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Law and Orders #7: Portland cops Erin Smith and Ron Hoesly find it “would be necessary” to pull Phil Sano down off his bike, beat him up, and taser him repeatedly, for biking without a headlight

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 16 years ago, in 2008, on the World Wide Web.

(Story thanks to a private correspondent.)

Government cops are here to protect you by shouting orders at passing strangers on bicycles, For Their Own Good, and then, if the biker should fail to immediately obey arbitrary commands to stop, bellowed by complete strangers on the street at 9:30 pm, who don’t make any effort to identify or explain themselves, and who are dressed all in black so that you can hardly even see who the hell is hollering at you, they’ll make sure you’re biking safely by tackling you, slamming you against a nearby wall, wrestling you to the ground, and then, when you say No and ask to know what you did wrong, declaring that you’re combative and torturing you with repeated high-voltage electric shocks, before they finally, in a remarkable act of circular practical reasoning, arrest you for resisting arrest.

But first, let’s review.

Cops in America are heavily armed and trained to be bullies. They routinely shove their way into situations where they aren’t wanted, weren’t invited, and have no business being. They deliberately escalate confrontations in order to stay in control through superior belligerence. They commonly use force to end an argument and then blame it on their victim. They rewrite events using pliable terms like aggressive, combative, and belligerent to conflate unkind words, purely verbal confrontations, or weak attempts to escape a grip or ward off blow with actual threats or violence against the cops, to excuse the use of extreme violence as retaliation for mouthing off or not just laying down and taking it like an upstanding citizen. They invariably pass off even the most egregious abuses of power as self-defense or as the necessary means to accomplish a completely unnecessary goal.

Cops carry a small armory of weapons and restraints that they can freely use to hurt or immobilize harmless or helpless people, and have memorized a small library of incredibly vague laws (disorderly conduct, resisting a police officer) that they can use as excuses for hurting, restraining, and arresting their victims, with virtually no danger of ever being called to account for their actions as long as other cops, who already have a professional interest in minimizing or dismissing complaints about abusive pigs, can figure out some way to fit the use of these incredibly vague offenses into the police department’s incredibly vague Official Procedures for arrests and for the use of force.

The practical consequence of their training and the institutional culture of impunity within which they operate are squads of arrogant, unaccountable, irresponsible hired thugs with massive senses of entitlement, organized into a paramilitary chain of command, who contemptuously dismiss their neighbors as mere civilians, who treat anyone who dares to give them lip or who questions their bellowed commands as a presumptive criminal, who have no scruple against using an arrest or torturous physical pain to force you to comply with their arbitrary orders, and who excuse any sort of abuse by sanctimoniously informing you that it became necessary to stomp on you in order to protect you — whether or not you ever asked for the protection in the first place.

One increasingly popular means for out-of-control cops to force you to follow their bellowed orders is by using high-voltage electric shocks in order to inflict pain. Tasers were originally introduced for police use as an alternative to using lethal force; the hope was that, in many situations where cops might otherwise feel forced to go for their guns, they might be able to use the taser instead, to immobilize a person who posed a threat to the life and limb of the cops or of innocent third parties, without killing anybody in the process. But in practice, police culture being what it is, any notion of limiting tasers to those situations very quickly went out the window. Cops armed with tasers now freely use them to end arguments by intimidation or actual violence, to coerce people who pose no real threat to anyone into complying with their instructions, and to hurt uppity civilians who dare to give them lip. Among civilized people, deliberately inflicting severe pain in order to extort compliance from your victim is called torture; among cops it is called pain compliance and is considered business as usual. So shock-happy Peace Officers can now go around using their tasers as high-voltage human prods in just about any situation, with more or less complete impunity.

Thus, in the latest news from Occupied Cascadia, here’s how Portland cops Erin Smith and Ron Hoesly made sure that Phil Sano, who was suspected of the terrible crime of biking without a headlight, would get home safely:

The incident occurred around 9:30pm on SE 7th Street, just north of SE Morrison Ave. Phil Sano says he was riding along and felt cold, so he went to zip up his jacket. Then, in an email he sent me just hours after the incident, he wrote,

Across the street a man in all black shouted at me and started walking my way. I stopped pedaling, but didn't stop because my hands were not on my brakes. He then sprinted, lunged and tackled me. I then scuffled to separate him and stood apart from him in a defensive position.

Then, Sano says, he was tasered several times.

I felt a sharp sting in my back and heard a repetitive clicking. I turned around to see that I was being tasered!

At that point, Sano maintains he still did not know what was going on and he repeatedly asked the officers to explain what he had done wrong. At that point, Sano says two officers were holding him down and he could still feel the taser charge flowing into his back.

I was still freaked out and yelled again, why are you shooting me?

Sano says the cops yelled for him to get down, but that he still had no idea who was accosting him. He wrote, It was pretty dark and they were wearing all black without any sort of shiny badge.... They looked kinda' like cops, but generally cops do not tackle bikers unless it is Critical Mass.

According to Sano, he was tasered point blank in the chest and the lower back and that he began to spasm out of control as the surge of electricity involuntarily constricted his muscles.

...the cop took two steps after him, grabbed him by the shirt, yanked him off the bike, ran hum up the sidewalk and slammed him against the wall and then right away started tasing him.

–Diana Spartis (she witnessed the entire incident)

After pleading repeatedly for them to stop, Sano says they continued and that, without question, I could tell they enjoyed seeing me become so helpless, so weak. It was humiliating.

Once the tasering stopped, Sano said he laid in a small puddle of his own urine, breathing irregularly and seething with rage.

I can still feel their knee on my neck as I write this, but even then I knew they were in the wrong... really, really fucking wrong. He added, There was no cause for such violence; I was not harming anyone and I made sure that everyone within earshot knew it.

Sano says that all the while, a barb from the taser remained lodged in his chest. Luckily, he remembers, a passing ambulance heard him screaming, stopped on the scene, and removed the electrode from his chest. Sano says that the EMT, was very concerned that his speeding heart rate would not slow down.

Once everything calmed down, Sano says the cops told him that he was stopped because he didn't have a front light.

— Jonathan Maus, BikePortland.org (2008-06-11): Man on a bike is tackled, then tasered by Portland Police

According to Jonathan Maus at BikePortland.org (2008-06-11), the Gangsters in Blue arrested Sano and laid five charges on him, one of which was a civil citation for not having the headlight, and all the rest of which were charges for crimes that consisted in nothing other than failing to let himself be arrested for something that he couldn’t have been rightfully arrested for to begin with. They later decided that they’d rather not discuss the detention-beating-torture-arrest in open court.

Hoesly and Smith initially charged Sano with Resisting Arrest, Attempted Escape III, and Disorderly Conduct. He was also cited for not having a front light (ORS 815.280) and Failure to Obey a Police Officer (ORS 811.535).

(UPDATED) At his arraignment at the Justice Center in downtown Portland a few hours ago, Sano says the clerk told him he had been given a no-charge. According to a source who is a lawyer that means (for whatever reason) the case is not going forward, but the charges can brought back to life at a later date. My source says this could be an indication that either the police or the DA's office didn't think they could prove, or didn't want to try to prove, the charges.

— Jonathan Maus, BikePortland.org (2008-06-11): Man on a bike is tackled, then tasered by Portland Police

Here is what spokespig Brian Schmautz, Public Information Officer for the Portland Police Bureau, had to say by way of after-the-fact justification for this vicious gang beat-down:

The officer, then reached out to stop Sano [sic!] and they began to struggle. Sano refused to comply with any of the officers orders and continued to resist until additional officers arrived. The officers attempted to Taser Sano, but it was ineffective because of Sano's clothing.

Sano was eventually arrested and taken to jail. Sano apparently admitted he had been drinking, but was not given field sobriety tests because the officers were not arresting him for DUI. FYI, the officers checked Sano's history and learned that the Police Bureau had given Sano a warning for a bike light and a free bike light in the past.

— Public Information Officer Brian Schmautz, quoted in Jonathan Maus, BikePortland.org (2008-06-11): Man on a bike is tackled, then tasered by Portland Police

Since not one clause in them is even remotely pertinent to the cops’ charges against Sano or to anything that happened, or anything the cops would have known, the night of the beating, I have no idea what the last two statements have to do with anything, except for a clumsy attempt to smear the victim as a drunk, an ingrate and a scofflaw.

Meanwhile, here is how Sergeant Erin Smith justified the gang beating / torture to Sano, at the time:

Sano admits he didn't have his front light on his bike, because someone had stolen the cradle it attaches to. He says the cops found his light in his fannypack a few minutes later.

According to Sano's recollection of the incident, he heard Officer Smith say, You should have stopped when I told you to. Then none of this would be necessary.

— Jonathan Maus, BikePortland.org (2008-06-11): Man on a bike is tackled, then tasered by Portland Police

Please note that Portland police Sergeant Erin Smith believes that it’s necessary to have a gang of cops beat the hell out of you and torture you on the side of the road if that’s what it takes to make you immediately follow their shouted orders about bike safety. Your ideas about what’s necessary may be different from hers. If you’d like to let Police Chief Rosanne Sizer know about your difference of opinion, you can contact her by e-mail at chiefsizer@portlandpolice.org, or by phone at 503-823-0000, or by fax at 503-823-0342.

If you are in the Portland area, Phil Sano’s attorney, Stu Sugarman, is looking for contact information for people who witnessed the beating. It went down Tuesday night, around 9:30 pm, in Southeast Portland near SE 7th and Morrison. If you saw it yourself, or know anyone who did, you can contact Stu Sugarman by e-mail at quixote516@yahoo.com, by phone at 503-228-6655, or at 838 SW 1st Ave., Ste. 500, Portland, OR 97204.

Remember that you cannot count on the cops to do a damn thing about this unless and until they are forced to by you and your friends and neighbors. The State will never police itself; the government will never make a serious effort to protect you from your supposed protectors.

Support your local CopWatch.

See also:

11 replies to Law and Orders #7: Portland cops Erin Smith and Ron Hoesly find it “would be necessary” to pull Phil Sano down off his bike, beat him up, and taser him repeatedly, for biking without a headlight Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. Natasha

    And they say that private police would be bad…

    Maybe, but the public cops don’t impress me either.

  2. Natasha

    Actually, I am sure you can find stories of private police or rent a cops today being abusive too.

    The Libertarian celebration of the private over the public — though, the term “public” has been corrupted and generally means the state — misses the point though.

    Sure, they make a good point when they say that cops whose “services” you can refuse might have more incentive to act responsibly, but it’s not true that everything private is necessarily good either.

    Plenty of private schools out there that are modeled after oppressive “public” ones.

  3. Rad Geek

    Sure, I absolutely agree with you that professionalized policing and uniformed security forces would still be dangerous in various ways, especially if not checked by a culture of defiance to authority and countervailing grassroots efforts (much like CopWatch, but not laboring under the extensive legal and cultural burdens that CopWatch is forced to labor under today due to the social and legal privileges extended to government goon squads).

    On the other hand, as you say above, government cops are dangerous enough as it is, and anarchy, even with some professionalized security forces, would be hard-pressed to find a way to get worse than the present situation. Under anarchy there would at least no longer be bullshit non-crimes like Failure to Obey a Police Officer (a charge which is incomprehensible except as a supposed crime against the supposed authority of the State), and if some rogue security agency went ahead and tried to inflict this kind of jackbooted thuggery on an innocent man like Phil Sano, there would at least be the possibility of an effective recourse and for the violent creeps who attacked him to be held directly, individually accountable by competing agencies or by independent, grassroots alternatives.

    For some more on both my skepticism about private professional policing and my optimism about the socialization of the means of defense, cf. my two comments in the thread on Roderick’s post about Jean Merola.

  4. Mike Gogulski

    I keep catching myself thinking “this is way over the top!” but it isn’t… it’s quite normal. And around and around we go.

  5. Iowan

    If you haven’t read Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America by Kristian Williams I recommend it highly.

    “Beginning with its provocative title, Williams’ account of contemporary law enforcement argues that instances of police brutality in the U.S. are not aberrations but, instead, reflect the long, symbiotic relationship between those in power and the police hired to protect that power…

    South End Press, 2007. ISBN 0896087719

  6. Starchild

    Thanks for telling it like it is! It was great to see this turn up in my In Box courtesy of a non-libertarian source and see your name on it. One thing in the piece I found noteworthy which hasn’t been commented on is this practice of charging someone with a “no-charge” where no charges are filed but they can be “brought back to life at a later date.” The aim seems pretty straightforward — create a situation where people are afraid to offend authority in any way lest the outstanding charges left hanging over their heads are brought crashing down on them. Down with Tyranny! Power to the People!

    “‘There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted-and you create a nation of law-breakers-and then you cash in on the guilt.'” -Ayn Rand, ‘Atlas Shrugged'”

  7. revphil

    thanks for the story, ive been getting lots of support from friends and well wishers.

    I can’t stress how disturbing it is to accept compliance with the police only for them to take advantage of your compliance in electrocution.

  8. michael dagnillo

    Those cops deserve to be shot dead. End of story.

  9. William

    Ernie Pyle, the famous and respected author from World War II stated: “Hotel managers and POLICE are the biggest BOOTLICKERS IN THE WORLD”. He was SO correct.

  10. JR

    There has been a name for these people for almost 70 years. They’re called Nazis. And you don’t have to be German to be one.

— 2009 —

  1. rev

    and as of December 31st Phil Sano is being charged with Resisting Arrest by the DA.

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