Wake County Jail Officer Gets Off Scott Free

According to the News and Observer, Wake county DA, Colon Willouby, won’t be pressing charges against Officer Michael Hayes, a Wake County jail officer who struck an inmate with his fist and put him in the hospital.

Willoughby says that because the inmate, Joshua Martin Wrenn, attacked Officer Hayes (according to Hayes and “another officer”) that use of hands on force was necessary. He also said that the circumstances for Wrenn’s hospitalization were special because of the pre-existing condition of a brain aneurysm.

Now let’s ignore the fishiness of these facts and the fact that Hayes had more than a few pounds on Wrenn (not to mention a fellow officer who witnessed the event who also could have helped), and focus on some other aspects of the case which are being ignored.

Official police policy in a situation like this calls for a very specific escalation of methods an officer can use to defend himself or herself called the “use of force continuum.” First is verbal command, second is “soft hands” or using empty handed techniques to physically restrain the attacker, next is non-lethal weaponry like pepper spray, and after that is “hard hands” which are empty-handed techniques to subdue the attacker (punches and kicks and the like), after that is batons, threat of deadly force, then deadly force. Hayes obviously used hard hands, skipping a couple of steps. On top of that, police are trained where they can hit attackers using zones: red zones are no-hit, yellow is less preferred, and green is preferred. The head is in the red zone, and it is red for the very reason Hayes was in trouble; it can cause very serious, possibly permanent, damage.

It’s a travesty that this incident is being swept under the rug. I recognize that police are commonly put in dangerous situations and should be able to protect themselves, but sometimes it can be excessive. And in those situations, the police should be held accountable. Otherwise, who watches the watchmen?