The Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office is investigating a deputy accused of holding a Black woman by her hair and slamming her head repeatedly into the pavement with such force that a witness to the Sept. 20 incident said it ripped several of Shantel Arnold's braids from her scalp. A 14-second video captured the incident in the New Orleans suburb where, for decades, Black residents have accused the Sheriff's Office of targeting them.
It was the second time that hour that Arnold had been assaulted. By the time the deputies arrived, she said she had already fended off an attack by some local boys.
In an interview, the 34-year-old Arnold, who has not been previously identified, told the news organizations she had needed the police's protection. But protection is not what she got.
The video begins with a sheriff's deputy seen holding the wrist of Arnold, who is lying on her back on the sidewalk. The deputy appears to be dragging her along the pavement. The deputy then grabs Arnold's arm with his other hand and jerks her upward, lifting her body off the ground. They briefly disappear behind a parked white vehicle. When they come back into view, the deputy is holding Arnold by her braids, slamming her repeatedly onto the cement. At one point, he whips her down so violently her body spins around and flips over.
The footage ends as the deputy crouches down and places a knee onto Arnold's back.
In this case, the Sheriff's Office is conducting an internal affairs investigation into the incident, something it has not done in some similar cases, according to court records. ProPublica and WWNO/WRKF were able to confirm the probe because Arnold, who did not file an official complaint, and her relatives have transcripts of their interviews with investigators. But Sheriff Joe Lopinto did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the incident itself or his department's response to it.
For decades, members of the Black community have accused the Sheriff's Office of using excessive force against them, making false arrests and failing to rein in abusive deputies. Last month, a story published by WWNO/WRKF and ProPublica revealed stark racial disparities in shootings by deputies and systemic problems with transparency and accountability.
The investigation found that more than 70% of the people deputies shot at during the past eight years were Black, more than double the parish's Black population. In addition, 12 of the 16 people who died after being shot or restrained by deputies during that time were Black men. The investigation also found that the Sheriff's Office could not account for how often its deputies use force or how many complaints civilians lodged against its employees.
Lopinto previously declined to be interviewed about the news organizations' findings, saying only that when his deputies commit serious misconduct, they are arrested; he also noted that at least nine deputies, in a department of about 760 deputies, had been booked since he became sheriff in 2017.
Following the story, the ACLU of Louisiana called on federal prosecutors to launch an investigation into the Sheriff's Office.
Arnold's case raises many of those same issues. The evidence — based on interviews with the victim and the two witnesses, statements they provided to the sheriff's internal affairs division and the video — makes clear that something went very wrong when a citizen of Jefferson Parish needed help.
The incident started around 2 p.m. on Sept. 20 when Arnold was attacked by three boys as she was walking down the street near her family's trailer home. At 4-foot-8 and about 100 pounds, her left eye missing from a car accident years earlier, Arnold regularly made an easy target for the neighborhood bullies, her family said.
During the attack, which lasted several minutes and was captured in a cellphone video, the boys slammed Arnold to the ground and beat her while a crowd watched and laughed. She tried to defend herself with a stick, which is visible in the video. The assault ended only after 71-year-old Lionel Gray, whom Arnold considers her stepfather, chased the boys away.
Disheveled and covered in dirt, Arnold stumbled down the road toward her home when an unidentified sheriff's deputy rolled up beside her in his patrol car.
In the transcript of her interview with an internal affairs investigator, Arnold says: “I'm on my way home. I ain't make it all the way to the block, the police come out of nowhere, swarming, getting me like, 'Come here.' I'm like, 'What's going on? I just got beat up by two children, what ya'll doing?'"
Arnold said the deputy demanded she stop and talk to him. She told him that she had just been assaulted and wanted to go home, and she continued walking.
According to Gray and another witness, Arnold's 55-year-old uncle, Tony Givens, the officer jumped out of his vehicle, grabbed Arnold and threw her to the ground, unprovoked. Gray and Givens were standing at the foot of the family's driveway, about 20 feet away.
In an interview with the internal affairs investigator, Gray said that Arnold didn't pull away. “She didn't have a chance to pull away because, you know, this guy was strong. He grabbed her arm, and some kind of move he made, and she went down to the ground. ... So I was walking up to him and he told me, 'If you come any closer I'm going to kick everybody's ass out here.' So, I said ... 'you don't have to use that type of force on that little woman right there, she's a midget.'"
What happened next was picked up on a video shared on social media and viewed more than 130,000 times. It is unclear who took the video, which is the only footage of the incident to have surfaced; the Sheriff's Office remains one of the few large law enforcement agencies across the country that does not use body cameras. This week, however, the Sheriff's Office announced that it had signed an $8.7 million contract for 500 body cameras that would be deployed by December.
Lopinto said that the contract had been signed in June, “well before any of these articles that were written," and that he didn't say anything publicly because “really nobody has asked me. It's not like I denied it," he said.
WWNO/WRKF and ProPublica sent the Sheriff's Office an email on July 29 specifically asking about the fact that the office had not yet adopted body cameras. The Sheriff's Office did not respond to that email, five follow-up emails and multiple voicemail messages, texts and a certified letter.
Arnold told investigators with the Sheriff's Office that it was not the boys but the deputy who caused her injuries, which included bruises and scratches across her body, a busted lip and recurring headaches. Deputies on the scene called an ambulance, which took Arnold to a local hospital. She was not charged with a crime.
Alanah Odoms, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, said the video of Arnold and the deputy was “yet another testament to the shocking frequency that JPSO targets and brutalizes innocent, unarmed members of the Black community."
Sam Walker, emeritus professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, called the deputy's actions in the video “outrageous" and questioned whether the Sheriff's Office properly trains its deputies in control tactics or de-escalation techniques.
“There are essentially two answers here. One is they do, and he ignored his training," Walker said. “Or answer No. 2 is no, they don't, which is to say their training program is completely unacceptable. So, it's either him or the organization."
The video of Arnold and the deputy also raises new questions about the Sheriff's Office use-of-force policy, which activists and critics have assailed as vague and insufficient.
They have also said that the department lacks transparency around use-of-force incidents. According to the news investigation published last month, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office was unable to produce any documents related to non-shooting use-of-force incidents. The research organization Police Scorecard Project made a similar request for data on use-of-force incidents; the Sheriff's Office responded by saying those records don't exist.
Shortly after Arnold had been taken to a hospital by ambulance, her sister, Mercedes, arrived on the scene. Mercedes, 32, said the deputy accused of attacking her sister was still present and tried to convince her to call the coroner to have Arnold committed to a hospital for mental health problems. She refused.
“He was just trying to cover up what he did by saying my sister is crazy," she said.
In the following days and weeks, Mercedes and multiple family members said, the same deputy has rolled by their house multiple times in what she believes to be an attempt to intimidate them. But she said she and her family are not afraid and will continue to speak up until the Sheriff's Office holds its deputies accountable.
Apparently, the Republican argument suggests, we should just forget about the coronavirus and ignore a disease that has killed 700,000 Americans, variously overrun our hospitals, interrupted jobs, businesses, and lives, and has spurred a strong political resistance movement.
Even as some courts have already endorsed the idea of government mandates for masks and protections against contagion, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is challenging the right of President Joe Biden to act for public health as "yet another instance of federal overreach."
It's apparently okay for Abbott to mandate against mandates not only for the state's employees but for its private businesses as well. But, by contrast, it's not okay for the federal government to tell Texas, Florida, or any state what to do about a pandemic that knows no bounds, or for companies with more than 100 employees.
That Texas is only now beginning to emerge from two months or more of spiraling covid cases, hospitalizations and deaths is not the focus of this dust-up over the rules. Rather, it's a bald political showdown.
Frankly, it's disgusting, no matter what one's politics are. No, this drawdown borders on insanity. Why do we have time, energy, and money available for endless court battles over who's really in charge?
Has Abbott not heard of the telephone, to simply call Biden and engage in some debate if they disagree?
In any event, airlines based in Texas are moving ahead with mandates anyway, guaranteeing more tumult, not less.
Why It's Strange
It is such a strange battlefield that we need to look at it for what underscores this continuing Texas rebellion, especially since it spreads so quickly to other Republican-led states. Several things that question our general understanding are coming to the surface simultaneously.
- Discussion about countering a pandemic seems futile. Whenever one side of our cultural divide talks about medicine, the other is talking about rights, including the right to be as sick as one chooses and the right to infect others. We've passed the time of legitimate discussion about immediate health effects of vaccines; that is not even on the table in these moves by Abbott, who has been vaccinated and who has undergone a mild form of covid. The anti-vax position has become nearly fully a political one. By all medical standards, having had covid is no guarantee about carrying the contagion further or even to protection beyond some undetermined but finite time.
- Blame for covid under anti-vax is limited now only to the also endless debate over its origin from nature or from a man-made process in a China laboratory, either as the result or by-product of some National Health Institute grant over a study of interspecies transmission. There is no acknowledgment that keeping more than 30% of adult Americans unvaccinated is a problem that manifests as a continuing public petri dish of mutation. Meanwhile, the Right is actively blaming Biden for high gas taxes, for a messy withdrawal from Afghanistan, clogged supply lines and sagging international dominance—because they all are happening on Biden's watch.
- Spending zillions of dollars on treatments for those who already have covid may blunt hospitalizations but does nothing to halt the spread of an airborne contagion. Yet, we're seeing tons of support across the political spectrum to spend $2,000 a dose for antibody treatments now emerging, even in pill form, rather than a $20 vaccine. For those who also argue against Biden's big-spending proposals as wasteful, this position seems, well, incongruous.
- The legal arguments here are arcane, as well as, frankly, ludicrous to you and me and our jobs. Is this more about state power versus federal power in a constitutional republic than about a chance to jack up Biden and ignore a public health menace? The force of law seems to favor the federal government acting in an emergency. The practical concerns for businesses like American Airlines based in Dallas pulled among conflicting mandates from the feds, the state and demands of consumers are simply not as important to this governor as a political principle.
By all accounts from all political viewpoints, telling businesses what they cannot do is seen as antithetical to a "conservative" view that wants government restraint.
If It Quacks. . .
It is much more understandable to see the Texas challenge over covid mandates right alongside the Texas challenge over abortion, over voting rights, over the environment and even over issues of immigration.
That is, Texas politics demand that Abbott, running at least for reelection if not for president, must protect himself from absolutists even more right-wing than he himself believes. This week, we saw hardliner Republican candidate Allen West continuing to tweet from his covid hospital bed against vaccine mandates and for expensive alternative treatments. Don Huffines, a former Texas state senator who is challenging Abbott, tweeted that "Greg Abbott is a political windsock and today proves it, He knows conservative Republican voters are tired of the vaccine mandates and tired of him being a failed leader." Apparently, in response to a Huffines criticism that a state website to help teen suicide might be fostering trans discussions, Abbott had the site pulled.
About 15 million Texans have been fully vaccinated, or just over half, lagging the national average.
Why kowtowing to a minority of voters in hopes of reelection is a bit of a mystery to me. But the reason for anyone to run for governor or president should be to solve problems.
It's hard to see what problem this governor is solving other than his own political dreams.
'Bought and paid for': New filing reveals Kyrsten Sinema pads campaign coffers with more Pharma and finance funds
U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the right-wing Arizona Democrat obstructing her party's $3.5 trillion Build Back Better bill, is the recent beneficiary of six-figure largesse from pharma- and finance-linked donors apparently rewarding her opposition to the flagship social and climate investment legislation, according to campaign finance disclosures filed Friday.
Politico and The Daily Poster report that Sinema raised over $1.1 million between July and September, with 90% of the campaign donations coming from outside Arizona. At least $100,000 of those contributions came from individuals or entities linked to the pharmaceutical and financial services industries.
According to Politico, Sinema has "raised more campaign money in the last three months than in any quarter since she became a senator."
Pharmaceutical interests have been flooding in donations to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who has emerged as the ch… https://t.co/lYC3sPYigK— RootsAction (@RootsAction) 1634334077.0
Her individual donors... included a who's-who of powerful people in the pharmaceutical industry. Top donors included the pharma giant Gilead's CEO, Daniel O'Day, who gave $5,000 this past quarter. Another $2,900 came in from Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks. The executive chair of Merck's board, Kenneth C. Frazier, also gave $2,900, as did the chair and CEO of Bristol Myers Squibb, Giovanni Caforio.
The CEO of Genentech, Alexander Hardy, gave $2,500. Meanwhile, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America's executive vice president for policy and research, Jennifer Bryant, senior vice president for federal advocacy Anne Esposito, and executive vice president for public affairs Debra DeShong, each gave $1,000.
The Daily Poster adds that Sinema also received approximately $47,000 from executives at Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe, a private equity firm that owns a large stake in Abzena, a company providing "outsourced research, development, and manufacturing services... to biopharmaceutical companies."
Former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich noted earlier this week that Sinema has received over $750,000 from Big Pharma throughout her career.
While Sinema campaigned on a promise to "lower prescription drug prices," she has been one of the staunchest congressional opponents of allowing Medicare to leverage its tremendous purchasing power to negotiate lower medication prices.
Among Sinema's biggest financial services industry donors disclosed in the new filing are Goldman Sachs president John Waldron, who gave the maximum allowable amount of $5,800; Blackstone senior managing directors Giovanni Cutaia and Eli Nagler, who donated a combined $5,700; and Facebook co-founders Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, who both gave the maximum amount. The Winklevoss twins have amassed a multi-billion-dollar cryptocurrency empire; Sinema is a member of the Senate subcommittee charged with regulating digital currencies.
The new disclosures came as Sinema traveled to Europe to raise more campaign cash, and as the head of an advocacy group linked to the billionaire-backed Koch network urged her to "stay strong" in her efforts to torpedo her party's budget reconciliation package.
Responding to the new reports, musician and environmental activist Bill Madden tweeted, "This is what someone who's bought and paid for looks like."
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