The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in Florida has fired and charged a sergeant with a felony after the officer held a gun to a handcuffed Black man’s head and threatened to kill him for not providing his name. The cop’s quick termination comes as a result of his fellow officers, who reported him to their commanders after the incident.
Sgt. Janak Amin, who worked in Tampa Bay, Fla., was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon on Friday after threatening the victim’s life last Thursday, reports The Washington Post. The man was unarmed, according to the sheriff’s office.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said the victim was previously in custody at the county jail but was “inadvertently” released to a treatment facility for people with substance abuse or mental health issues. County sheriff’s deputies were apprehending the man, who was found hiding behind a trailer, to take him back to jail.
According to Chronister, officers initially put the man in a prone position face down on the ground. When asked his name, he refused to answer. Amin responded by kneeling beside the man, taking out his weapon and holding it inches from the victim’s head. Chronister says Amin told the man that if he didn’t tell officers his name, he would “splatter his brains over the concrete.”
In a statement given to investigators after the incident, the victim said he didn’t give his name because he was “scared to death.”
Amin is a 21-year veteran of the force with no prior record of unjustified use of force. But the event was enough for the department to break its ties with the officer, said the sheriff.
“It only takes one incident to violate the oath that you take, violate the public’s trust and break the law,” he said.
The swift punishment is noteworthy—it is difficult to imagine such rapid and decisive accountability happening before the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests that took root after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, Minn., in late May. But how the incident in Tampa was addressed is also worth reflecting on. According to Chronister, part of the reason Amin was dismissed and charged so quickly is because his fellow officers reported his behavior.
From The Washington Post:
The sheriff applauded the deputies on scene who reported Amin to the command staff immediately after witnessing his behavior. He said they were following recent training requiring them to intervene when they witness excessive force by colleagues.
That policy has been newly implemented at police departments across the country in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis on May 25. For police departments that have the “duty to intervene” policy, such as at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, deputies who stand by while a colleague brutalizes people or engages in other unacceptable behavior could also face consequences for failing to step in to de-escalate the situation.
According to the sheriff, the department has actually had this policy in place for years. But following weeks of protests calling for police accountability and transformative reforms, Chronister required all deputies to review a training video on the policy several weeks ago.
Part of the struggle with getting more accountability from police departments is the way cops will protect and fall in line with their fellow officers. Police reformists, who want policing to be more fair and equitable but don’t want to go so far as to implement abolitionist proposals, such as defunding or disbanding the police, might be heartened by this development in Tampa.
But the incident also shows the limits of police reform. Hillsborough County has one less “bad apple” in its midst, but there is still a person being detained who is traumatized, and that trauma comes directly as a result of Amin and the jail administrators who accidentally freed him. The question of what happens to him—how he will be supported, cared for, and healed—remains unresolved.
It’s an undoubted improvement that accountability for police brutality came so quickly in this case, but it feels a far cry, still, to call this “justice.”