Arresting Tales

James Mandarino and Ronald Bell: what went wrong?

Videotaped footage of Streamwood PD officer James Mandarino striking an apparently compliant Ronald Bell with a police baton made the news last week.  I've been a use-of-force trainer for more than a decade, and I train officers in the use of straight and expandable batons--popularly known by non-cops as "billy clubs" or "nightsticks".  I'll tell you this--I've never trained anyone to do what James Mandarino did to Ronald Bell.

James Mandarino.jpg


James Mandarino, who has been charged with aggravated battery and official misconduct, does not fit the stereotype of the hulking, brutal cop.  I will assume that Mandarino was not a thumper; I haven't seen any reports describing Mandarino as "troubled", or any indication he was considered to be a problem officer.  Clearly race is not a factor, since both officer and motorist are white.  So what happened?  Was Mandarino a ticking bomb waiting to go off?  Did he snap?

I think maybe he was scared.
Mandarino, amped up from a vehicle pursuit and believing he was about to confront 2 possibly combative drunks, prepared for the worst as the car pulled over.  He might have already committed mentally to using force.  The passenger disobeyed orders to stay in the vehicle and walked toward the house, confirming Mandarino's suspicions.  Was he attempting to access a weapon?  Was he wanted?  Was he attempting to alert others in the house who might come out and assault the officer?  Mandarino decided to engage the passenger and fired a taser to control him.  Mandarino's heart rate and blood pressure probably shot up as his fears of engaging in a physical confrontation were confirmed.

Turning to Bell (the driver), Mandarino is seen ordering him to his knees.  Bell complies, keeping his hands raised.  But when Mandarino orders Bell onto the ground, Bell (probably not wanting to get wet by laying face down on the pavement) hesitates briefly, stretching his arms out in front of him.  Mandarino, having already convinced himself that this situation would likely end in a violent physical confrontation, reads Bell's hesitation as resistance and begins to strike him with the baton. 

Bell raises his arms to ward off the blows, which Mandarino perceives as more resistance.  Mandarino is now totally committed to following the course of action he initially thought necessary--subduing a combative drunk by force--and is incapable of pulling back to reassess the situation.  He's locked in on continuing the tactics he decided on a minute or two earlier.  He continues striking--15 times by my count, all about the head, arms and torso of a man who is not fighting with him.

Ronald Bell.jpg


None of this is offered as an excuse for the officer's actions, but merely as an explanation of how an otherwise good man could do something so horribly wrong.



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irishpirate said:


The scenario you laid out makes sense. At least it may approach "truth" as to the motivations of Officer Mandarino.

It's unfortunate that there weren't other cops on the scene who might have calmed things down a bit. At least with multiple cops any fear factor might have been lessened. I wonder if there are "manning" issues in that department or on that shift.

When possible it would probably be a good policy that any cops involved in a pursuit NOT be the cops to make any arrest. The anger and adrenaline involved after a chase would not be conducive to a well managed arrest.

As for Mr Bell at least he limited his tattoos to his arm and not his face.

Joe the Cop said:


Irish, I went to a presentation today on emergency vehicle operation, and toward the end the instructor talked about police tactics at the end of pursuits, and about training officers to overcome "tunnel vision." It is very difficult to get officers, at the end of a pursuit, to slow down and not immediately rush up to the car.

uninspired said:


Once again, good thing there was a camera. Just lucky the tape didn't get "lost," else the cop would've just claimed whatever hyperbolic garbage he felt like using (Resisting arrest? Maybe the guy said something about his mother? No, wait - the guy resisted arrest, said he was going to kill the cop's mother, then go on a murderous rampage. Just make sure it's enough so you not only avoid looking like another cop with an anger management problem, but make yourself look like a hero! Maybe say the guy was a terrorist?)

Joe the Cop said:


Uninspired, thanks for stopping by. Let me ask you a question: do you think Mr. Bell's actions played any role in this? Do you think that, had Mr. Bell simply pulled over and produced a drivers license as he was legally required to do, that he still would have been hit with a baton? Or do you think this is just how we routinely conduct business?

Wendy C said:


I believe many officers expect instant compliance when giving orders, something one cannot expect from a suspected drunk driver. Due to mental impairment, isn't it true the response time from someone inebriated is slower and often their actions don't follow their intent? I'm sure most cops know this. I don't believe this man's actions triggered the violence, they weren't that unusual or threatening. Whatever reason made the officer react this way, fear or anger, the victim didn't provoke it, in my opinion.

R.A. Stewart said:


Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Joe. I generally like to stop by and see what your take is when I read about a situation like this.

One thing I was impressed, and I will admit surprised, by was how quickly and decisively the Streamwood PD responded and the level of their cooperation with the state's attorney's office. I wish I could say I would expect the same of the Chicago PD.

SuburbanDoc said:

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Thanks for sharing your perspective. I consider myself 'pro-cop' but recent news reports (like this recent story re: Streamwood cop's excessive use of force) have gotten my blood boiling. Our opinions, however, are so strongly influenced by how the media presents (or limits) info to the public. Your portrayal of what goes through the mind of a young officer (with no apparent backup) in a difficult, potentially dangerous situation - while not defending his act - helps all of us to better understand the dangerous job cops have. Split-second decision-making during emotionally-charged moments is sometimes required and often separates heroes from villains. Thanks for your service.

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