Sunday, April 25, 2004
She was blind.
She needed her 94-year-old mother to come to her rescue.
And in the middle of the dogfight — in which Eunice Crowder was pepper-sprayed, Tasered and knocked to the ground by Portland’s courageous men in blue — the poor woman’s fake right eye popped out of its socket and was bouncing around in the dirt.
How vicious and ugly can the Portland police get? Ladies and gentlemen, I think we have a winner. This 2003 case is so blatant, the use of force so excessive, the threat of liability so intimidating that the city just approved a $145,000 settlement.
But all those gung-ho fans of the cops can relax. Nothing has changed. Nothing will upset the status quo.
The cops aren’t apologizing.
The cops aren’t embarrassed.
The cops haven’t been disciplined.
And the cops are still insisting, to the bitter end, that they “reasonably believed” this blind ol’ bat was a threat to their safety and macho culture.
Eunice Crowder, you see, didn’t follow orders. Eunice was uncooperative. Worried a city employee was hauling away a family heirloom, a 90-year-old red toy wagon, she had the nerve to feel her way toward the trailer in which her yard debris was being tossed.
Enter the police. Eunice, who is hard of hearing, ignored the calls of Officers Robert Miller and Eric Zajac to leave the trailer. When she tried, unsuccessfully, to bite the hands that were laid on her, she was knocked to the ground.
When she kicked out at the cops, she was pepper-sprayed in the face with such force that her prosthetic marble eye was dislodged. As she lay on her stomach, she was Tased four times with Zajac’s electric stun gun.
And when Nellie Scott, Eunice’s 94-year-old mother, tried to rinse out her daughter’s eye with water from a two-quart Tupperware bowl, what does Miller do? According to Ernie Warren Jr., Eunice’s lawyer, the cop pushed Nellie up against a fence and accused her of planning to use the water as a weapon.
Paranoia runs deep. Into your life it will creep. It starts when you’re always afraid . . .
Afraid and belligerent. “Cops have changed,” Warren said. “When I grew up, they weren’t people who huddled together and their only friends were the cops. You had access to them all the time. You weren’t afraid of them.”
What did Police Chief Derrick Foxworth have to say about the case? “This did not turn out the way we wanted it to turn out,” Foxworth said Friday. “Looking back, and I know the officers feel this as well, they may have done something differently. We would have wanted the minimal amount of force to have been used. But I feel we need to recognize Ms. Crowder has some responsibility. She contributed to the situation.”
Granted. But Eunice was 71. She was blind. That probably explains why a judge threw out all charges against her and why the city, in a stone-cold panic, settled ASAP.
“This was like fighting Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder,” Warren said. “It wasn’t a fair fight.”
No, but it was another excuse to haul out the usual code words about the cops’ “reasonable” belief that they were justified to use a “reasonable amount of force to defend themselves.”
If you have a different definition of “reasonable,” you just don’t understand the Portland police. You need to remember the words of Robert King, head of the police union, defending Officer Jason Sery in the March shooting of James Jahar Perez:
“What sets us apart from people like most of you is that you’ll never face a situation in your job where — in less than 10 seconds — the routine can turn to truly life-threatening,” King wrote. “When that happens to us, when we have to make that ultimate split-second decision, we don’t just ask for your understanding, we ask for your support.”
She was 71 years old. She was blind. She was lucky, I guess, that these cops — set apart from people like most of us — didn’t make the usual split-second decision and draw their guns.