After reviewing the body-cam video in which a Sonoma County sheriff's deputy body-slammed Gabby Lemos in June, I concluded that the deputy overreacted to the verbal challenges made by Lemos and her sisters.
Legally, the First Amendment protects a significant amount of verbal criticism and challenge directed at police officers. In the case of Houston v. Hill, the courts stated "the freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state." The Hill court held that, "in the face of verbal challenges to police action, officers and municipalities must respond with restraint."
To be sure, I am in no way advocating that people yell obscenities at law enforcement officials, nor do I agree with how the Lemos women yelled at the deputy. However, I also don't agree that law enforcement officials such as the deputy who body-slammed Gabby should be out on patrol if they are unable to control their emotions in the face of verbal challenges which are protected by the First Amendment.
If a law enforcement official is so thin-skinned that he will react simply because he feels his authority has been verbally challenged, he needs to be taken off patrol or obtain training. I understand that law enforcement officials are human beings and, like the rest of us, do not like to be verbally criticized, but law enforcement officials must ensure they are not trampling on a person's constitutional rights, especially by using excessive force, simply because they feel their authority has been challenged.
Asking a law enforcement official "What are you doing?" or calling him a name or asking for a badge number should not subject a person to a body slam. No Sonoma County resident should be subjected to police abuse simply because he or she mouths off. Failure to properly train our officers will not only cost our cities and counties millions from lawsuits but does nothing to build public trust.
Alicia Roman is a Santa Rosa Attorney.
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