For the sake of argument, imagine things had gone this way last Monday evening at the Clarkston Walmart parking lot:

Clarkston police get the word that someone is “prowling” cars. The individual involved is described as a black male, approximately 5 feet 11 inches tall, wearing a backpack.

Car prowling is specifically defined by Washington law as illegally entering or remaining in a vehicle.

It does not mean looking over a car, which is probably a common activity in a large parking lot. Some people scout new, fancy pickup trucks. Others pay close attention to restored classics. And maybe there’s the oddball who looks over a rig that’s been wrecked.

Guided by that knowledge, an officer arriving at the parking lot would look for evidence of illegal entry.

Maybe he pulls out a pair of binoculars and surveys the scene.

Perhaps someone spots his marked patrol car and breaks into a sprint.

Call that a clue.

Or the officer takes the additional step of striking up a conversation with some of the people in the parking lot.

One of them might have been 52-year-old Mark A. Domino, an African-American.

“Good afternoon, sir,” the cop begins. “We just got a call about suspicious behavior; have you seen anything unusual going on?”

Domino points out he has just finished a shift at the store. Given that he knows the surroundings and has a legitimate reason for being there, that makes Domino a reliable source.

But Domino would not be the first African-American with a healthy distrust of cops. Given his age, he has either had a crummy experience or two with police himself — or knows someone who has. Domino doesn’t want a conversation. So he’s uncooperative. So what?

“Thank you for your time, sir,” the cop says, and walks away — but not before he jots down the license plate number on Domino’s motorcycle. Then he runs it through the mobile data terminal in his police cruiser. Within seconds, he’ll know if Domino has any outstanding warrants or even a history of automobile burglary.

Domino goes on his way and the officer observes the first rule of law enforcement — returning home safely. Case closed.

Here’s what a cop ought to avoid: Escalating the situation by demanding Domino provide identification.

In some countries, cops get away with arbitrarily stopping private citizens and asking: “Do you have your papers?”

Not this one. Whatever cops do is subject to judicial review and the courts tend to draw a fine line here.

Here’s something else he ought to avoid:

With a second cop in tow, refuse to answer Domino’s questions about why he’s being detained.

“Failure to communicate” may have been just fine for Strother Martin in 1967.

In 2019, it’s a big problem.

And by all means, don’t transform a verbal altercation into a physical one by bringing out the handcuffs and attempting to restrain Domino.

Again, for what?

The only reason to cuff someone in a non-arrest situation is to safeguard the officers. You might see that when police enforce a search warrant or when investigating a violent crime.

Domino has committed no offense other than to display a chip on his shoulder in a place where he has every right to be.

Does it look to you like the cops have control of the situation when they wrestle Domino to the ground and nail him with a Taser?

Let others decide whether this was a case of racial profiling.

But in the course of a few minutes, a noncriminal event got violent. A man got Tased. And he wound up charged with resisting arrest and obstructing a law enforcement officer.

Because the law gives cops the benefit of the doubt when they are acting in fear for their own safety, don’t be surprised if the charges stick.

Aren’t cops supposed to keep the peace, not break it? — M.T.

Recommended for you