When Val Demings Stood by Police Officers Accused of Excessive Force
By most accounts, she was a model officer, following the same path as her husband to leadership of the department. That path required that she view law enforcement issues from a cop’s perspective.
In the second year of her tenure as chief, the Orlando Weekly ran a story accusing the department of routinely siding with its own over community complainants—never ruling against a cop in 98 excessive use of force complaints filed with the department’s internal affairs division. Demings chose to stoutly defend the department, taking to the pages of the daily Orlando Sentinel.
“Looking for a negative story in a police department is like looking for a prayer in a church,” Demings wrote in her 2008 Sentinel op-ed. “It won’t take long to find one. Law enforcement officers deal with ‘negatives’ all day, every day. When people summon the police, chances are things are not going well.”
Demings wrote that over the period reviewed by the Weekly, the department made 2 million contacts with citizens.
“However, a local weekly publication chose to do an eight-page story on 98 claims of excessive force during the five year period,” she wrote in the Sentinel. “If we really focus on the numbers, the results are pretty amazing.”
That was before the incident involving Daley, the World War II veteran who parked in the wrong lot, a case that attracted sympathy for him and criticism for Demings’ defense of the officer.
The bartender, Sean Douglas Hill, who moved Daley’s Chrysler Crossfire from the parking lot before it was towed, said Daley had too much to drink, but in the deposition also described his horror as the frail old man was slammed on the ground by Officer Lamont.
“The man can’t even—he needs basically a walker to go up a sidewalk,” Hill said. “I mean, for just standing there, the wind hits him wrong he could fall over.”
Lamont claimed that Daley had touched him and he thought he was a threat. Two years after the incident, a jury awarded Daley, then 86 years old, $880,000 for having his neck broken by the officer.
A decade after the initial incident, Demings’ view has not changed.
“The officer did not violate department policy,” she wrote in her email to POLITICO, marking the first time she has addressed the issue since becoming a national political figure.
While Recksiedler, the lead attorney on the case, criticized Demings, Mark NeJame, who founded the firm that represented Daley, described himself as a longtime friend and supporter.
NeJame said Demings would have liked to accomplish more in reforming the department but hit institutional roadblocks.
“Would she have liked to effectuate even more change? Sure. But like anyone in a position of leadership, you are stuck in some ways and run up against cultural barriers that are going to slow you down,” NeJame said. “You know, the enemies from within. That existed.”
NeJame, a prominent regional Democratic fundraiser who has hosted Biden at his house, acknowledged Demings sometimes faces criticism from Orlando’s activist community, but characterizes the attacks as “political shots.”