Beat-Downs are OK if You Allege Bad Behavior in Worthington

On July 28, 2016, Worthington, Minnesota resident Anthony Promvongsa was pulled over by a Worthington Police sergeant after a drug task force officer had been trying to stop him using an unmarked black car with lights. As soon as Worthington Police Sergeant Tim Gaul shows up in a marked Tahoe, Promvongsa pulls over.

And this is where it gets sickening. Agent Joe Joswiak, wearing blue jeans and a black t-shirt immediately approaches, gun drawn, calling Promvongsa “mother-f**ker” and ordering him to show the agent “your f**king hands.” Joswiak pulls the door open and immediately tries to pull a seat-belted Promvongsa out of the car, and when he can’t (because of the seat-belt), he begins to strike Promvongsa with his fist and knee and elbow. During this entire time, you do not see any aggressive actions by Promvongsa.

The Worthington Chief of Police, Troy Appel, and the Drug Task Force Commander, Nate Grimmius, refused to comment, other than to note that the video was only a portion of the entire incident. Promvongsa is facing felony charges of second-degree assault, fleeing a police officer, and traffic violations.

OK, I can understand those comments. You have a pending criminal trial, and probably are looking at pending litigation. So why don’t we look at what we can see.

This is supposedly a felony stop, because Promvongsa supposedly just assaulted two officers by using his vehicle as a weapon. Felony stop procedures are uniform throughout the United States, and those procedures do not include charging up to the vehicle with your weapon drawn and then putting a beat-down on the driver. No, in a felony stop, you stay back at your own police car and order the driver to exit the vehicle and come to you, backwards. It looks like this:

This is so officers don’t put themselves at risk by charging a vehicle. The procedure isn’t new, the basic procedure has been around for at least 40 years, as shown in this old training video. But obviously, that’s not what happened in Worthington.

I’ve seen this type of reaction before. It normally comes from overly gung ho officers who don’t have the self-discipline to do the stop properly. It’s gotten officers shot and killed in the past. Sr. Corporal Mark Nix of Dallas was killed in 2007 because he charged up to the suspect’s vehicle and was shot, instead of following felony stop procedures.* The same could have happened here, but there some other things we should look at.

The dash cam video is from the sergeant’s Tahoe, and when the video starts, you can clearly hear Joswiak cursing at Promvongsa—and then all sound stops. At 2:11 in the video, while Joswiak is beating on Promvongsa, look at Sgt. Gaul. His hand is on his belt, at the body mike for the dash cam, turning it off. So the rest of the relevant part of the video is silent. The sole reason to turn off the audio at this point is to prevent the documentation of what Joswiak is saying to Promvongsa as he beats him. It is to prevent Promvongsa from being able to use the video as evidence. It is to prevent Joswiak being held accountable for police misconduct.

In Texas, a police officer doing that could be charged with Tampering with Physical Evidence,† and conceivably could be charged with Obstructing Investigation in Minnesota,‡ although I would honestly be surprised if any action were taken against Sgt. Gaul.

The Minnesota chapter of the ACLU states that the attack by Joswiak on Promvongsa was uncalled for and unprovoked. They are right. But Joswiak isn’t the only one, even though his conduct was obviously out of line. We need to look at Gaul too. He’s a supervisor, and his conduct is what enables the Joswiaks of the world to beat up on suspects. In my view, Gaul’s conduct is worse, because as long as he covers up misconduct, it will continue.

*His killer, Wesley Ruiz, is on death row for the killing.

†Texas Pen. Code, §37.09.

‡Minn. Stat. 609.495, subd. 3.