Standard procedure, or excessive force? That’s the question being asked in Ohio, where an officer assaulted a woman in a waiting area, claiming that she was violating custody rules because she took a dose of painkiller for an infected tooth. The graphic, disturbing video of the room and her resulting hospital visit has many wondering if the police officer was really just doing his job, or if his violent attack was unjustified.
According to Phil Trexler of the Beacon Journal, 35-year-old mother of three Siobhan Householder was in a holding room waiting while a arrest warrant was being lifted when she reached into her purse and took a dose of prescription Tylenol, then went to take one additional pill when she was stopped by Deputy Eric Vaughan. Householder told the reporter that Vaughan demanded she spit out the medication, and she tried to tell him she wasn’t able to because she had already swallowed it, when Vaughan launched himself at her, physically restraining her on the floor as he attempted to get her mouth open.
Video of the event shows Vaughan pulling her hair, cramming his fingers in her mouth, and trying to pry her jaw open. “He was pulling down on my bottom lip and squeezing my face at the same time,” she told the Journal Beacon. “He basically pulled my lip away from my teeth.”
By the end of the scene Householder was handcuffed in a scrum of four officers, and according to reports she was treated in the room by paramedics. Later she was taken to a hospital, and also charged with “resisting arrest and obstructing official business.”
Notably, despite the prescription pills, a sandwich bag of ibuprofen in her purse, and allegations that she had a latex glove with a few pills in it, she was not charged for anything involving drugs.
Local police officials respond that the incident, and all of Vaughan’s actions, were totally justified and not at all out of proportion. “The deputy became concerned because she was in custody and she was under his care and control at that point,” Summit County Sheriff’s Office Inspector Bill Holland told a local Fox News affiliate. Holland stated that Vaughan’s attack was standard procedure since he could not determine how many pills she had swallowed, what they were, and that he was simply protecting Householder’s “safety.”
“The fact of the matter, everything aside, was that the deputy was not sure how many pills she had ingested and was concerned for her safety and that’s why he did what he did,” said Holland, who also said that the follow up trip to the hospital was about ensuring she hadn’t attempted suicide by ingesting medication, not about potential injuries suffered in the altercation.
Lawyers aren’t so sure. Law Professor Jonathan Turley wrote in his blog that Householder wasn’t officially in custody, making Vaughan’s actions unjustified, and that he believed the follow up charges from the police department against Householder are likely being used in an attempt to scare her out of suing the department.
“Given the sudden action by the officer, it is hard to see the basis for resisting arrest in this video and the obstruction charge seems to be redundant and equally problematic,” wrote Turley. “We have seen in the past how victims of abuse are often hit with multiple charges that are later dropped. The concern is that police will charge individuals not only to justify their actions but to encourage a plea deal or at least an agreement not to sue the police.”
Excessive and unprovoked police violence is becoming a growing problem in our nation. We’ve already seen it happen during arrests, and now, it may be spreading out to holding rooms, even when people aren’t in an officer’s custody. Unprovoked officer violence must be stopped. A person should not have to fear for their safety simply for taking a painkiller while waiting for a warrant to be dropped.
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