Who’s Responsible for Daley’s Injury?

Daley certainly wasn’t acting his age or in the manner we tend to ascribe to members of the Greatest Generation.

If only Daniel Daley Jr. had parked somewhere else.

That’s what I keep coming back to when I think of the horrible injury Daley suffered during a confrontation with an Orlando police officer in September. Damn it, man, why did you park in that space?

There’s a sign there that clearly says: “Ivanhoe Grocery Patron Parking Only/Violators Will Be Towed.” Daley’s one bad decision—to not do what most motorists do when faced with restricted parking (drive around and look for a public space)—was the ripple of carelessness that grew into the tsunami of anger that he unleashed that night.

The court of public opinion has found officer Travis Lamont guilty of police brutality for breaking Daley’s neck while arresting him for battery on a police officer and disorderly conduct (the state attorney’s office dropped the charges against Daley, a bad call in my opinion). Blaming Lamont is easy once you know that Daley is 84. But I’m still having a hard time laying all the blame on the cop, who wasn’t aware of Daley’s age at the time. And Daley certainly wasn’t acting his age or in the manner we tend to ascribe to members of the Greatest Generation.

He parked in the private lot so he would have a short walk across North Orange Avenue to the Caboose bar. There, Daley made his second bad decision, and by the time he was alerted that his car was being towed he was drunk (his blood alcohol level was a reported .187, more than twice the legal limit).

According to police and witness reports, as well as the tow truck driver, whom I interviewed, Daley was furious and swearing a blue streak over the removal of his car. Russell (he refused to give his last name) of Moldon’s Towing said Daley punched him in the shoulder with both open and closed hands.

“He was definitely drunk,” Russell said. “He was slurring his words.”

Faith Palermo, a tiny woman who works at Ivanhoe Grocery, described Daley as verbally abusive toward her as she watched the tow truck, which she called for, remove the illegally parked car.

“He looks in good shape for a man his age,” she told me. “No belly. He’s tall [6 feet]. He doesn’t look 84.” Feeling threatened, she called 9-1-1.

Russell pegged Daley to be “above 60” but figured he had to be much older to have served in three wars, a reference Daley made a few times during the incident.

Shortly after Lamont arrived a few minutes past 10 p.m., Russell said he would unload the car if Daley paid him $50, a city regulated charge. With his car back and two cops (another officer arrived but remained in her patrol cruiser) now on the scene, Daley should have called it a night and accepted a friend’s offer to drive him home. Lamont, Russell said, presented an olive branch to Daley: “The officer said straight to the man’s face: ‘Nobody has to go to jail here. The car’s moved. Just go about your business.’ ”

Instead, Daley made his next big mistake.

There are a few axioms in life that never need to be said, written or texted. You just know them to be—life is short, no one likes paying taxes and never mess with a cop.

Police and Palmero reported that Daley slapped Lamont on the shoulder (“continually,” according to Lamont) as he loudly complained about paying to get his car back. Lamont stated that he asked Daley, politely, not to touch him. This is where another witness account diverges from Palermo’s and the cops’. Sean Hill, who had been in the bar with Daley and offered the ride home, stated that the officer had no problem with being touched.

A cop OK with being touched by a belligerent suspect? Maybe in Mayberry, but not in the real world.

Had Daley been a younger suspect, I don’t think there would have been a second slap on Lamont, nor do I think the other officer would have remained in her car. It was only because of his elderly status, military service and impaired behavior that he got the chances he did to walk away.

The disturbance went on for several more minutes, with Hill trying to persuade Daley to leave. But Daley, according to the arrest report, put his left hand on Lamont’s neck and raised his right hand in a fist.

“I’m not going anywhere till I knock out this cop,” Daley said, according to Lamont’s report. Palermo told me she heard Daley make a threat as she turned away to go back into the store. Hill’s statement only says Daley had both hands on Lamont’s shoulders.

Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Thomas wrote that if Lamont can’t duck a punch thrown by a drunk old man he should be working in dispatch. But cops aren’t trained to give elderly suspects free swings; they’re trained to protect themselves and to take control of a situation.
What happened next was all training, with adrenaline kicking it into high gear.

Lamont, who stands 5-foot-6 and weighs 160 pounds, drove Daley to the ground using a defensive tactic called a “dynamic takedown.” Lamont reported that Daley resisted arrest even after the takedown, but after being cuffed he said, “I didn’t mean it, officer. I was kidding.” Complaining of pain to his neck and face, Daley was transported to a hospital, where, at presstime, he remained in a medically induced coma.

Did Lamont use excessive force? It would seem so considering the severity of Daley’s injury. But I don’t think Lamont had any choice but to use force. We can only speculate that the outcome would have been different had Lamont used another tactic, like resorting to a chemical spray or Taser, to subdue Daley. Either way, Daley likely would have gone down. Hard.

I feel sad for Daley, but I am not ready to lay all the blame on Lamont for how their confrontation ended. Maybe the results of an investigation into the incident will change my mind.

But of this I am certain: Daley had ample opportunity to do the right thing, and Lamont tried to get him to take advantage of it.

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