EDITORIAL: The wrong message

Thursday’s unspeakable tragedy in Dallas, along with the officer-involved shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana that preceded it, have led to the usual finger-pointing and divisiveness. If any good is to emerge from the death and anger, activists on all sides must mute the inflammatory rhetoric in favor of working to restore trust in the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they protect and serve.

To that end, it’s vital that police forces around the country strive to send out positive messages as officers put their lives on the line each day to fight crime and promote order. It’s important to remember that perceptions matter.

That’s something the Henderson Police Department has apparently forgotten.

As reported by the Review-Journal’s Natalie Bruzda, Henderson Sgt. Brett Seekatz was officially promoted last week to lieutenant. This despite the fact that during a 2010 traffic stop, Sgt. Seekatz was caught on video repeatedly kicking a man in the head.

Sgt. Seekatz is seen in the video along with Nevada Highway Patrol troopers and other Henderson officers, all of whom mistook a man suffering a diabetic episode for a drunken driver during the stop on Oct. 29, 2010.

The video captured Henderson police and state troopers pulling Adam Greene out of his vehicle. Then, while he was on the ground, Mr. Greene was restrained by several officers. At one point, Sgt. Seekatz enters the frame and kicks Mr. Greene five times in the head. Another officer is seen kneeing Mr. Greene four times in the midsection.

Henderson police and politicians managed to keep the matter from coming to light until February 2012, more than 15 months after it happened. District Attorney Steve Wolfson, newly appointed at the time, declined to charge any of the officers involved, saying while he was “troubled by the conduct,” too much time had passed since the incident.

By all rights, Sgt. Seekatz should have faced a jury and arguably lost his job. Instead, he received undisclosed discipline from the department and retained his rank. Now, Henderson police officials have decided a promotion is in order for an officer whose conduct led to the retirement of Police Chief Jutta Chambers and a $257,500 payout courtesy of Henderson taxpayers to Mr. Greene. (The state paid out another $35,000.)

The optics of this are beyond terrible. But they’re made worse by Henderson Police Chief Patrick Moers’ response: “Whatever happened with him, happened six years ago. I wasn’t chief at the time.” That was compounded by the tone-deaf response of Henderson Councilwoman Gerri Schroder: “We don’t get involved in personnel matters. If someone is promoted, chances are, they deserve to be promoted.”

Ms. Schroder has apparently forgotten she represents the citizens of Henderson, who paid for Sgt. Seekatz’s transgressions involving Mr. Greene and now will pay for his promotion.

This incident was poorly handled six years ago, and it wasn’t handled any better last week. This promotion isn’t a wise move and sends a terrible message, particularly in light of the ongoing national debate over policing, deadly force and community respect.

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