Reasonable forceCebu Daily News
What constitutes reasonable force?
That question crops up in light of the beating given by members of Cebu City’s Special Weapons and Tactics (Swat) team to a student of Papua New Guinea after a drinking session broke up in barangay Banilad, Cebu City.
The foreign student Bennedict Penini was supposedly drunk when he went amok. He was enraged, after being beaten up by fellow natives of Papua New Guinea.
Residents in the area said Penini had a history of rowdy behavior whenever he gets drunk. But what the ABS-CBN footage showed of the encounter with the Swat team was a disturbing scene of police brutality.
One Swat officer was shown hitting Penini with the butt of his M-14 rifle even if the student was already on the ground ready to be cuffed and brought to the police headquarters.
Penini wasn’t displaying model behavior at the time.
When he failed to catch his compatriots, he flew into a rage, picked up a rock and tried to hit a taxi driver in the face.
When the taxi driver saw Swat police officers ganging up on Penini, he also tried to join the violence. He was restrained. One can understand the taxi driver’s itch to get even but you can’t consider Penini a substantial threat to fully armed Swat police officers.
There was no excuse for slamming their boots and rifle but on the student who was unarmed and outnumbered.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said it will investigate the mauling, and gave a preliminary finding: “It was so inhuman,” according to an investigator who viewed the TV footage.
They will likely take a page from the American Commission on Civil Rights which was quoted by the Unites States Department of Justice as defining reasonable force as “the amount of effort required by police to compel compliance by an unwilling subject.”
The US commission also justifies the use of reasonable force by police by explaining that “in defusing situations, apprehending alleged criminals, and protecting themselves and others, officers are legally entitled to use appropriate means, including force.”
Were these elements present when Swat officers arrested Penini? True, he acted defiant to the point of belligerence, but he wasn’t a grave threat as he lay sprawled on the ground.
By turning him face down, the Swat officers could have cuffed him immediately and brought him to the precinct with minimum fuss. Instead, some of them got dirty and hit Penini.
The CHR investigation will determine whether there was any liability on the part of the Swat officers.
But the TV footage offers pretty damning evience already.
Even as the son of a high official in Papua New Guinea, Penini should face the consequences of his unruly actions. At the same time, Swat police officers should be sanctioned to show there is no room for abusive police in local law enforcement.
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