"Pick him up, help him."
Those five words, uttered by a Duluth Police Department officer during a May 30, 2017 arrest, sure sound like an indictment of what's playing out on his body camera. Sgt. Adam Huot, a hulking presence in uniform, is seen dragging Brandon Houle, 30, down a hallway by yanking the chain of his handcuffs behind his back.
Houle's crime that night was being in a parking lot, and later a skyway, both of them private property. He was homeless, and on body camera footage appears to be intoxicated. By comparison, what Huot did to him seems like more of a crime than trespassing.
The city of Duluth agreed, and Huot was fired for his conduct, which he'd also failed to report as a use of force event. (Houle sustained a bump on the head, but no serious injuries.) Huot and his police union appealed, and he was reinstated by an arbitrator.
The city appealed, twice now, and has lost in both cases, as reported by the Duluth News Tribune. On Tuesday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled what Huot did to Houle "was contrary to public policy against unreasonable use of force," but not enough to cost the cop his job, and the $73,000-plus salary that comes with it. If Duluth doesn't appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court, Huot effectively served a 13-month suspension and will be back on the beat.
If Huot's fellow officer calling for someone to help Houle to his feet doesn't sound bad enough, the clang of the handcuffed man's head against a metal door frame really drives home that what's happening here is not police protocol. Or humane.
A second officer, Beau Hughes, then a rookie on the beat, follows behind Huot, and Houle's limp body; a third officer, Morgan Cekalla, trails those two, and is the one heard on tape encouraging either, or both, to help the suspect to his feet.
"Adam!" Cekalla calls out to Huot after he bangs Houle's head. Huot doesn't react to the impact or the sound of his name. He and Hughes force Houle onto an elevator, this time on his wobbly feet, and then walk him down a hallway into a parking lot.
According to the arbitration ruling, Cekalla worried Hughes might take Huot's careless dragging as acceptable behavior. Once it was over, Hughes told his partner the experience "fucking sucked." Cekalla, for his part, went on to testify he was "shell shocked" by what he'd seen.
This wasn't Huot's first use of force that year. In February 2017, a few months before his dragging of Brandon Houle, he responded to a "welfare check" of an intoxicated man in public. Huot found the man walking on the sidewalk with his sister; when he refused the cop's call for him to stop, Huot slammed him chest-first on the hood of his squad car and arrested him.
Later the night of the Houle arrest, Huot met with Hughes and Cekalla to see that the three of them were "on the same page about what happened." They weren't. Huot was insistent he'd done nothing wrong. Cekalla disagreed, and filed an incident report, later testifying it was the first time he'd witnessed "use of force taken to that level, and I knew it wasn't right."
The Minnesota Court of Appeals agrees, it wasn't right. It just wasn't wrong enough to fire a cop.