The Pima County Attorney’s Office decided against the prosecution of Tucson Police Department officer Joel Mann for violently shoving a UA student during the Elite Eight clash. The act was caught on a video that later went viral.
Pima County Chief Criminal Deputy Kellie Johnson told the Arizona Daily Star that her office declined to prosecute because it would be unable to prove criminal intent in court.
“It’s not a criminal intent if you’re using it to maintain public order,” she said.
But the idea that Mann’s actions were protecting “public order” is laughable. Johnson herself said in a letter to the Arizona Department of Public Safety that Mann used force that night in a way that was “overzealous” and “not necessary.”
And anyone who has seen the video would agree that Christina Gardilcic, the student who was shoved, was not disturbing public order. She was not violating the law or provoking Sgt. Mann in any way.
The argument that an act committed “to maintain public order” is unprosecutable seems like a transparent attempt to protect the police from prosecution in almost any circumstance. TPD officers maintain public order. That’s what they do. But we need to be able to evaluate whether they choose the best and least harmful methods to achieve that goal — and when they don’t, we need to be able to hold them accountable.
The decision comes in the context of a slew of national controversies about police violence and militarization. From the Ferguson, Mo., officer who shot unarmed Michael Brown, to the New York City officer whose chokehold killed Eric Garner and the officers who shot an Albuquerque, N.M., homeless man in the back for illegally camping, America is currently confronting its unfortunate habit of allowing police to operate with impunity.
A Pew Research Center and USA Today poll from August found that only 30 percent of Americans believe police forces do an “excellent” or “good” job of holding officers accountable when misconduct occurs. The decision from the Pima County attorney seems to justify that mistrust.
The Pima County Attorney’s Office’s unwillingness or inability to hold Sgt. Mann accountable makes us nervous. The law-abiding among us have a reasonable expectation that we won’t be shoved over a bench by an officer of the law. And when that expectation is violated, you can forgive us for hoping that there will be consequences.
Instead, our local prosecutor’s office has refused to even acknowledge a crime was committed.
Sgt. Mann assaulted Gardilcic. It is as simple as that. In denying that fact, the Pima County Attorney’s Office has given us all a reason to feel a little less safe on our own campus.
That’s certainly not going to help maintain public order.
Editorials are determined by the Daily Wildcat Editorial board and written by its members. They are Joey Fisher, Jacquelyn Oesterblad, Katelyn Kennon and Ethan McSweeney. They can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter on @DailyWildcat.