The department conducted an internal review of the teen’s arrest, which left him with a broken wrist, releasing its report on Tuesday. After reading over interviews with arresting Officer David Ziegler and the youth and inspecting multiple bodycam videos, Independent Police Auditor Ed Collazo determined that while the officer’s judgment was “concerning,” and his behavior was not ideal, he had not violated Topeka Police Department policy.
The report’s release was met with surprisingly little media attention, given the neck restraint Ziegler deployed against the youth – a notoriously deadly hold which Topeka Police Chief Bill Cochran had previously and repeatedly claimed that his officers do not use. Minneapolis man George Floyd infamously died in police custody in May, after an officer knelt on his neck for nearly eight minutes.
The boy’s mother, Marlena Mitchiner, condemned the investigator’s leniency, arguing officers should be “held to the highest of standards” so that “further situations like this can be prevented.”
The youth, whose name is largely omitted from the report except for one reference to “Isaiah,” was riding his bike home with his dog running beside him when Ziegler was dispatched to the scene after a neighbor called police to complain the dog was unleashed in his yard. Two of the bodycam videos, which have not been made publicly available, reportedly show Ziegler in his patrol car, telling the boy to take his dog home.
The last video, nearly 35 minutes long, shows Isaiah, now on foot, resisting the officer’s command to “come here” and taking off running. Ziegler returns to his car and races to catch up to his quarry, informing him he’s been stopped for “walking on the street where a sidewalk is provided.”
When Isaiah says he was looking for his dog and refuses to give his name, Ziegler demands he turn around, finally grabbing his arm and attempting to handcuff him. The teen resists, and the description of the footage suggests he does not understand why he is being arrested.
As Ziegler pulls out his pepper spray, the youth flinches, claiming in a later interview that he believed the cop was about to shoot him, but allows the officer to handcuff him while complaining he is in pain. The arrest is interrupted by the barking of two dogs, which Ziegler maces. He demands the young man put his hands behind his back – though the report admits “they are already there” – and forces him to the ground as he handcuffs him, placing his knee in the detainee’s upper back.
Mitchiner, who filed the complaint initiating the internal review, saw the later part of the altercation and told the investigator the dog did not even leave the yard until Ziegler grabbed her son – a claim supported by the teen’s interview statement that “the dog got sprayed because he came out to protect me.”
The police auditor insisted the arrest was appropriate, noting that the autistic teen declined to give his name despite being asked repeatedly. The neck restraint, he agreed with Ziegler, was justified by the boy “pulling his right arm forward,” the presence of the “aggressive” dogs, and the approach of Isaiah’s mother and older brother “compiled with his inability to call for back-up.”
Collazo acknowledged that the cop’s behavior was discourteous, and that “particular deference” should be given to vulnerable members of society including “juveniles” and “individuals with mental health issues,” and was even willing to “question the necessity for the handcuffing,” but deferred to Ziegler’s after-the-fact insistence he was in danger. His report declines to recommend disciplinary action other than a “refresher in de-escalation training and use of verbal communication when interacting with citizens,” merely suggesting police take another look at the decision to detain the youth.
In recent months, police misconduct has come under growing national scrutiny, with high-profile incidents like Floyd’s death and Louisville police’s shooting of EMT Breonna Taylor at her home in March triggering massive protests. Many have pointed to police officers’ inability to handle the mentally ill or otherwise disabled, as recently evidenced in the choking death of Rochester man Daniel Prude – who died naked in police custody with a restraint bag over his head while apparently overdosing on PCP. Some reformers want police at least partially replaced with social workers who would be trained to handle such cases.
The family dog, too, was probably lucky to ‘only’ receive a face full of pepper spray, given the “epidemic” levels of canine shootings that occur in the US on a daily basis. A Department of Justice expert estimated in 2016 that anywhere from 25 to 30 pet dogs are killed daily by police.
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