Vargas: Witnesses disagree whether arrest was legitimate use of force or an overreaction

By Joe Vargas

I’ve said it before: There’s no easy way to put handcuffs on someone who doesn’t want them put on. It’s often not pretty, and at times disturbing to watch.

Sure there are Tasers, pepper spray and even rubber or foam projectiles. But that doesn’t often make it any easier to watch.

Which brings me to Sunday night in the city of Long Beach in the Belmont Shore area. Officers responded to a call of a man pointing a gun at passing motorists. They encountered the suspect and attempted to engage him.

A portion of the encounter was captured on video and uploaded to YouTube.

In the video, the crowd gathers and watches as the officers try to get the suspect to cooperate from a distance. Common sense dictates you really don’t want to rush up to a guy who might have a gun on him.

Follow-up officers arrive and now there’s a standoff as the suspect refuses to cooperate. He won’t keep his hands up. He won’t turn around and face away. He won’t kneel down.

Some in the growing crowd of spectators are immediately hostile. They shout out things like, “He didn’t do anything wrong!” and “You guys wonder why no one likes you.”

Of course, such responses are based only on what they see, not what they know, and are accentuated by any bias toward the police they already have. Additional officers respond. Now they not only have to deal with a potentially armed suspect, but also an angry crowd.

By the time the video starts, the suspect has dropped his pants. Maybe to show he didn’t have a weapon? Bystanders ridicule the officers by saying the suspect has no weapon. He’s clearly wearing a sweatshirt with pockets.

The officers give repeated commands to get the suspect to comply. At one point, the suspect goes down on his knees but then gets back up again. A police K9 is given the command to bark. Still, no compliance.

The suspect then tries to walk away. Two less-lethal rounds are fired and the K9 is released. Immediately, the suspect is taken into custody.

Some in the crowd react with anger and berate the officers’ response. “You guys are f****** a*****!” several people in the crowd scream out. It wasn’t pretty, and in their opinion unjustified.

One officer attempts to explain to the crowd why the officers did what they did. His words fall upon largely deaf ears.

One very irate and possibly intoxicated man is led away by friends yelling and cursing at the officers. “He didn’t do nothing wrong!” the man yells as he walks away.

Then another man yells at the ranting spectator: “You’re an idiot.” He further adds in a calm demeanor,  “That was by-the-book legit. I watched the whole thing.”

Two different spectators, two different versions of the truth. Both without any knowledge of why the officers were there or why they did what they did. Each seeing through different-colored glasses.

It’s often not what you know, but what you want to believe that inflames emotions. Police officers were just trying to do deal with a guy with a gun — a potentially dangerous situation. They put themselves in harm’s way, yet faced the ridicule of a bunch of bystanders who felt they overreacted.

According to Long Beach Police, a replica handgun was recovered. Real or fake, you just don’t know.

In a statement provided to the Long Beach Press Telegram, the Long Beach Police Department said: “Officers did a remarkable job de-escalating the situation and used less-lethal force to end the situation as peacefully as possible. The outcome could have been much different based on the suspect’s actions. The video does not capture the entire incident.”

Of course, you probably have your own opinion.

Joe is a retired captain. He can be reached at