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Live interview about the Sandra Bland arrest in Texas

by Vladimir Duthiers of CBS News
July 22, 2015, 9 a.m. Eastern
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Vladimir: Dr. Jeffrey Butts of the John Jay College with the Criminal Justice in New York joins me on set to talk about all of this. Thanks for being here, sir.

Jeff: Sure.

Vladimir: So, looking at this video and understanding that we don’t have all the facts, what is your take on seeing that video, seeing the jumps in the edits?

Jeff: Well, it’s a concern. We don’t know why it was edited, how it was edited. It could be innocent or it could be an attempt to hide something. So, I think people need to treat these dash videos now like they’re legal evidence, and protect them. We need to see the whole thing.

Vladimir: Yeah. Because you can hear — and Sherry pointed this out in her story — you can hear continuous audio of the officer talking, but then this video … this car appears in the video and then it disappears in the video, and there are these cuts. You see this guy in the tow truck; he comes out, and then you see him coming out of the tow truck again.

Jeff: Yeah.

Vladimir: What would be the rationale for releasing something like this, if it to the public at large seems as if it’s been edited?

Jeff: Well, if it was an attempt to hide something, it’s a really clumsy attempt to hide something. We really don’t know the reasons, or what it all means at this point. It’s also important for people to keep in mind, not to conflate the arrest video with the death. There is a tendency — because there has been a death — for us all to be concerned and outraged and then to look at this video and connect the two, but they’re really two separate incidents.

Vladimir: So, here is that car. Look, it just disappeared from the screen there, and that’s why a lot of people on social media are calling for this investigation into this video to see exactly what happened, and as you rightly point out, this perhaps has nothing to do with the subsequent death that happened in her jail cell. But you know, we were taking about this earlier: the moment where it seems to escalate is when officer Encinia asks her to put out her cigarette.

Jeff: Right.

Vladimir: Is that a reasonable, or if it’s not a reasonable… is it a lawful request by a police officer of a person sitting in her vehicle whose only, it seems as this point, only infraction has been a traffic violation?

Jeff: First of all, I’ve never been a police officer. I assume you haven’t either…

Vladimir: I was actually a military police officer…

Jeff: Oh, okay…

Jeff: Well, we don’t know what it’s like to walk up to a car. You don’t have any idea what’s going on inside. You don’t know if the person you’ve pulled over for a traffic stop has a weapon, perhaps has just committed a felony… You don’t know how “amped up” they are and ready to fight. So, a police officer walks up to a car being very cautious. Now, once you establish — and he had established by then — that she was probably just a regular person down for this job interview and was caught in a minor traffic incident, he did escalate the situation by demanding that she put the cigarette out the way he did. But, he may have thought it would be a threat. He may have known he was about to get her out of the car, and if she has a lit cigarette in her hand, she could use it to hurt him, and that may be why he asked.

Vladimir: And, when she says, “I don’t need to do that. I’m not under arrest,” he says, “yes you are.”

Jeff: Yes.

Vladimir: But, we don’t hear anything on the video. Obviously, he hasn’t read her Miranda rights, he hasn’t said what I’m arresting you for…

Jeff: Right.

Vladimir: So, to your take, we’re missing something from this video?

Jeff: No, I don’t know if we know that from that segment. First of all, if you see the whole video from the very beginning, which includes a prior traffic stop, you see that this officer is capable of being gentle and civil. We don’t know what the prior stop was, but we see his behavior, then he pulls her over. He approaches the car, and again in a relatively calm manner, he asks her how she’s doing, how long she’s been Texas (I think he says). And, it then gets escalated. And she does make a mistake when she starts to say things like, “you can’t do that,” “I’m not under arrest.” Then, she is technically resisting arrest, because he has told her, “get out of the car, Ma’am.”

Vladimir: Right.

Jeff: He could have, though, calmed the whole situation down. When he comes back from his cruiser after doing his paperwork, the first thing he could have said was, “Ma’am, I’m giving you a warning today.” Because he did not do that, she was still, again, revved up to resist and fight with him. If she had known it was just a warning, she may have calmed down a little bit.

Vladimir: Understanding that emotions run high in situations like this, on both sides, for the officer who doesn’t know what it is he may be encountering, or what situation he may be encountering in the woman who is clearly unhappy with the fact that she’s been pulled over… I wonder though, when you hear a statement like that, and people have been tweeting about this and on social media, you know, “I’m gonna light you up.”

Jeff: Yeah.

Vladimir: You know, officers are there to maintain the peace. Isn’t there some kind of training that can be done? Especially now that we’ve seen so many instances of police officers reacting with African-American communities that don’t end up well.

Jeff: Right. Police departments and individual officers need to understand and embrace the fact that they live in a totally different environment than they did five years ago.

Vladimir: Yeah.

Jeff: With all these videos, handheld videos, cell phone videos, we all know so much more about those interactions, and emotions are raw — nationwide. So, I think, probably departments need to be doing a lot more training on understanding human behavior and reactions to interactions with authority. What if — I don’t know anything about Sandra Bland — but if he had stopped another person who turned out to be the victim of prior abuse or past trauma, for example. when you start barking orders at someone that’s been abused before, they are not going to respond calmly, and say, “oh yes, officer, I’ll comply.” Their instinct is to fight back. Officers need to understand that and the context of being videoed, and the dash cams… It’s a different world.

Vladimir: Alright. Dr. Jeffrey Butts of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Thank you very much for being with us. Appreciate it.

Jeff: You’re welcome.