Out in Fort Collins, Colorado, a terrible case of excessive force by a police officer took place back in March of this year, though thankfully it didn’t involve a shooting and nobody died. The cop in question, Todd Hopkins, was finished with his shift for the day and on the way home when he picked up a call about a female shoplifter causing problems in the local Target. An encounter that should have been a fairly normal arrest quickly spiraled out of control, with the woman initially refusing to cooperate, but winding up down on her hands and knees inside the building. The police officer was videotaped striking the woman more than sixty times and eventually using a taser on her.
How is it that we didn’t hear about this all across the country? Let’s go to the video and the local coverage from CBS News and see if you can figure out this mystery.
A Fort Collins police officer has resigned after surveillance camera video showed him hitting a shoplifting suspect more than 60 times, as she crouched on her hands and knees on the floor.
It started when Target employees caught Natasha Patnode outside the store on March 29.
Hopkins be seen hitting Patnode in the hallway and can be heard saying she was resisting arrest…
“Get your arm out from underneath you… this is your last warning. You’re going to be Tased,” you can hear Hopkins say.
“Please get off of me and I will,” Patnode answers.
The faces of both the suspect and the officer are blurred in the video, but you can see enough of the rest of their bodies. And by now you should have figured out why this was a “local news story” in journalism parlance. Both Officer Todd Hopkins and suspect Natasha Patnode are white. Had Patnode been black or Hispanic and been struck five dozen times by Hopkins and hit with a taser there would have been marching in the streets for days until Hopkins was arrested.
As it turned out, a lengthy investigation revealed that Hopkins hadn’t actually broken the law, but he wound up resigning because he was otherwise going to be fired anyway.
To be clear, Patanode was in the wrong when this began. The shoplifting was apparently proven and she was clearly resisting arrest. But she also was unarmed and not so much of a physical threat to a trained officer of Hopkins’ size that she needed that kind of beating to get her under control. There was even an additional officer on hand shortly after it began and the whole affair could have been handled far better.
What we can learn from this, as I’ve written here before, is that there are indeed the occasional bad apples who wind up behind a badge and perhaps don’t have the temperament for the job. If all cases of excessive force received the same level of attention as the ones where it’s a white cop and minority suspect, perhaps we’d cut down on such abuses more quickly.
But that’s not the only lesson here. Some suspects wind up getting a beating because they are dangerous, noncompliant and frankly, really deserve a beating. But also, not all cops who engage in excessive force are doing it because they are racists. Some are just bad cops and they do it to white people too.