“All I wanted to do was sob for a few minutes. Cry. I wanted to cry for a few minutes because my life is in your hands,” Dasyl Jeanette Rios said, wailing, as she was pulled by a Broward Sheriff’s deputy with her feet shackled through a Florida courthouse on Monday. The 28-year-old woman had just been declared mentally incompetent before she was dragged like a suitcase through the hallways by Christopher Johnson.
The disturbing incident was captured on a cellphone by Bill Gelin, an attorney and blogger at J.A.A.B. (Justice and Advocacy in Broward County), though the details of what led to a disturbing escalation aren’t entirely clear. While the video shows Rios writhing in pain and crying “You’re hurting me! You’re fucking hurting me. Stop! You didn’t give nobody a chance,” it is not entirely clear what led Johnson to feel compelled to restrain Rios in such a seemingly disturbing manner.
In an incident report, Johnson alleged that Rios was “disturbing the public” after the court hearing, which was for a trespassing and criminal mischief case. Rios is also being held for violating her parole for a felony drug possession.
“Fearing she would cause a commotion in the public area, I then physically grabbed inmate Rios by her leg restraints and pulled her back to the D10-door,” he stated in his report. Deputy Anthony Pulitano added in a supplemental report that Johnson asked Rios twice if she would walk on her own accord.
However, Assistant Public Defender Lynn DeSanti, who is married to Gelin, claimed Johnson was far less even-keeled. While she said Rios refused to get up when Johnson told her to, he proceeded to get aggressive.
“He basically picked up this girl, yanked her off the bench, and started dragging her through the hallway,” she told the Orlando Sentinel. “I said ‘Stop it! What are you doing to her?’ But he just told her, ‘You don't want to walk? I'm going to drag you.’”
While Johnson claims he feared that Rios would become an eventual threat, no witness has so far indicated that she ever appeared to pose a physical danger. That Rios did not appear to show physical aggression raises questions about why Johnson appears to take such a violent approach to detention and disregards her pleas to stop. Although she is loud and crying in the video, Rios also appears weak and unlikely to cause physical damage. Moreover, she had just been declared mentally incompetent, which would indicate she perhaps deserved greater sensitivity.
That is certainly the opinion that some of the Broward County officials have taken. There is now an Internal Affairs investigation into the incident, and Johnson, who has served in Broward County since 1988, will not be permitted to interact with inmates until it is completed.
“I am concerned by the way the deputy handled this situation, because there were other courses of action he could have taken,” said Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.
Unfortunately, there is a long history of cops miscommunicating with and even abusing people with mental health issues and a variety of physical and intellectual disabilities—and it’s one that reaches far beyond Broward County. There are cases of cops using lethal restraint against Ethan Saylor, a young man in Maryland with Down syndrome, or shooting dead Steven Eugene Washington, a man with autism, because his “blank stare” was suspicious. Neither of the officers in these extreme acts of violence was ultimately convicted of any criminal charges.
In one case reported to the Department of Justice, Cleveland cops used a taser on a suicidal deaf man “who committed no crime, posed minimal risk to officers, and may not have understood officers’ commands.”
There are countless incidences that show how poorly law enforcement officials are trained to interact with people who have mental health issues and disabilities. To Broward County’s credit, its officials have acted far more swiftly to investigate and determine recourse. That, in itself, is reason for hope.