The encounter between Travis Cole, a white police officer, and Dejuan Yourse, a black man sitting on the porch of his mother’s house in Greensboro, North Carolina, starts calm and friendly but ends with Yourse lying face down on the front lawn, restrained by handcuffs and Cole’s knee on his shoulder, complaining that “you tried to beat my ass for real.” The senseless escalation of the interaction between Cole and Yourse illustrates how even seemingly mild-mannered cops can be clueless about the indignities they are inflicting on innocent people yet supersensitive to any perceived questioning of their authority. That double standard is compounded by a legal system that fails to hold cops responsible for the crimes they commit when they make bogus arrests.
In the 16-minute body camera video of the incident, which happened last June, it is easy to identify the point at which things start to go south: about eight minutes after Cole arrives with another officer, C.N. Jackson, in response to a report of a possible attempted burglary. That is when Cole pokes Yourse in the chest and orders him to sit back down. Yourse, who has repeatedly suggested that a neighbor named Charlie can verify his identity, is heading for Charlie’s house when Cole makes it clear he is not free to go.
Yourse has not done anything illegal, and at no point during the encounter does Cole or Jackson seem to think he might actually be a burglar. “Usually if someone is trying to break into a house, they’re not gonna sit on the porch” in broad daylight, Cole notes, and as Yourse points out, “the address is on my ID.” Cole says he believes Yourse when he says he is “just sitting here, chillin’, waiting on my Moms,” who has the key to the house. Cole even speculates that “somebody outside the cul-de-sac” must have called the police, since anyone who lived nearby would have recognized Yourse. Although Yourse’s mother is not answering her cellphone, Cole says it’s not necessary to bother the neighbors. “I believe you,” he says. “You have your ID. You told me your name. It matches up.”
Yet Cole stays and continues to grill Yourse—about his prison tattoos, his possible outstanding warrants (Yourse says he has none), even the pronunciation of his last name. Yourse tolerates it all with a smile. But after Cole prevents him from leaving the porch, he starts to show his irritation. “Why are you doing this?” he asks. “Why are you talking to me like that?” Cole seems genuinely puzzled by Yourse’s anger at being treated like an intruder on the porch of the house where he grew up. “Dejuan, relax,” he says. “What’s going on? I didn’t do nothing.” Yourse responds, “I didn’t do nothing either.” Cole wonders why “you seem a little animated,” as if there must be some explanation other than the treatment he is receiving from Cole. “I’m just trying to prove to you I live here,” Yourse says, “and you start looking at me like I’m lying.” He says he is upset because “a cop is on me in my own house, and I ain’t did nothing.”
Maddeningly, Cole does not seem to get it. In his mind, he has been patient and understanding, so there is no reason for Yourse to be upset. So when Yourse calls a friend (or maybe a relative) to complain that “the police is over here, and they’re harassing me,” Cole loses it. He tries to grab the phone, Yourse objects, and Cole orders him to stand up so he can be handcuffed. Cole ends up tackling Yourse on the porch, punching him in the face, and handcuffing him behind his back. Yourse insists that he’s not resisting, so there is no need for violence, and Cole says “you were resisting the whole time.” When Yourse asks why Cole suddenly decided to handcuff him, the officer says “you can’t use the phone and call people and say get over here.” On the way to the police car, finding Yourse insufficiently submissive, Cole tackles him again and kneels on him while Jackson tells him to “be an adult.” To which Yourse replies, “What about you?”
Yourse was charged with resisting arrest and assaulting an officer. Those charges were dropped, presumably after Cole’s superiors had a look at the body cam footage. The Washington Post reports that “an internal affairs investigation, which was completed on Aug. 30, found that Cole violated the Greensboro Police Department’s rules on use of force, courtesy toward the public, arrest, search and seizure, and compliance with laws and regulations.” Cole quit the department in the midst of the investigation, and Jackson resigned last week, but no criminal charges have been filed against Cole—a decision that the police chief, city attorneys, and the Greensboro City Council recently urged prosecutors to reconsider.
“It’s because he didn’t commit a crime,” Chief Assistant District Attorney Howard Neumann told the Greensboro News & Record last week. “I’m confident that’s what the law says. To charge him would be a violation of my role as a prosecutor.” The News & Record paraphrased Neumann as saying “law enforcement officers are entitled to use whatever force they think is necessary to arrest somebody they reasonably believe has committed a crime.” And what crime did Cole reasonably believe Yourse had committed? According to Neumann, “Cole decided he was going to place this guy under arrest for obstruction.”
It’s not clear exactly what Yourse supposedly obstructed or how he obstructed it, but apparently it had something to with his phone call, his refusal to surrender his phone, or maybe both. Yet Yourse was never charged with obstruction, and the police department concluded that his arrest was not justified, which means the force Cole used to effectuate it was not justified either.
“There was nothing in that video that prompted Officer Cole to go from zero to a 1,000 in less than a second,” Greensboro Councilwoman Sharon Hightower told the News & Record. “Certainly police have the right to use force. I think that Officer Cole crossed the line.”
It is hard to disagree with that assessment. On the face of it, Cole is guilty of trespassing, assault, and kidnapping. The fact that he had a badge while committing those crimes should not make a difference, but of course it does.