“You’re under arrest!” snarled Officer Clark Lund as he lunged into Victor Madrigal’s home, his Taser at the ready. Madrigal had triggered that response by moving to comply with the officer’s unconstitutional demand that he produce his driver’s license. Seconds later, Madrigal – who put up no resistance – was being swarmed by police as his brother Delosanto (known to friends and family as Dindo) was writhing on the floor as a result of an unprovoked Taser strike.
Madrigal, a resident of Idaho Falls, Idaho, was not a criminal suspect, nor had he been accused of a traffic violation. He and his wife Alissa were having a Saturday evening barbecue on August 31st to celebrate their daughter’s sixth birthday, and a woman who lives a block and a half away from their home called to complain about the noise. None of the family’s immediate neighbors was troubled by the festivities. Chantal Meek, a young mother who lives next door, had no complaints about the party, but was terrorized when two cops burst into her home with their guns drawn after Lund called for backup.
According to multiple witnesses on the scene, and a video record of the event, from the time Officer Lund arrived he was visibly hostile and suspicious.
“It was pretty clear he didn’t intend to leave without arresting somebody,” Alissa Madrigal told me when I visited the family’s home. “He and two other officers came right to our backyard. They never knocked on the front door – they just walked into the yard. Lund, who was the oldest of the three, stood off in the corner with his hand on his Taser the whole time, staring at Victor.”
Alissa’s name is on the lease to the home, and she tried to speak with the officers. This is in part because Victor, a retired professional baseball player from the Dominican Republic, still has occasional difficulty with English, and also because he has a deep, resonant voice that carries very well in the stillness of a late-summer evening. Alissa was also aware that Victor has a very negative opinion of the Idaho Falls Police Department, in large measure because of what he describes as routine harassment at their hands (such as a recent citation he received for driving without headlights – at about 7:00 on an August morning). But the officers repeatedly told Alissa that they wanted to speak to Victor, rather than to her.
“Victor has a loud voice, and since there were concerns about noise I wanted to be the one who interacted with the police,” Alissa told Pro Libertate. “But the officer who spoke with me kept saying, `I don’t want to talk to you, I want to talk to him’ – meaning Victor. I told them that we would turn down the music and be as quiet as possible. But it was obvious that the cops didn’t come to issue a citation. It seems that within minutes of arriving here they had decided that Victor was going to be arrested. And the older cop [Lund] had his hand on his Taser practically from the moment he walked into our backyard.”
The announcement that the Madrigals would receive a citation for disturbing the peace prompted Victor to unleash an admittedly vulgar expression to express his frustration. Rather than trying to maintain the peace and de-escalate the situation – which is how a peace officer would have responded – Lund treated Victor to a racially charged taunt.
“If you don’t like it, you know how to leave,” sneered Lund, a comment that was not merely unprofessional but an unambiguous provocation. Several of the guests criticized Lund’s remark, some of them pointing out that Madrigal is a U.S. citizen (he was naturalized in 2007) and had every right to be where he was.
At that point, Lund announced he was leaving, and Mr. Madrigal said he was glad to see him go. According to several witnesses I interviewed, it was after Lund had ended his investigative contact that he called for backup, removed his Taser from the over-burdened belt straining to contain his tax-fattened girth, and demanded that Madrigal show his ID. As Madrigal moved to comply Lund responded by bellowing that Madrigal was “under arrest.”
According to the official account, Lund and his comrades were obstructed by a “blockade” as they tried to follow Victor into the living room, and Dindo supposedly shoved Lund as he pursued his brother. A video of the incident documents that nobody obstructed the police when they illegally invaded the Madrigal residence, nor did Dindo – or anybody else- shove Officer Lund, who was the first through the door.
“I was inside the house, and too far away to touch Lund,” Dindo recounted to Pro Libertate. “I was shot in the back with the Taser, and hit the floor face-down. How could that have happened if I had been facing him and pushing him?”
There were more than a dozen guests – including several small children – at the Madrigal home at the time of the police riot. On his way inside the house, Lund made a threatening gesture to Sara Horne, a young mother holding a newborn baby in her lap. One witness recalled that Lund “made like he was going to back-hand” the terrified woman. Horne told me that Lund pointed his flashlight and Taser into her face.
Maria Madrigal, the brothers’ 79-year-old mother, had been sleeping before the police surged into the home. Summoned by loud noises, Maria came into the living room to find Dindo on the ground and Victor in handcuffs with a Taser in his face. Concerned for her sons’ safety yet displaying eerie composure, Maria repeatedly reached out to calm and reassure Victor and Dindo. One of the officers guarding Victor shoved Maria in the chest.
“Don’t push my mother!” exclaimed Victor, instinctively rising to his feet to defend. As he did so, his head made incidental contact with one of the officers assaulting him. That act would later be described as “battery on an officer.”
Letty Hernandez, a pregnant mother, was also shoved by an officer – most likely Lund – just before a Taser was fired a few inches from her face. As she was knocked to the floor, her abdomen struck the corner of a couch. After paramedics arrived, Letty was told that she should go to the hospital for an examination. To minimize expenses – since her family doesn’t have health insurance — she drove herself to the emergency room.
On the Monday following the police riot, Letty called the department to find out how the medical expenses would be dealt with. She was brusquely informed that she should be abjectly grateful that she wasn’t arrested, like her husband who had “interfered” with the police. Letty’s husband, Miguel, was not arrested that evening. Like their comrades elsewhere, police in Idaho Falls aren’t fastidious about such details.
The initial police contact – to investigate a noise complaint, recall – occurred at around 10:49 PM. Within about twenty minutes, the air was thick with shouting and screaming, and a fleet of about a dozen police cars had converged on the address. Lund’s attack on Dindo left the living room floor filled with shattered furniture. So in the interests of preserving the “peace,” Lund and his costumed buddies assaulted two unresisting men, committed felonious battery on a 79-year-old woman and a pregnant mother, destroyed property, terrorized a completely innocent next-door neighbor, and disrupted an entire city block.
Dindo was charged with resisting and obstructing an officer. Victor was likewise charged with resisting arrest, as well as battery on an officer. Their grim mugshots were prominently displayed on the local Sunday Evening News, along with a police-provided summary asserting that Victor “began yelling and swearing” the moment police arrived. The local ABC affiliate claimed that the brothers had been arrested “in a fight with police.”
“I didn’t struggle with the police at all,” Victor told Pro Libertate. “I was sitting on the couch with my hands behind my back, saying, `Here, go ahead’ — and you can see in the video that I’m not resisting. Dindo was facing away from the officer when he was tazed. The only time I didn’t cooperate was when one of them shoved my mother, and all I did was stand up and say, `Don’t push my mother.’”
Within a few days of the assault on their home, the Madrigals were able to post unedited video of most of the episode on-line. They were also able to get at least a portion of their story into the local press.
“We have a friend who contacted the Post-Register and persuaded them to send a reporter to come and interview us, as well as our neighbors,” Alissa explained to me.
“It was never that invasive,” said neighbor Chantal Meek, referring to the noise from the birthday party. “I’m 20 feet from where they were outside.” However, she did regard as “invasive” the actions of the two Idaho Falls police officers who barged into her home with their guns drawn after Lund had called for backup.
Amanda Saxton, another witness who was visiting a next-door neighbor on the night of the party, also told the Post-Register that she had her door open “and didn’t hear anything that would justify a noise complaint.” According to Saxton, “Victor came over and invited our kids over [to the party]. They seem nice.”
After the Post-Register published its report, Idaho Falls Police Chief Mark McBride demanded space on the opinion page to reiterate the discredited official account – and to traduce the Madrigal family by repeating unsubstantiated gossip as if it were actual evidence.
Chief McBride claimed that the “regular activities” at the Madrigal home include “loud music, yelling, shouting, arguing and fighting until late hours of the night all summer long” – something denied by both the family’s immediate neighbors, and the Madrigals themselves.
“We had three parties this summer, all of them for children’s birthdays,” Victor pointed out to me.
“I work two jobs, and so does Victor,” added Alissa. “I’m rarely home during the weekends, and during the weeknights we have no time for the kind of parties they claim go on here all the time.”
If those parties went on all summer long, why didn’t the police receive a complaint prior to August 31st? According to McBride, the neighbor who spoke to him “never reported any of these parties because of fear of retaliation.”
During my September 13 visit to the Madrigal home, the family hosted a large number of neighbor kids – happy, well-dressed, well-behaved children from good homes presided over by responsible parents who obviously would not send their children to a house filled with angry, violent people of the kind depicted in McBride’s dishonest little screed.
According to McBride, “officers have the authority to make an arrest for a public offense committed in their presence and to use the force necessary to affect [sic – he’s a police officer, after all, and therefore a stranger to literacy] the arrest. Running into one’s house or into a crowd does not prevent the arrest. People and things usually get knocked around when the arrest is made.”
What was the “public offense” that supposedly justified that armed incursion? Recall that Lund had said he was leaving before he returned to arrest Madrigal, who – according to every non-police witness present — was complying with the unjustified demand to produce ID. It was after he turned to leave that Lund called for backup and drew his Taser. All of this happened after Victor Madrigal, replying to Lund’s statement that he was going, said, in a conversational voice: “All right, then – go.”
Prior to this, Lund had made a deliberately antagonistic remark to Victor that had an unmistakable racial subtext. In an interview with the Post-Register McBride claimed: “There was [sic, again] no racial comments made in the video until they [the Madrigals and guests] brought it up.” Calling this assessment disingenuous is an act of tremendous generosity. Like his minion Clark Lund, Chief McBride is bright enough to recognize what it means to tell a large brown man with an exotic accent that he doesn’t belong in Idaho Falls.
“Idaho Falls police officers are not racist,” McBride insisted in his op-ed column. “We are biased against crime and disorder. We have a responsibility to the citizens of Idaho Falls to keep the community free from crime and disorder.”
Chantal Meek, the neighbor who was terrorized in her home by armed strangers carrying out that sacred “responsibility,” offers a very different perspective.
“I don’t see why race wouldn’t be an issue with the police,” she told the Post-Register. Referring to Victor and Delosanto, Meek observed that they “are obviously not from Idaho. I think it was uncalled for.”
According to McBride, an official review board ruled that the actions of Lund and his comrades were appropriate. The board somehow reached that conclusion without interviewing any of the witnesses to the incident.
It is entirely possible that the actions of Lund and his comrades were not motivated by racial bigotry, but by a different form of tribalism — the shared conceit that as members of the punitive caste they are entitled to slap down impudent Mundanes for the grievous offense commonly called “contempt of cop.”
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Dum spiro, pugno!