A Florida state trooper is under review following an incident earlier this month in which he tased a biracial teen twice after catching the teen cutting through bushes to get to his girlfriend’s house. Typically, the trooper claimed the teen looked suspicious, that he feared he might be armed, and that he didn’t immediately follow his instructions, but the teen’s mother and attorney said the use of force was racist and completely unjustified.
The Washington Post reports that on June 16, 16-year-old Jack Rodeman cut through bushes in his Fort Myers neighborhood to get to his girlfriend’s yard, which the teen’s mother, Kristina Rodeman, said both teens often do when visiting each other. (And seriously, if you didn’t cut through secret pathways to get to certain places in your neighborhood when you were a kid, were you even ever a kid?) Unfortunately for Jack, he caught the attention of Florida Highway Patrol Trooper George Smyrnios, who said in a police report that he felt the teen looked suspicious and he decided to follow him.
From the Post:
Video obtained by The Post begins with Jack Rodeman explaining to Smyrnios that his girlfriend lives at the residence and was going to come outside.
Smyrnios, with his Taser aimed, tells Rodeman that he didn’t follow instructions and then orders the teen to turn around.
Rodeman continues to use his phone, telling the trooper that he needs to call his girlfriend, when the trooper commands the 16-year-old to put his hands behind his back.
“I didn’t do nothing,” Rodeman says, while looking down at his phone.
Within seconds, Smyrnios uses the Taser on Rodeman, who falls and hits a brick fire pit.
As the teen writhes in agony on the ground, Smyrnios inches closer to him and instructs him to put his hands behind his back.
“I’m going to do it again,” Smyrnios says, and then releases another jolt.
Rodeman is handcuffed on the ground when his girlfriend comes out of her home and asks the officer what he is doing, saying her boyfriend is allowed in the backyard.
“For some reason, you think you can do exactly what you want to do, and you can’t,” Smyrnios says to Rodeman, with his girlfriend standing by and holding her face.
I’m sorry, but this is fucked up.
First, it makes no sense that cops can’t exercise a little restraint when dealing with minors (and particularly minors of color) who have not demonstrated that they are a threat just because an officer’s authority wasn’t immediately submitted to. Secondly, tasers fucking hurt. How callous does a cop have to be to tase a teenager, see him on the ground writhing in pain and tase him again because he failed to immediately respond to the officer’s continued demands? The video shows that the second tase came literally seconds after the first.
Rodeman’s attorney, Derek Tyler, said that he believes the trooper was motivated by racism in attacking Jack, and that “even if he wasn’t, the trooper’s actions were egregious, unjustified and cruel, and just absolutely outrageous.”
The Post reports that, according to Aaron Keller, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, an administrative review of the incident is ongoing. Meanwhile, Jack has been charged with loitering, marijuana possession and disobeying an officer. And yes, it is very telling that Jack was charged with loitering even after a resident at the house informed Smyrnios that the teen had permission to be there.
Smyrnios wrote in the original police report that he found Jack suspicious and that “he had personal knowledge of burglaries happening in the neighborhood,” the Post reports. In an amended report, Smyrnios wrote that he couldn’t see the teen’s hands and that he was concerned he had a gun.
Rodeman said that her son still suffers from neck and head pain and that the video of the incident shows that the attack on Jack was more brutal than what troopers described to her.
“I didn’t know my son fell down, let alone hit bricks,” she said.
According to Tyler, Jack has had previous run-ins with police, and because of that, he’s required to be detained for up to 21 days behind the altercation which, again, began with him making a simple trip to his girlfriend’s house.