A St. Paul, Minn., police officer is attempting to claim self-defense after punching an unarmed, mentally distressed 14-year-old girl in the face.
But let’s start at the beginning.
According to the Washington Post, back in December, there was a 14-year-girl who needed psychiatric help and was possibly suicidal. She was clearly distressed, according to court documents, but did not want to get into an ambulance.
So Michael Soucheray and his partner, Chris Rhoades, were sent to handle the situation at Brittany’s Place, which is a shelter for girls on the East Side of Minnesota.
The teen “became agitated,” giving officers and shelter staff the silent treatment, a criminal complaint details. It was decided that officers would be better off taking the girl to the hospital rather than paramedics. But the teen was not having it, and so she resisted. Officers handcuffed her and reportedly told her that they would drag her if she didn’t cooperate. The girl responded by going limp.
However, as officers got near the squad car, the girl started fighting again, screaming and standing in the seat as officers tried to secure her in the car by a seat belt. Then she cleared her throat and spat in Soucheray’s face.
Soucheray responded by punching the girl in her face—twice—with a closed fist, before grabbing her by her jaw and calling her a “fucking bitch.”
Yes, this is the response of a seven-year law-enforcement veteran to a mentally distressed, handcuffed 14-year-old child.
On Monday, Soucheray was charged with fifth-degree assault, which could land him in prison for 90 days, the Post reports. Soucheray is also on paid administrative leave while the St. Paul Police Department conducts an internal investigation into the incident, which has sparked yet another debate about police use of force.
“The Saint Paul Police Department is committed to serving the City of Saint Paul with the highest levels of professionalism,” a statement on the department’s Facebook page read, according to the Post. “As the department has demonstrated time and time again, when incidents occur that do not meet those standards, swift and decisive action is taken to hold ourselves accountable.”
The department added that it was going to “respect the legal process and let it play out before commenting further or taking any additional actions.”
Anyway, according to the Post, the girl was not seriously injured and was charged in connection with the spitting incident, although as a juvenile, her case is kept under wraps.
Soucheray’s lawyer, Peter Wold, told the Post that the officer has apologized to his colleagues (what of the girl?) for his language, and insists that the punches weren’t because of anger but instead were an “appropriate use of force” meant to defend himself.
“He’s wedged in the back of the squad car with this belligerent, screaming young woman that just clears her throat while he’s trying to help her and spits in his face,” Wold said. “That’s dangerous. He was just a matter of inches away. … She might be a young girl, but you don’t know whether she has diseases or what. And that’s an assault when you spit in someone’s face like that.”
Wold added that the political climate was a factor in his client facing charges, particularly in Minnesota, where tensions are still high after the fatal shooting in July of Philando Castile by an officer during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, a suburb of St. Paul.
“It’s tough enough being a cop nowadays,” Wold said. “Just the regular danger and the antipathy toward them by different groups. It’s hard enough, but with the political environment. … Politically it’s easier to charge him than not. Then let it go the course and see what happens there.”
Read more at the Washington Post.