From Ferguson Cop Embroiled in a Brutality Suit to City Councilwoman
In 2009, a man was charged with destruction of property for bleeding on city police officers’ uniforms as they allegedly beat him. Now one of those officers sits on the City Council.
The two-term incumbent in Ferguson’s First Ward, Councilwoman Fran Grecco, had resigned after being disbarred as a lawyer for “professional misconduct” that allegedly included collecting legal fees without performing the promised legal work.
One of the two candidates to take her seat in the 2012 race was John Knowles, a cousin of Ferguson Mayor James Knowles. But this lesser-known Knowles had just resigned from the School Board over extravagant expenditures on a pricey junket to San Francisco in which he billed the city even for the $500 fine he got for smoking in his room at the Grand Hyatt.
So, former police officer Kim Tihen was elected to a three-year term. She might very well have won even if it had been widely known that she was one of four cops named in a brutality suit in which they charged a construction worker named Henry Davis with destruction of property for bleeding on their uniforms while they allegedly beat him.
Even though Ferguson was more than 70 percent black, a considerable majority of voters were white in a municipal election handily held in April, a half-year away from a presidential election that would have an African American on the ballot.
Four of the five sitting members on the Ferguson City Council were white. Tihen made it five of six.
At least she had been the only one of the four cops in the brutality case to admit during depositions to having hit the prisoner during a pile-on in a stationhouse cell.
Q: Did you strike Mr. Davis in any way?
Q. Could you just describe how you struck Mr. Davis?
A. I struck him in the back of the head while he was in my lap fighting to break free.
Q. Did Mr. Davis hit you in any way?
Q. You kind of pointed to the back of your head describing where you punched Mr. Davis. Could you just describe for the record, was it more toward the base or on the top?
A. No, not at the base, not at the top, about the middle.
Q. Middle of the back of the head, is that fair?
A. Yes, yes.
Q. About how many times did you strike him?
A. Three to four. Only what it took to gain compliance.
Q. Did you use your right hand?
Q. I am assuming you are right-handed?
Q. Was it with a closed fist?
Q. Did you have anything in your hand?
Q. What did you have?
A. I had my handcuffs.
Davis had said Tihen was straddling him and that he was already handcuffed. Tihen had insisted he was in her lap as she struggled to handcuff him.
Q. Did the handcuffs make contact with Mr. Davis's head or was it your hand?
A. Yes, the handcuffs and my hand came in contact.
Q. So were you holding one cuff or both at the same time?
A. One. I had been trying to handcuff him. We couldn't get him handcuffed. He was still fighting in my lap. That is why I had the handcuffs.
Q. So you had one and the other handcuff was kind of loose?
A. I would say so, yes.
Q. Did Mr. Davis get handcuffed at some point?
A. Yes, after the strikes, and we were able to gain enough compliance to get his arms back.
The other cops further denied that they had gotten Davis’ blood on their uniforms despite a sworn complaint to the contrary. Tihen said Davis had indeed bled on her.
Q. And where did he get blood on you or where on your body or uniform did Mr. Davis get blood on you?
A. On the front of my pants, in the thigh area.
Q. On both legs?
A. Yes, I believe so.
She testified that she and her fellow officers had then hoisted Davis to his feet.
Q. When you were face-to-face with Mr. Davis when he was standing up, could you describe what his face looked like?
A. He had an injury which appeared to be on his forehead.
Q. Was there blood on his face?
Q. Do you know how Mr. Davis sustained that injury during that incident?
Davis had testified that while still straddling him Tihen had hoisted him, enabling police Officer David White to kick him in the head.
Q. You didn’t see Officer White kick Mr. Davis in the forehead?
Q. And you didn’t punch Mr. Davis in the forehead?
Q. You had already testified that the times you hit him were only in the back of the head?
Tihen did allege that Davis had punched White in the nose at the start of the struggle. Davis denied that. A state felony charge of assaulting an officer that was lodged against him a year after the incident was subsequently withdrawn.
But a federal magistrate tossed out the brutality suit, largely on the grounds that Davis’ injuries were insufficiently serious to constitute a violation of his rights. His lawyer, James Schottel of St. Louis, is pressing ahead with the determination of a one-time college football player who persevered after being paralyzed in a fraternity hazing incident a quarter-century ago. Schottel now jokes about celebrating such victories as the dropping of the felony charges against Davis by spinning in his wheelchair.
The fact that one of these same cops went on to get elected to the Ferguson City Council caused so little public comment that Schottel was not even aware of it until Monday.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Schottel said. “I was like, ‘Are you sure?’”
He then said, “Imagine that.”
Tihen could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, and her City Council website seemed to be down. Minutes of City Council meetings that are usually online are unavailable.
A brief bio is to be found in a deposition she gave in the criminal case before the felony charge was dropped. Tihen said she was born on August 10, 1971, and was raised in Michigan. She moved to Missouri in 1989, the year she graduated from high school.
For a number of years, she worked as a cashier at a Burger King in Overland. She then operated a machine at an embroidery company for a year and afterward spent a decade as an administrative assistant at a company that provides computer software to car dealerships.
Between 1992 and 2005 she took classes at Florissant Valley St. Louis Community College, earning an associate degree in criminal justice. She enrolled at the Eastern Missouri Law Enforcement Academy in St. Charles at the start of 2006 and finished at the end of the year. She applied to a number of police departments, including Ferguson’s.
“I actually did not know if there was an opening there or not,” she testified. “I just submitted an application, letting them know I was interested.”
She had been a cop for two years and was working a 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. shift in the early morning of September 20, 2009, when Henry Davis was brought into the stationhouse for an outstanding warrant that actually was for another man of the same name.
In April 2011, Tihen resigned from the Ferguson Police, having served for four years. She later testified, “I chose to leave to spend more time with my family.”
She was married with three kids and had settled into a tidy one-story house with a good sized lawn in Ferguson. She testified that she “took some time” before signing on with a health services firm in June 2012.
“Clerical work,” she testified.
What the lawyer did not know to ask about and what she did not volunteer was that she had been elected to the Ferguson City Council two months before she went back to work and six months before the first deposition.
At the time of the second deposition, Tihen had been in office for more than a year. But again there was no mention of a newfound political career.
By then, she had created a mini stir by being the lone opponent of a bill to repeal a “far to right” provision that required bicyclists to keep to close to the curb.
The new law was championed by a local bicycle advocate who had been pedaling in the middle of the right lane of four-lane Florissant Road when he was pulled over and admonished by a Ferguson cop. He subsequently met with city officials, including Police Chief Tom Jackson, who is described as a “cycling enthusiast.”
By one account, Jackson helped draft the new legislation, Bill 6986, which passed the City Council by a vote of 5-to-1. Tihen kept it from being unanimous.
In an email to the bill’s supporters, Tihen explained that she believed the existing ordinance was more sensible. She noted that it allowed bicyclists to venture from the far right if they needed to pass a parked car or some other obstacle or hazard.
“I believe the problem was not with the law itself, but rather a lack of understanding of the law,” she said of the previous provision.
She added, “Another issue I had with the revised ordinance is that it doesn’t allow for law enforcement to direct a bicyclist in the event it is necessary.”
She went on: “Of course, most bicyclists are courteous and respectful of the motoring public and will allow motorists to pass if it is creating a backup. However, if you have someone who is refusing to allow cars to pass and impeding traffic, it is going to create complaints to police and they need to have a way to address the situation.”
Local law still prohibited citizens from just walking down the middle of the street, as Michael Brown and a friend apparently were on the afternoon of August 9, when police Officer Darren Wilson ordered them onto the sidewalk.
Moments later, the unarmed Brown was sprawled dead in the street, having been shot at least six times.
The following day was the 43rd birthday of Tihen, who had gone from Burger King to the City Council.
But in between she had served with the Ferguson Police, which has managed the resulting crisis so badly that people decided the problem was not just a terrible moment involving one officer.
One Ferguson cop who has proved worth a good look is Eddie Boyd, who was previously with the St. Louis Police Department. He left there after twice being accused of striking youngsters with his service weapon, one a 16-year-old boy, the other a girl of just 12.
Boyd won a case brought against him in civil court, but the Administrative Hearing Commission of the State of Missouri recommended that the department discipline him for two counts of “committing a criminal act and for committing an act while on active duty that involved a reckless disregard for the safety of a person.”
Still, the Ferguson police department was happy to hire him, adding another white to a 52-member department that has only three black officers. He has since been sued in federal court by a man named Eugene McAllister, who filed a handwritten complaint alleging that Boyd and two other officers beat him as he held up his hands as ordered following a car chase on January 26, 2011.
“Plaintiff never created a threatening move towards any officer but continued to state, ‘I give! I give!’” the complaint says. “Officer Eddie Boyd then started beating plaintiff in the head and body by punching him over and over.”
Boyd has denied the allegation.
And then there were Tihen and three other cops in a brutality case that had been all but forgotten.
The appeal in the case is expected to be argued in December.
Tihen is up for reelection next year.