15 Most Horrific Cases Of Police Brutality In History
(True Activist) They don’t always end in death, but the scars left on the victims and on society will last forever.
Situations involving horrible and unjustifiable deaths at the hands of police are not exclusive to the 21st century, but the ability to record and post videos documenting the deaths is a novelty. The Black Lives Matter movement was fueled by the viral videos of police officers harming and killing unarmed black people, and it’s only the most recent group to protest these offenses in a long line of groups in the last century.
Though most of these cases of police brutality weren’t caught on film, they still managed to make headlines despite lies told by the police to cover up the stories. Their deaths and the subsequent acquittal of most of these officers has sparked outrage, protests, and riots. Read below to find out about the worst and most infamous cases of police brutality in history.
1. Frank Jude, Jr.
In 2004, 26-year-old Frank Jude was viciously beaten by several off-duty Milwaukee police officers as he was leaving a party. The group of men attacked Jude and his friend, Lovell Harris, claiming they stole one of the officer’s wallets that contained their police badge. Harris’ face was cut with a knife, but he was able to get free and run away. Jude was repeatedly punched and kicked, as well as stabbed in the ears with a pen so viciously that they bled profusely for over an hour. Even the on-duty officer who was called to stop the fight began stomping on Jude’s head. In the state trial, the jury acquitted the three officers charged. There was a great deal of community outrage and demand for a federal investigation. The federal grand jury convicted the three officers who were originally acquitted, but did acquit the fourth officer. The badge was never found.
2. Kathryn Johnston
Kathryn Johnston was tragically killed by two Atlanta police officers during a botched drug raid in 2006. The 92-year-old woman was alone inside her home when the officers burst in without warning. She fired at them with an old revolver, which didn’t hit any of the officers, and they fired back at her 39 times. She was struck 5-6 times and handcuffed as she lay on her floor dying. The officers allegedly uncovered three bags of marijuana in her home, which they later admitted to planting there as false evidence when they found no drugs. The informant they claimed had bought drugs from her house said that he had never obtained drugs from her, and the two police officers involved in the shooting plead guilty to manslaughter.
3. Sean Bell
Sean Bell was killed by NYPD detectives in late 2006, on the eve of his wedding, after the officers opened fire on his car, ultimately shooting at it 50 times. Bell and two of his friends were in the car, each of them suffering from serious bullet wounds, but Bell was the only one that died. The detectives were undercover at the strip club where Bell and his friends were at for his bachelor party because the club was suspected of being involved in prostitution. Accounts vary widely, but Bell’s friends were leaving the club after an argument with someone else outside of the bar. The officers said that they heard the men say they were going to get a gun, so one of them allegedly identified themselves as an officer (since he was undercover and in plain-clothes) and Bell responded by driving the car forward and striking the officer. That’s when the officer told the other detectives to open fire, killing Bell and injuring the passengers. Witnesses say that the officer never identified himself and that Bell likely thought the plain-clothes officer was trying to car-jack him.
4. Dymond Milburn
A young 12-year-old girl, Dymond Milburn, was sent outside by her father to switch a circuit breaker when a van with three undercover police officers rolled up. The officers mistook her for a prostitute, yelling “You’re a prostitute! You’re coming with me!” Milburn tried to run while yelling for her dad, but one officer held a hand over her mouth while the other two beat her head, face, and throat. When her father came to the balcony after hearing his daughter’s screams and informed them that she was his daughter and only 12, one officer responded that he didn’t care and they continued. They took her to the station before she was allowed to get checked out at a hospital, and then three weeks later came to her school to arrest her for resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer.
5. Robert Davis
Robert Davis, a 64-year-old retired elementary school teacher from New Orleans, was arrested and brutally beaten by police on suspicion of public intoxication. On the night of October 9, 2005, just a little over a month after Hurricane Katrina, Davis returned to New Orleans to check on his family’s property. That night, he went to the French Quarter to buy cigarettes, where he encountered police and was subsequently beaten and punched in the head at least four times. It is illegal for police officers to hit a suspect in the head in New Orleans, but the police continued anyway. The four officers involved in the incident claimed that Davis was drunk and belligerent, and that he resisted arrest when police attempted to handcuff him. Thankfully, Davis survived the beating and stands firmly behind his claim that he was not drunk and had not had anything to drink for the last 25 years. What ensued on that night baffled him, and despite video evidence captured on that night to back up his claims, the officers involved were not convicted for assault.
6. Steve Biko
Steve Biko was an anti-apartheid activist and leader of the black consciousness movement in South Africa. Biko was devoted to empowering black people and ending apartheid, but his message was cut short when the outspoken leader was arrested at a police roadblock under the Terrorism Act No 83 of 1967. While in police custody at Port Elizabeth, Biko was interrogated for a grueling 22 hours, which included torture and beatings that caused him to fall into a coma. While in prison, Biko suffered a major head injury and was allegedly chained to a window grill all day. Biko was then transported weeks later to another prison with hospital facilities in Pretoria, but died upon arrival. Even though police claimed that his death was caused by a hunger strike, it was later announced that he actually died from the head injuries he received in prison, proving that he was likely beaten with a club by police. The policemen involved in Biko’s beatings were denied an amnesty by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, but they were also never prosecuted.
7. Walter Harvin
Iraq war veteran Walter Harvin was entering a building that Officer David London was just leaving when an altercation between the two began. The basis of the argument is unclear, but as Harvin went further into the building—because he lived there—London followed him in. Harvin did push London off of him once, and London retrieved a fellow officer from outside to assist him. It was as Harvin attempted to step into an elevator that London confronted him physically again and began to savagely beat him with a baton. The other officer stands there at first but then tries to stop him by handcuffing Harvin, but this doesn’t stop London from continuing to beat the unmoving man on the ground and repeatedly kick him. Officer London was acquitted of all charges.
8. Rodney King
In 1991, four LAPD officers were videotaped beating Rodney King after stopping an 8-mile high-speed chase. When King’s two friends exited the car, they were kicked, stomped, taunted threaten, hit in the head, and arrested. Once King exited the vehicle, he refused to comply but was unarmed, something the officers claimed they didn’t know. Using a technique called “swarm” the four officers made a grab for King at the same time, Tasered him twice, beat him with a baton even though he was down on the ground, and kicked him. When King attempted to rise to his knees again, one officer ordered the rest to “hit his joints, hit the wrists, hit his elbows, hit his knees, hit his ankles.” He was dealt approximately 33 blows and 6 kicks, and when he was arrested he was dragged on his abdomen to the side of the road. The videotape was released to the media when police failed to take it seriously, and caused huge communal outrage. The acquittal of the officers involved in the beating is considered to be a major cause of the LA riots in 1992.
9. Angela Garbarino
Angela Garbarino was drunk in a police booking room when she became angry and wanted to leave the room. The small woman was physically resisting Officer Wylie Willis when he finally manhandled her and handcuffed her, pushed her onto the ground, and then forced her firmly down into a chair. Garbarino was last seen crying but sitting alone in the chair before Willis approaches the camera and turns it off. When the camera is turned on again, it zooms out and Garbarino is on the floor among a pool of blood from her own face. She had two black eyes, two teeth knocked out, a broken nose, a fractured cheek bone, and several bruises on her body. Willis said that Garbarino tried to leave the room again, and that when he tried to stop her, she fell and hurt herself. Willis had previous lawsuits filed against him when he pointed a gun at a suspect and arrested another woman who filed a complaint against him. The issue with Garbarino was settled out of court and Willis was reinstated at work.
10. Timothy Thomas
Timothy Thomas was shot once and killed in 2007 after initially running from an off-duty police officer in Cincinnati. The 19-year-old had 14 open warrants for his arrest because of failure to appear in court for traffic tickets, though it’s unclear how the off-duty officer could have known this if Thomas initially ran from him. When another officer pulled up to a dark alley where he saw Thomas run, the camera was rolling and was able to capture the nearly instantaneous shot ring out in the alley. The officer claimed that he saw Thomas reach for a gun, but no such gun was ever found. Thomas was pronounced dead at the hospital from a single bullet-wound to the heart. The circumstances surrounding his death caused the Cincinnati riots of 2001 in his neighborhood.
Abner Louima is a Haitian immigrant who was brutally attacked and tortured by a white New York police officer on Aug. 9, 1997. When Louima was arrested, after he was mistakenly identified as a man who had punched an officer, he was beaten with fists, nightsticks, and handheld police radios on the ride to the station. NYPD officer, Justin Volpe, took Louima into the restroom of the 70th Precinct station house in Brooklyn and sodomized the young man with a broken broomstick and then put it in his mouth, severely damaging his teeth. Volpe then paraded the bloody, excrement-stained stick throughout the precinct and bragged about how he “took a man down tonight.” The assault caused serious damage to his colon and bladder, and required three major surgeries to correct. Volpe later admitted that he misidentified Louima as his attacker and said he wanted to humiliate Louima. Volpe left the police force and was sentenced to 30 years in prison, and Charles Schwarz was also sentenced to 15 years in prison for assisting Volpe in the assault. This incident brought greater awareness to the ongoing pattern of white New York police officers abusing black men and overstepping their authority.
12. Christopher Harris
Christopher Harris was misidentified as a suspect in a nearby brawl when a police officer ran at him and shoved him hard, causing his head to be flung straight into a wall while the rest of his body crumpled at the impact against the barrier. The two officers following Harris is Seattle in May 2009 were not dressed in traditional deputy uniforms and were instead tactical officers, so prosecutors claimed Harris likely didn’t know they were officers as he led them on a 2-block foot chase. When Deputy Matthew Paul got close, he body slammed Harris, causing severe brain and spine damage that is irreversible. The county where it occurred paid $10 million to Harris and his family to cover the medical costs, as Harris spent the rest of his life in a bed, unable to speak and receiving round-the-clock care. He died last year, while Paul is still an officer and was never charged with a crime.
13. Amadou Diallo
An immigrant from Guinea, named Amadou Diallo, was shot and killed by New York police officers on the stoop of his apartment in February 1999. The four officers were undercover in a now-defunct crime unit, and pulled up in an unmarked Ford Taurus. Diallo ran up the stairs to his apartment at their approach and pulled out his small wallet, which officers believed wasa gun. According to a witness, they did not identify themselves at any point and instead began shooting at him immediately. They fired 41 times, and Diallo was hit 19 times. Officers claimed Diallo looked like he might be engaging in criminal activity since he was standing outside at 12:40am, but he was unarmed, and the officers were acquitted of second-degree murder and other charges.
14. Robert Mitchell
Robert Mitchell, a 16-year-old from Detroit, was tragically killed by police who said the teen was resisting arrest after being stopped for a routine traffic stop. Mitchell was in his cousin’s car when they were stopped and he fled from the scene and into an abandoned house. He was nonviolent, unarmed, and had committed no crime, but police used a Taser gun on him, sending 50,000 volts of electricity into him. Police said they used the non-lethal weapon because the teen was resisting arrest, but family members have pointed out that the teen had learning disabilities and operated at a 10-year-old level, so he likely was not putting up a fight.
15. Oscar Grant
Police responded to reports of a fight on a Bay Area Rapid Transit train on the morning of New Year’s Day in 2009. BART Police detained Oscar Grant and several other passengers when the train stopped at a station in Oakland, and they handcuffed Grant and put him on the ground. He was lying face down and was unarmed when one of the officers, Johannes Mehserle, took out his gun and shot Grant once in the back. Grant was pronounced dead the next morning at the hospital he was admitted to, and the entire incident from the previous day was recorded on several devices. The officer that fired his weapon claimed that he thought he had taken out his Taser to subdue Grant, not his firearm. It took one year for Officer Mehserle to be charged with any crime, at which point he was charged with murder and forced to resign from the department. Six months later, he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter instead of murder and he served one year in jail.