place here and over the lack of accountability have nothing to do with defunding the police, backing the blue, Blue Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter or any of that. And no one’s saying all police officers are violent. It has to do with the principle that the police should be subject to the same rules as anyone else — and anyone else who did what Heida did would be in a lot of trouble.
It wasn’t an exercise in self-defense. It wasn’t proper policing. It wasn’t the least bit humane.
We recognize and acknowledge that police work is difficult and dangerous, and we know that the vast majority of police officers try to do the right thing.
But it’s the good officers who should be upset that Heida gets off with zero discipline.
Many people in the community believe that police act as if they are above the law, that officers protect colleagues’ bad behavior, that the thin blue line exists.
Decisions like this, when there are no repercussions, only serve to confirm those beliefs.
Telling the public that punching a subdued suspect who is pinned to the ground multiple times in the face is “within policy” of the Meridian Police Department sends an awful message.
Good police officers who know better should be calling for a different outcome. The city of Meridian should demand accountability.
Otherwise, this just paints all police with the same bad brush, and it damages trust in the department and in law enforcement in general.
Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion of the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board. Board members are opinion editor Scott McIntosh, opinion writer Bryan Clark, editor Chadd Cripe, newsroom editors Dana Oland and Jim Keyser and community member Mary Rohlfing.