Martha K. Huggins, Ph.D……..
Policing democracy is tough. Tasked to ‘protect and serve,’ police carry out their work within a political system that often makes them an instrument of competing political and economic interests. Far too commonly, police take the fall for the irregular, shifting, and highly political expectations of government officials. Case in point ‘management’ of the homeless. “Economic development,” which of course includes building and protecting tourism, has a very specific aesthetic: There should be no visibly homeless people in Key West’s “One Human Family”— as one upper-middle class informant once told me, they scare us. The police work to eliminate homeless visibility in Key West’s up-scale tropical landscape through what their administrators call, “quality-of-life” policing. But the police must sometimes resort to aesthetically unpleasant strong-arm tactics just to manage the unmanageable. They get ‘burned out’ by what they do and the “homeless squad” is not a police career builder. Government officials know, although never admitting it publicly, that they need police to do the ‘front-line’ dirty work that politicos dare not do themselves.
Yet like almost no other institution of modern society except the military, the police have the legal right to apply deadly force. (Although ‘Stand-your-Ground” laws have expanded that to common citizens.) It is therefore absolutely essential that those policed—even the weakest and potentially annoying of our fellow citizens—be allowed to question police actions. Rather, some police and their supporters treat any questioning of policing practices as improper, most recently seen in some comments by readers of the Blue Paper about a citizen’s video posted by the paper showing Key West police hog-tying a homeless man.
So when is it necessary and procedurally acceptable for police to restrain someone? The “Response to Resistance Matrix” was developed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and adopted in 2009 by the Key West Police Department. Police use of force—ranging from interrogating an alleged perpetrator to applying deadly force–is laid out in black and white by the FDLE:
Police Response to Resistance Matrix*
Perpetrator’s Threat level Permissible Police Actions
|Level 1: Presence—A person is where they are not supposed to be; suspicious actions.
|Police Officer’s arrival at the scene|
|Level 2: Verbal resistance: Verbal refusal
to comply with police; threatens the officer
|Level 3: Passive Physical resistance: Physical refusal to comply or respond to officer||‘Take downs,’ pepper (OC) spray, restraints, pain compliance, transport person
|Level 4: Active Physical Resistance: Physically evasive movements to defeat officer’s actions; pulling away||Use of ‘intermediate’ weapons: Taser in cartridge or stun drive mode; ‘take downs,’ pepper (OC) spray, restraints, pain compliance, transport person|
|Level 5: Aggressive physical
Resistance: Overt hostile acts against officer without serious injury to officer
|All of above, plus ‘incapacitating control.’
|Level 6: Aggravated Physical Resistance: Overt hostile movements with or without weapon.||Deadly force|
- 2009 Florida Department of Law Enforcement; adopted by KWPD
Policing the Homeless: Four Examples from the Field in Key West.
CASE A: Last Spring (2016), I saw a man sleeping in a contorted position on the Grinnell Street sidewalk near Fleming. He looked as if he had died and gone into rigor mortis. Calling 911, I learned that, “An officer is already on his way.” Threat Level 1: Officer at the scene. A man sleeping where he ought not be: after several attempts to awaken the man, using a calm voice and reaching down to gently touch him on the chest, the officer finally succeeded in waking him: No heavy pushing or yelling, no loud announcement: “You are trespassing.” The police officer operated quietly and demonstrated confident police professionalism. As he got on his feet, he swayed back and forth. The officer requested the man’s identification and asked him to pull out everything else in his pockets. The man complied but then kept putting his hands back in his pockets, as if looking for something. The officer each time told him to take his hands out of his pockets; the man did this each time and then again forgot and put his hands back in his pockets. To Escalate or Not?: I wondered at the time if some KWPD police officers might have ‘read’ this man’s continually putting his hands in his pockets as defiance to a policeman’s order. I was initially concerned that the man might have a weapon in his pocket, but the officer’s confidence and calm reassured me that the policeman knew what he was doing, which certainly had an impact on the homeless man’s actions as well—a calm voice is more passifying than an aggressive shout followed by threats. The latter can ratchet up the police-civilian interaction.
At no time did the homeless man verbally refuse to comply with the young officer’s directions. “Threat Level 2”: verbal non-compliance. Nevertheless, a policeman could have defined the man’s reaching in his pockets as a “Level 3 Threat.” This, I assume, would have justified the lone officer’s using pepper (OC) spray to force the man’s compliance. Or the officer could have placed restraints on the man’s wrists. And a “Level 3 Threat” also allows the officer to apply such “pain compliance” methods as squeezing fingers until it hurts, although one wonders how creating pain stops a person from pulling away—with the latter defined by some police as resisting arrest.
However, in spite of the man’s continuing to do what the police officer told him not to do—putting his hands in his pockets–this exchange never rose in that policeman’s assessment to a “Threat Level” 2 or 3. No pain compliance, no pepper spray, no ‘hog-tying,’ even though the man–groggy and drunk–was not fully cooperative. The officer allowed the man to walk away. I congratulated the officer for an impressively professional and respectful investigation. The officer thanked me in turn.
CASE B: Sometime in December, 2016, around midnight in my quiet Meadows neighborhood I was awakened to the sound of people talking quietly outside. Looking down from my second-floor porch, I saw “Threat Level 1” in process. A police officer was attempting to wake up a man sleeping on the sidewalk: “Wake up,” he repeated over and over. When the man sat up, the officer asked him to stand and he did, while at the same time verbally chewing out the officer. “Threat Level 2”: The man persistently spoke disrespectfully to the officer, who remained calm and firm. The officer gave the verbally combative man a choice of going to “the Stock Island Jail or behaving” himself. The man’s response: ‘You can take me to the fu—-g jail of you want; I don’t care.’ Then the officer employed a verbal de-escalation strategy: He repeated calmly and quietly what the man had just said back to him: “So if you don’t care about going to jail, I will take you.”
That curbside investigation never progressed beyond “Threat Level 2,” clearly because the officer did not let himself get pulled into his opponent’s snarky rudeness. The police officer was in charge without having to prove it. Once the policeman had placed the man in the police vehicle—with the man continuing to be verbally abrasive toward the officer — I called down to the policeman and thanked him for his calm and effective professionalism.
CASE C: On December 24, 2016, two Key West police officers were called to the Circle K Convenience Mart on North Roosevelt Blvd. I did not observe this event first-hand, but looked at KWPD video footage obtained by the Blue Paper. The first footage–recorded by the body cam of Officer Michael Chaustit–recorded Officer Michael “Mikie” Malgrat’s behavior during “Threat Level 1.” Officer Malgrat pointed his taser at the sleeping man as Officer Chaustit ordered him–about four times—to wake up and get up: “Key West police get up!”; “Key West police wake up!” “Key West police wake up!”, “Get up!”
Officer Malgrat’s ready-to-deploy taser, according to the FDLE, is not justifiably used until Threat Level 4, according to ‘best police practices, as defined by the “Response to Resistance Matrix. A “Level 4 threat” exists when an alleged perpetrator gives the attending police officer reason to believe that the person is a threat to the officer and/or others. The presence of such a threat justifies a police officer’s employing such “intermediate weapons” as a taser–in either cartridge or stun drive mode–and/or ‘taking down’ the perpetrator, or pepper spraying him, and using body restraints or pain compliance to further demobilize the threat. But when Officer Malgrat arrived at the Circle K shed, the homeless man was sleeping—a condition that clearly represented only a “Level 1 Threat,” albeit treated by Officer Malgrat as if it were level 4.
Finally awakened, the man–whose name is Kristopher Knight–responded, “Fuck man!” Officer Chaustit repeats, “Get up!” “What the fuck — come on man.” At that point, Officer Chaustit said to Knight, “All right, I’ll tell ya – either you’re gonna get up or you’re gonna go to fucking jail — how about that?” Within a heartbeat Chaustit grabbed Knight who cried out: “I didn’t do nothing,” leading Chaustit to yell loudly: “Stop resisting! Put your hands behind your back! Stop resisting! You’ll be tased!” According to my own watch, about 42 seconds passed between the time that Officers Malgrat and Chaustit, encountered the man sleeping, repeatedly told him to “wake up,” threatened him with jail, and warned the man that he would be tased if he did not “stop resisting.” Knight, there upon, by my count, got three electrical ‘stuns’ from a taser in “drive stun” mode—meaning that no projectiles entered Knight’s body. Screaming and writhing in pain, Knight yelled out, “I didn’t do nothing man.” “What am I going to jail for?” “Tell me what the fuck I did, man?”
The two officers then pulled Knight off the ground as he screamed in pain, yelling, “What did I do?” Please tell me what the fuck I did?” “Ow!!!” Ow!!” Telling him to, “Stop resisting or you’ll get hurt,” the officers led him to the police vehicle. Placing Knight’s upper torso on the vehicle’s front hood, the two officers carried out their work documenting the event. One officer photographed Knight, since he had gotten scratches from rolling around on the ground as he reacted in pain from the stun gun’s electricity. A supervisor was called to record the officers’ stun gun actions; EMS technicians came because Mr. Knight had sustained facial cuts. In the end, it had taken at least five public security professionals — two police, two EMS technicians, and one police supervisor — to arrest Kristopher Knight, who would require still more people managing him at the Stock Island jail.
CASE D: Blue Paper readers have been well informed about the Kristopher Knight ‘take down’ on February 4, 2017 by Officers Michael Chaustit and Julio Gomez. This began at the Publix Market in Key Plaza, without incident. The “Level 1 Threat” intervention, as seen in Officer Chaustit’s body cam footage, begins with Officer Gomez leaning down and shaking Knight’s T-shirt gently, with the words, “Morning, Key West police” (it was actually after 3:00 pm). Getting no response from Knight, Officer Gomez said more firmly, “Key West police,” Knight apparently then opened his eyes; Officer Gomez said, “Hi, how ya doing’? Feeling, better? I thought you went to Miami?” Knight mumbles, “Yes, I did.” Officer Gomez then says, “You came back–Why?” Knight mumbles, “well….” but fails to complete the sentence. Officer Gomez then asks, “What are you wasted on?” Knight’s reply, “I don’t know.” Officer Gomez: “Let me see you stand up, then.” Knight does so, with difficulty. Officer Gomez: “let me see some ID.” An EMS vehicle arrives during Officer Gomez’s exchange with Knight, but Officer Gomez sends it away: “He’s going the other way. Thank you, though.”
At no point during Officer Gomez’s information gathering during “Threat Level 1” did Kristopher Knight behave in a manner that would have elevated the threat level above 1—no verbal resistance to Officer Gomez (Level 2), no demonstrable passive physical resistance (Level 3), and no Active physical Resistance (level 4) to police commands. However, the situation changes when Officer Chaustit joins the conversation with Knight. Officer Chaustit told Knight, still on his feet at Officer Gomez’ prior request, to “Sit back down!” When Knight failed to do so immediately, Officer Chaustit warned: “Don’t make me fucking tell you again! Sit back down! Sit back down!” Officer Gomez added, “Just listen to what he [Officer Chaustit] said, please.”
A fifteen-year veteran of KWPD, Officer Chaustit seems to have been the unofficial head of the two-officer “quality-of- life” team in the conversation with Kristopher Knight on February 4, 2017. Listed in a 2007 police recognition statement as a KWPD “Detective,” Officer Chaustit sometime later was listed as a policeman attached to a KWPD “special operations” group. He now seems also to be a go-to officer for “quality-of-life” homeless policing. Officer Julio Gomez liberally mixed courtesy phrases — “please,” “thank you” — with his own commands to Knight. Officer Chaustit, on the other hand, usually gave forceful commands to Knight, at least once peppering a command with the ultimate swear word, as just quoted.
Escalate the Threat or Not? The conversation at Publix continued: Officer Chaustit to Knight: “Get your stuff and go…walk the shortest route off the [Key Plaza] property. If you refuse to [leave the property] you will go to jail for trespassing.” Knight asked, “Who called the cops on me, I’d like to know.” Officer Chaustit declared, “It doesn’t matter who called the police…just stop talking and walk. Leave now. If you refuse you will go to jail for trespassing.” Knight, following Officer Chaustit’s order, walks toward North Roosevelt Blvd. But when he gets to about 30 feet from the police—with his back to them—Knight yells into the air in front of him: “Fuck you’all, motherfuckers!” Officer Chaustit responds, “Yep. O.K.”; Officer Gomez asks Chaustit, “you gonna take him? Officer Chaustit’s answer is to move rapidly toward Knight, yelling, “Stop!” “Stop!” while speaking into his shoulder Mic. Uttering something like, “Mikey.” Officer Chaustit was presumably referring to his frequent police partner and his current business partner in “Man Crafts Key West”[i]— Officer Michael “Mikey” Malgrat. They were the two officers who had, on Christmas Eve, rousted Kristopher Knight out of the Circle K’s shed area and taken him to jail.
What Was the Threat Level from Kristopher Knight at that point? From the standpoint of the FDLE “Police Response to Resistance Matrix,” the relevant question is what was the degree of threat from Knight to the officers or to the public in his yelling an obscenity as he walked away from the police? Officer Chaustit’s post-facto explanation for the subsequent violent ‘take-down’ of Kristopher Knight was to protect women and children shoppers from Knight’s bad language. As appalling as Knight’s language might have been for shoppers, even more inappropriate was for a sworn police officer, Michael Chaustit, to use gutter language in informing a person of a probable police action. (Remember that Officer Chaustit had said earlier to Knight: “Don’t make me fucking tell you again! Sit back down! Sit back down!”)
The “threat level” that Officer Chaustit apparently assumed when he took off after Kristopher Knight, was “Threat Levels 4 and 5.” There is no evidence that Knight had manifested the behaviors associated with these threat levels, Active Physical Resistance (Level 4) or Aggressive Physical Resistance (Level 5), yet the police actions used against him are consistent with assuming such threats. There was a ‘take down,’ the alleged perpetrator was slammed against a wall, picked up and thrown onto the ground, his hands tied behind his back, and ultimately Knight was ‘hog-tied,’ before placing him in the police vehicle— using “pain compliance” along the way against a man who had represented no real physical threat to themselves or others. The real travesty of February 4, 2017, was that people out for a day of shopping had to see a man being tortured and police who were acting like common thugs.
Policy Implications. First, Michael Chaustit, who has received commendations for saving a person’s life and for other contributions to police work in Key West, needs a break from homeless duty. And he is not the only one. If Chief Donie Lee or one of his senior officers does not cycle officers into and out of “quality-of-life” policing, they must begin doing so immediately. Second, police body cam videos need to be analyzed by a non-police and a police professional weekly for violations of police procedure. Procedural violations must be discussed with police on an ongoing basis toward avoiding similar errors in the future. Third, the homeless population is not best served by police and police are not well served by policing the homeless. The City of Key West needs to set up teams of people, to include those from religious organizations, social workers, nurses, and one person from law enforcement to work with the homeless, perhaps, through SHAL. The homeless must not be seen as a police problem when in fact they are a political consequence of how cities have been built and ‘developed’–to exclude those who are seen as unable or unwilling to ‘fit-in.’
[i] On Twitter see: http://www.pictaram.com/user/mancraftskeywest/3588602498; Florida Corporate Registry, Man Crafts Key West, llc. # L16000149206 http://search.sunbiz.org/Inquiry/CorporationSearch/SearchResultDetail?inquirytype=EntityName&directionType=Initial&searchNameOrder=MANCRAFTSKEYWEST%20L160001492060&aggregateId=flal-l16000149206-89924f88-eb54-4c27-a4bc-73f19dec899c&searchTerm=Man%20Crafts%20Key%20West&listNameOrder=MANCRAFTSKEYWEST%20L160001492060