Copology: A Sacramento police supervisor apologized to a pregnant woman. It didn’t go over well.
Officers can leave sour impressions in minority communities when honest mistakes clash with attitude
Zityrua Abraham was understandably upset.
On July 9, police officers in pursuit of a suspected automobile thief mistakenly kicked in Abraham’s apartment door and detained her mother’s boyfriend. In the struggle, a police officer yanked the pregnant Abraham, who fell to the ground.
According to body camera footage released last week by the Sacramento Police Department, the resulting apology wasn’t accepted.
The mistaken raid was one of two non-fatal police encounters last month the department released partial video of. Reviewed together, the footage illustrates a level of transparency that other law enforcement agencies haven’t adopted, but also shows how police officers can leave behind sour impressions when their attempted mea culpa rams up against their training to assert control over every situation.
Earlier, police had rounded the corner into a sun-blanched courtyard and rushed a red door where a man matching their suspect’s description had entered a row-house apartments and locked himself inside, they say. Footage from one of four body-mounted cameras released August 17 show Abraham—her face pixelated, dressed in a red top that hugs her small, pregnant belly—wedging herself between the door and officers.
“Come on, wait a minute, my son is in there!” she shouts.
Barking at her to move, a tall officer pries her from the door by her right arm. Abraham continues to protest as the reflection in her apartment window briefly captures her tumbling to the ground.
In a statement accompanying the release of police video, the department stated: “She refused to follow officer’s [sic] commands to move, so an officer grabbed her arm and pulled her to the left of him and out of the officers’ path to the doorway. After the officer let go, it appears her momentum took her from the paved walkway to the uneven grass surface. She lost her balance and fell to the ground.”
Abraham had a different take, alleging that officers needlessly roughed her up without apologizing or providing their badge numbers, as she requested. Internal Affairs is conducting an administrative investigation.
A police official later arrived on the scene and did apologize to Abraham. But the recorded exchange, between a supervisor trying to get his side out and a frustrated civilian needing to vent, mixed like oil and water.
In recordings, the supervisor briefly speaks to Abraham in the parking area out front and orders her an ambulance. The supervisor either shuts off his body-cam or police didn’t release footage of him debriefing his officers. But when his feed resumes, he finds Abraham seated in front of her apartment, where she first saw officers charging her home. He asks if he can explain what happened. It’s still fresh in her mind.
“I don’t appreciate how I just got threw on the ground,” she says. “I’m six months pregnant. That’s my baby. Don’t nobody give a fuck about the health of my kid.”
The supervisor challenges Abraham on that point. “What’s the first thing I asked you? If you were all right,” he says.
The conversation never strays too far from debate. Abraham starts to vent and the supervisor interjects, saying he wants to explain things from “our perspective.”
“We got information that a guy that looks very similar to the gentleman sitting out here, that has a felony warrant, that has a very violent past, OK?” he says.
Abraham is still too wound up to hear him. She stands and turns toward her neighbors. “They came up here and pulled guns out. They pulled guns out and came in there and busted my door open and pulled a gun out and my son is sitting there,” she says, the words rushing through a spigot.
The supervisor holds out his hand. “Could I finish my side of the story please?” he says. “Ma’am? Ma’am, can I finish my side of the story? That’s all I want to do.”
He sounds frustrated. So does Abraham. Her nerves are still raw. She has things she needs to say, about how the guns scared her, about how she was worried about the son indoors and now about the child in her.
“I absolutely apologize for that, OK?” the supervisor says stiffly. “It was a mistake in good faith.”
They actually do teach bedside manner in the academy, says Francine Tournour, director of the city’s Office of Public Safety and Accountability. But dealing with the public is not something cops really learn until they hit the streets.
“It’s nothing you can teach. It really is on-the-job experience. Because no situation is ever the same. It’s so dynamic,” said Tournour, who is monitoring the investigation by police. “Sometimes you have to shut up. But cops are very Type A. You want to explain your side of things.”
Tournour is well acquainted with both sides of this coin. A former Bay Area cop, Tournour decided to go into law enforcement when she was just 8. That’s when Tournour saw two Oakland cops chew out her mother with rancid stereotypes for requesting help with a mentally unstable teenage son.
“My mom works three jobs, even to this day,” Tournour said. “That’s when I decided I wanted to do something in law enforcement.”
Tournour used to help teach a course in Sacramento’s police academy that focused on community interactions, especially within black neighborhoods with legitimate historical grievances against men in badges. Tournour says those lingering sentiments aren’t personal, and that every officer has an opportunity to change that narrative with each new interaction—not just for the people living in the neighborhoods, but for the next officer who responds to a scene needing the public’s help.
The ambivalent relationship that underrepresented neighborhoods have with law enforcement was on display in the other batch of police videos released last week.
The footage chronicles the aftermath of an officer-involved shooting that occurred July 27, when police responded to the Fruitridge Heights area looking for an armed man in a ripped shirt.
One of the recordings is a soundless clip from a surveillance video, taken from a property overlooking 38th Street.
Four boys walk along a residential sidewalk when the taller one sees it. Across the baked street, a bicycle hangs from one of two shabby trees guarding a fenced lot. The tall boy gestures to his friends and walks into a cropping of shade to get a closer look. As he puzzles over how to free the recumbent from the branches skewering it overhead, the others trot over. Finally, the tall one grips the handle bars, gives two mighty tugs and brings the bike to rest on its tires.
Before the tall one can sling a leg over this gift from the summer gods, something outside the frame jerks their attention. The tall one takes off running without hesitation. The others dart after him. As the kids bank right, out of the frame, Clifton J. Allison barrels into it, collapsing to his knees and surrendering to the officers who had been chasing him for about a block.
Moments earlier, police allege, the 26-year-old Allison pointed a silver pistol at SWAT team Officer Jeremiah Jarvis, who fired five rounds in response. All five shots missed Allison, who is currently being held without bail on numerous charges downtown.
With Allison in handcuffs, Jarvis orders a colleague to “go back and get the fucking gun” the suspect dropped somewhere along the line. Other responding officers begin cordoning off the area, to some of the residents’ chagrin. They’re not pleased to learn they won’t be able to move their cars or reenter their homes for an indefinite amount of time. Some know the suspect and are wary of the police’s reasons for apprehending him. A young female officer strikes a sympathetic tone, apologizing for the inconvenience in a way that seems to register.
As this scene is established, a bicycle lays across the street, a relic from a simpler adventure.