Pool Party in McKinney Leaves One Man Charged, Officer Out of Work

Attorney Phil Gommels

mckinney-texas-pool-partyBy now, you’ve seen the video. McKinney Police Department Officer, Cpl. Eric Casebolt, a white man, throws a 15-year-old girl named Dejerria Becton to the ground at a pool party, then pulls a gun on two boys. All of this in a relatively well-to-do Dallas suburb. The video was shot with a cell phone camera by a 15-year-old white boy named Brandon Brooks.

This comes on the heels of other allegations across the country about violence by white officers against black citizens (See Freddie Gray), Eric Garner, Treyvon Martin). So the obvious comparisons began immediately. Just as quickly, residents of the community of all races came out to defend their neighborhood as a peaceful one. One undivided by race.

Social media has provided a number of firsthand accounts of what happened in the Craig Ranch subdivision on Friday June 5, 2015. The accounts of the events leading up to the viral video are just as important as the contents of the video in understanding what happened that day, and what is likely to happen now.

The pool party.

A company called Ttwinzz promotions circulated the news of a free pool party with a DJ for June 5th under the hashtag #dimepiececookout. (I consider my self pretty savvy on slang, but I had to look that one up; from what I can tell, “dime piece” is a (perhaps objectifying) way to refer to a beautiful woman—a perfect ten). The party was against the HOA rules which permitted each resident to bring up to two friends in with her.

Instead, hundreds of teenagers spilled over the locked gate. Music from the party’s DJ poured into the neighborhood. And when the neighborhood security guard warned the kids that they were trespassing (by violating the subdivision’s rules), they didn’t leave. Rather, their conduct escalated, and police were called.

The police arrive.

Other than what’s captured on tape, it’s unclear what happens when the police arrive. The full video—seven minutes and nineteen seconds long—shows Cpl. Casebolt sprinting past the camera. He dives onto the ground and executes what appears to be a superfluous combat roll. A few moments later he returns and begins barking orders and throwing young black men to the ground by their arms. He begins handcuffing some of them.

He seems to tell one boy that he’s being arrested for evading arrest. Then he orders a small group of girls to leave. Briefly he disappears to the top right of the frame.

What happens next when he’s back on camera is the scene most often replayed by news agencies. Cpl. Casebolt throws a black girl to the ground by her arm, and holds her there by her hair. It then shows a black boy and a white boy come up behind the same white police officer. He turns quickly, stands and looks at the boys. He takes an offensive posture and pauses.

Then the most shocking thing happens—the thing, without which this never becomes a national headline: he draws his pistol and points it at the two boys. Two other officers rush to the first. The officer pulls his weapon to his side, but doesn’t holster it. With his left arm he pushes away one of the officers who’s come to deescalate the situation. He chases the boys a few steps, then returns to the black girl sitting on the ground as the other two officers chase the boys.

The officer who pulled his gun yells at the girl who is screaming, “call my mama.”

“Sit your ass on the ground”

The officer then grabs the girl by the back of the neck and smashes her face into the grass while yelling, “on your face.” He then kneels over her, with both knees into her back where he stays for much of the remaining minutes of the video, admonishing her as she wails that she’ll go to jail if she doesn’t knock it off.

The video ends with Cpl. Casebolt explaining to two black boys that they’re going to “sit here until we get this figured out,” because “I personally told you to get on the ground and stay . . . so you just did what everybody else did, and what everybody else did was illegal; you did it and you got caught . . . now you’re sitting here paying for it.”

Charges for those at the pool party.

The girl in the video was temporarily detained by police, but eventually returned to her parents. Of all the folks seen held on tape, only one adult man was charged. That man is facing charges of interfering with public duties and evading arrest.

The fallout for Cpl. Casebolt.

By Monday, Police Chief Greg Conley had placed Casebolt on administrative leave. Mayor Brian Loughmiller was condemning the officer’s actions, saying he was, “disturbed and concerned by the incident.” The following day, amid calls for his firing, Casebolt resigned.

Crowd control by police generally.

As with our neighbors to the north, Houston is no stranger to a big party with lots of teenagers. Especially at the beginning of the summer, it’s common for high-schoolers out for the summer to throw big parties.

I remember one party from my days as a Harris County Prosecutor. In a Hispanic neighborhood, kids overflowed from the house, into the front and back yards, and down the block. When the neighbors complained and the police arrived, there was nowhere within blocks for them to park. The scene was chaotic. Someone had assaulted the sister of the young man who was throwing the party.

When the police arrived, the officers didn’t know who had done any assaulting, but they knew that there were hundreds of drunk teenagers and anything could happen.As they were investigating, one of the brothers of the girl who’d been assaulted took his shirt off and took an aggressive posture like he was going to fight. The police wanted to handcuff him to neutralize him as a threat. As they did, he wrestled with one police officer. Another officer came and kicked the kid in the face. The kid was charged with resisting arrest or detention.

I won that case. The kid was convicted. The jury afterward said they forgave the officer for kicking the boy—they appreciated his honesty about it and understood the chaos of the moment. These days, with cell phone video, I don’t know that the trial would have turned out the same way. I don’t know that it should.

The point is, when officers show up to a scene like this, they don’t know who is an instigator and who isn’t. Their job is to deescalate the situation.

Common charges in these situations.

To the groans of criminal defense lawyers like me, these situations usually yield loads of charges against juveniles and recently-juveniles with clean (or mostly clean) records. Common charges include: assault on a peace officer (a third degree felony punishable by 2-10 years in prison, and a $10,000 fine), trespass (generally a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a $2,000 fine), resisting arrest or detention (a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine), evading arrest or detention (also a class A misdemeanor), or interference with public duties (a class B misdemeanor).

Most frustrating are the arrests for evading or resisting unaccompanied by any other charge. The law requires that in order for resisting or evading to be a crime, there must be some reason the officer was lawfully trying to detain or arrest you. As in the case I won as a prosecutor, often the officer says something like, “I knew there’d been some kind of assault, and I didn’t know who was involved. I was trying to detain the guy to sort it out, and for my own safety.”

The bad news for the man charged.

The bad news for the man charged in this case with interference and evading is that the jury bought it in my case. And odds are in Collin County (the county in which McKinney serves as the county seat) they’d buy it too. The county is notoriously conservative and generally pro law-enforcement. Following the fallout and national attention this case has gotten though, the man’s lawyer may be able to fare better than my opponent did though. Perhaps the prosecution will dismiss the case in the interest of justice.

Criminal charges for the officer unlikely.

As we’ve seen in all of the recent police killings, an indictment against a police officer is very rare. Grand juries, for a number of reasons (some of which I addressed in my recent piece about the Freddie Gray matter) are apt to give police great leeway when it comes to use of force. Here, nobody was shot. Nobody was killed. The way that the other officers hustled to get Casebolt to put his gun down signals to me that they recognized immediately that what he had done was inappropriate. But, especially in Texas, you’d be hard-pressed to find a grand jury willing to cross the line from inappropriate to criminal. Resignation is likely to be the extent of any consequences to the officer involved. The media attention may make it difficult for him to find work in law enforcement in the future too—at least until this story blows over.

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