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Turns Out, the Video Wasn’t the Worst Part of United Passenger Being Dragged


Remember that crazy video of the Kentucky doctor being “violently forcible removed” from a United Airlines flight by law enforcement? The administrative dust has settled, and as it turns out, the battered and bloodied photos of Dr. David Dao aren’t even the most disturbing part of the whole ordeal.

Following the incident (as well as the undoubtedly-lucrative settlement reached between Dao and United Airlines back in April), there was, of course, an official report. In that report, Chicago’s Inspector General Joseph Ferguson determined that it was, in fact, “excessive force” that caused Dao to lose two teeth, sustain a concussion, and break his nose. That finding may seem obvious from the corresponding viral video. However, official findings of excessive force are hardly foregone conclusions during law enforcement episodes. If there’s anything we’ve learned from the many police confrontations widely covered in the media, there are often complex contextual facts can tend to make official findings of excessive force less common than we might expect. Ferguson’s finding here means that our collective reaction to that video was, in fact, justified.

Even more disturbing, though,  was what else the Inspector General found: that the security officers involved in this debacle lied. Ferguson found that one officer, “made misleading statements in two reports,” and the other, “made material omissions in a report.”  As of this week, an Aviation Officer and Security sergeant were fired, a third officer resigned, and another received a five-day suspension (which was later shortened on appeal to two days. Dr. Dao’s lawyer released the following statement in response:

It is unfortunate the conduct of these two City aviation employees has resulted in their losing their jobs.  However, this is not a day of celebration for Dr. Dao, who is neither vindictive nor happy about Mr. Ferguson’s findings.  There is a lesson to be learned here for police officers at all levels.  Do not state something that is clearly contrary to video viewed by the world.  But for the video, the filed report stating that only “minimal” force was used would have been unnoticed.  Simply put, don’t make stuff up.  Also, the Inspector General’s report should become the poster child for why passengers should always maintain the right to videotape mistreatment of all kinds.  Our cell phones are the best deterrent to ensure mistreatment becomes a rarity.

For those of you keeping a tally, here’s what this case has amounted to so far: a violent ejection from a flight, a disaster of an initial reaction from United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz, a vow not to fire anyone in conjunction with the incident, an apology from Munoz, a civil settlement between the airline and Dr. Dao, a major investigation into the matter, findings of misconduct and attempted cover-up, and finally, two firings and a handful of suspensions.

Yikes. Kind of makes you wonder what’s going down on airplanes when there’s not live footage of an entire incident.


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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos