Complaint Reignites Controversy over SJPD’s Use of Force

Even from a distance, the baton strikes are audible.

A seven-minute cellphone video taped from across the street shows a pair of police officers beating a man, slamming him to the ground and continuing to pummel him with batons. Bystanders scream as police cuff the man and escort him to the back of a patrol car.

A recording of the May 24 confrontation has made rounds after Nathaniel Howard, the man on the receiving end of those strikes, went public with an excessive-force complaint he filed against the San Jose Police Department.

“They forced me into a hold, picked me up and threw me back on the ground,” Howard told San Jose Inside. “The whole time, they hit me with batons, bruising my legs, forearms.”

Nate Howard Headshot

Nathaniel Howard.

Howard, a 23-year-old teacher from San Diego who delivered the keynote address earlier that day at San Jose State’s Black Graduation Ceremony, was released without any citation.

The complaint reignites a years-old controversy about the way the department handles claims of officer misconduct. Between 2010 and 2013, citizens logged 463 allegations of excessive force by San Jose officers. Only one was sustained after being investigated by the agency’s internal affairs department.

“We find that very concerning,” said Joanna Cuevas Ingram, Howard’s attorney through the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. “We just hope internal affairs investigates this in good faith.”

In 2013, 2012 and 2010, SJPD dismissed every single force allegation, Ingram noted. Yet in her latest report, Independent Police Auditor LaDoris Cordell found that 40 percent of those allegations included use of a “control hold” and 29 percent use of bodily weapons.

Since 2009, the city has shelled out nearly $7.9 million to settle 32 excessive-force lawsuits, according to the city attorney's office. A pending settlement may cost the city another $900,000, if the City Council approves the deal next month.

Howard says the SJPD never reached out to him after he filed multiple complaints. A statement came only after the case blew up in the media.

“The department has been proactive since we were made aware of the incident,” SJPD spokesman Officer Albert Morales said. “We are conducting an administrative inquiry to determine if there are any training needs to address. We want our employees to know our policies and understand our expectations. Additionally, we are conducting outreach within the community, specifically at SJSU.”

The police union firmly defended the officers’ actions.

"Simple, clear and reasonable commands from a police officer should always be followed, it is always unfortunate when those commands are not followed as it puts police officers and those we are sworn to protect in potential danger,” Police Officers Association President Jim Unland said in a statement. "We stand by those officers who were dealing with a very hostile situation that easily could have escalated and put officers and innocent civilians in harm’s way. The video speaks for itself."

Ingram agrees on that final point—albeit for different reasons.

“Just watch the video,” she urged.

The recording comes minutes after several police walked up to Howard’s friend, Joubert Ballard, to cite him for public urination.

As told in the complaint, it was around 2am and a crush of people were leaving a graduation party at Agenda nightclub in San Jose’s SoFA district. Howard, who was on the phone with his girlfriend, walked up to the officers and began questioning them about the way they were treating his friend. He said he didn’t see why they needed so many officers for a minor citation or why they were handling him so aggressively when he didn’t pose any threat to their safety.

“What’s going on?” he asked, walking up to his friend, still on the phone with his girlfriend.

According to the complaint, officers yelled back at Howard: “Move. You’re too close.”

Howard stepped back but continued to press them with questions about why they needed five or more officers to frisk Ballard.

“Move. You’re too close,” an officer repeated, according to the complaint. “You guys are so ignorant.”

That last remark really got to Howard.

“I went to USC,” he responded. “I’m educated and I know my rights.”

“You need to move,” the officer shouted, shoving Howard.

“Why are you touching me? I’m not doing anything!” Howard barked back, both hands in full view with one still clutching the cell phone.

The officers then resorted to physical force, subduing him in a control hold and slamming him with batons. Though the verbal exchange isn’t caught on video, that last part plays out in full view of the camera.

Cordell says her office needs to wait for SJPD to complete its internal investigation before she can start her review. That could take a few months to a year.

"Our purpose is to make sure that it’s thorough and objective," Cordell said. "If not, then we push back and say we disagree with this. Or we might initially agree with them. We have to see."

The San Jose incident wasn't Howard's first brush with racial profiling by police, he says. At a house party in Los Angeles last year, 80 officers responded in riot gear and a helicopter flew above after receiving noise complaints. Howard was at that party along with other mostly black and Latino students. The LAPD response elicited national scrutiny.

"I'm not anti-cop," Howard says. "I just think there needs to be communication between officers and their communities. There's a whole system that needs to be better understood, one that can be overly oppressive ... particularly to people of color."

Jennifer Wadsworth is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

25 Comments

  1. Looks to me like the officers were justified in that Howard broke away from the officers and when they got him back, he tried to keep the officers from placing his arm behind his back. THAT is when the officer brought out the baton and hit him twice. They did what they had to due to subdue this guy. He shouldn’t get one dime. Glad it was on tape, now everyone can see how he resisted arrest.

  2. Dumb plus arrogant plus uncivilized. You would think these young people were raised by jackals. Urinating in the street, interfering with the police and turning the issuance of a minor citation into a near riot, women dressed and using language fit for the gutter… all in all, a very nice representation of why most Americans willingly pay a premium to avoid living around certain Americans.

    I can only wonder what Ms. Cordell will say about this? I guess we’ll have to wait for her to drive in from lily-white Palo Alto.

  3. There was no reason for slamming him to the ground. Police can do their job without using over the top methods, they do it everyday in other situations.

    • There was no reason for the complainant to act like he did to provoke the action by the officers. He is culpable.

  4. COMPLAINTS- REIGNIGNITES CONTROVERCY ?? WAS IT EVER EXTINGUISHED, JENNIFER?
    WHAT IS THE FINE, ETC FOR PUBLIC URINATION?
    IMMEDIATE ASSULT WITH A POLICE BATON? 1/2 DOZEN POLICE OFFICERS ON THE SCENE? I DO NOT GO DOWN TOWN AND PARK IN PUBLIC PARKING, BECAUSE THE STAIR WELLS RECK OF URINE, YET NO POLICE ARE ON THAT SCENE.
    I’ve GOT A FEELING THIS ONE IS GONNA GET SOME SPIN GOING. LET’S HEAR FROM THOSE THAT WERE THERE! BESIDES THE POLICE! SURE A LOT OF POLICE DRAMA FOR ONE GUY TAKING A LEAK!

    • Gilbert would be singing a different tune if this same guy urinated on the sidewalk in front of his house.

    • No drama if this guy did not butt in…. the guy pissing would have gotten a ticket and been on his way.. .instead the idiot decided he would provoke the police. The police use restraint over and over. Are there people that think that the police carry those batons for looks. You fight with police you going to be hit.

      • Sitting up in your perch and have a life most of you do , does leave most of us that identify our selves to wonder if you knuckle heads, , live outside this goofy realm.
        I however would best read your crap , then what I do not read in the mercury news.
        You fin fan and the rest of you, need to get a life.
        Your life lacks a substance, that will never leave a change in our community.
        the Village Black Smith

  5. When the officer yells so many times that you are to close… Why not back up? Or was he trying to provoke the cops?

  6. Even the ignorant person videoing the incident has no idea why the police are making the arrest. But she is positive that this is f up. Great job by the police keeping the scene from getting worse.

  7. I think this young man could benefit from watching the IPA’s Study Guide on the topic of how to behave when confronted by a Police Officer, how to follow commands given by Police, and how to properly report a grievance with the Police: http://www.sanjoseca.gov/ipa/.

    Secondly, interfering with Officers while they are dealing with a suspect is against the law. So is resisting arrest.

    I noticed that this article says they were leaving a party, but didn’t mention if this teacher or students had been drinking or not. Were they?

  8. Just goes to show again that 2am curfew is beyond pointless and it just exacerbates altercations with large crowds.
    Extend it to 4am and you’ll see a gradual dispersion like in SF or LA, otherwise it’s like herding cats every damn weekend.

  9. Calpersification,

    Setting aside your agenda, please explain how a 4 AM curfew would curtail public urination, intentional and persistent interference with police officers, and general incivility. The morons featured in this video appear old enough (out of diapers) to control their bladders, suggesting the fouling of the sidewalk had more to do with the man’s vulgar upbringing than it did biological necessity. The obstinate brat who thought it his duty to question, correct, and disrupt the officers doing their duty didn’t seem to be constrained by the hour, the circumstance, common sense, or respect for the law (although his lowbrow appearance improved with handcuffs). And as for the women(?), I question whether their unsightly appearance or filthy language would be mitigated by an a couple of extra hours of drinking (or anything short of a lobotomy).

    • Dude.. 2AM Herding DOES NOT work, period. These are humans and the concept of “time” is lost once you enter a night club – then suddenly sound’s off, lights are on and you’re shown the exit. WTF?!?

      The extra 2+hrs time would allow patrons to clear their heads and take care of their “biological necessites” as the flow of alcohol is curtailed at 1:30-1:45AM. That’s how its done in civilized societies.

  10. Nate, the “motivational speaker” and black role model apparently thinks public urination is OK. It must be in his ‘hood, so the fool questions the cops. He was taken down when he refused to obey the cops’ multiple commands, as is correct procedure, and struck a couple of times. “and continuing to pummel him with batons.” Were you watching a different video, Jennifer? This was a graduation party from SJSU? The videographer sounded like some ignorant ghetto beeaatch, not a college person: “my nigga this, my nigga that..” The City Attorney need only show that video at trial to get an acquittal. But our city attorney has zero balls, and will pay a ton of money, just like the $900k in the Galindo case now pending.
    And what about “Black Graduation?” The press gives that concept a pass, which it would not do if there were a White Graduation. Everyone would be absolutely outraged over the concept of a White Graduation.

  11. Villager,

    Explaining to do? I’m sure the officers involved explained their actions in a police report. As for no charges being filed, if that’s true, the reasons for that decision were also likely documented.

    I realize objectivity is not your strong suit, but surely even you can see that this column is a one-sided explanation of the contents of a video, not a comprehensive and objective report on the incident. Why the author chose to write it that way is open to interpretation, but why Mr. Williams, a supposedly educated advocate for justice, chose to exclude information from those documents is pretty obvious: he’s not an advocate for justice, he’s an advocate for the continued financial and political bilking of the system by black people.

    Jim Crow is no more; affirmative action is closing out its fifth decade; billions have been spent on three different forms of head start; and there’s a black man in the White House: African-Americans are running out of bogey men to blame for their failure to achieve the success they always claimed whitey was keeping out of their reach. Exploiting confrontations with the police is pretty much all they’ve got left. But it is their good fortune that they are gifted at grabbing police attention, creating dramatic arrest incidents, and, by way of the power of the agenda-driven media and the weakness of cowering politicians, putting the squeeze on local treasuries (see the life’s work of John Burris).

    Is public urination and unwarranted interference with police officers included in your version of what the Civil Rights movement was all about? When they sang “We shall overcome” did they mean overcome decency and accountability? Do you really think cops only cite black men for public urination, or that they would tolerate that level of interference from a white punk? Hell, maybe you do, because I’m sure that that particular delusion is one of a great many that are widely held.

  12. Fling Flam,
    Did you have help building that little soap box of yours? GEEZZE! The guy releaved him self, the cops roughed him up, instead of citing him, and the guy that got the piss knocked out of him, tried to suppress the violence. It will be interesting to get the last word on this really grotesque episose in our urine smelling down town core.

  13. This chuckle occurred to me as I prepared myself for a trip to Petaluma this morning . The morning relief will never be the same again.
    If you are 50+, with an enlarged Prostrate, drink a little beer, down town, Do not attempt to hang out with frastruated Fin Fam or Captain Obious. It’s Obious their bladders are well suited for those kinds of challenges
    City Sam, gets really pissed off when you urinate on his side walks!.
    This could start a defiance movement!
    I’m outta here!

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