A beta reader of sorts (cousin) mentioned he thought my MC2 rather brutal in her capture of MC1 - though justified.

I have her dupe him into surrendering (believing himself outnumbered and outgunned). Once he does surrender, she does the following:

  • searches him
  • disarms him
  • handcuffs him
  • binds his elbows to prevent escape
  • rigs a chokehold out of a dog leash
  • threatens him with a hunting knife
  • holds him at gun point
  • threatens to geld him (psychological tactic only)

She is successful in convincing him that any unsanctioned movement is a bad idea. She uses these tactics because she is smaller than he is and she would lose in a fight. She cannot allow him, at that moment, to consider resisting.

Has she crossed the line between using justified force to bring in a dangerous prisoner and brutality?

It occurs in Bolivia shortly after an assassination.

To clarify somewhat, she does not go directly to the choke-hold or threat of castration. MC1 asks her something that makes her choose to go further as he is not in the mindset she wants yet.

  • 1
    Is she highly trained at apprehending prisoners? (It sounds like she is, but I'd like to hear it explicitly)
    – Summer
    Mar 28, 2019 at 0:24
  • Yes, she is. Her concern was she was without backup and if he resists, her chance to apprehend him is gone.
    – Rasdashan
    Mar 28, 2019 at 0:27
  • 4
    This could be part of your MC2's character development. Perhaps she asks herself the same question you've asked here: was I justified in using such force or not? (I once read a book [book 9 of Darren Shan's excellent Demonata series] in which MC1 rips MC2's eyes out in order to keep him on Earth instead of abandoning their mission for another which he sees as greater. Brutal as hell, but in the context of the story, it worked.) Mar 28, 2019 at 9:59
  • Can you "geld" a person? Don't we call that castration? It's like saying a woman got spayed...
    – user91988
    Mar 28, 2019 at 14:39
  • Indeed - though she never uses the term. She asks him if he knows the difference between a bullcalf and a steer. He does
    – Rasdashan
    Mar 28, 2019 at 15:22

4 Answers 4


The tone of your writing will make the difference

Written out in a cold hard list like that is certainly sounds brutal. MC2 has MC1 at their mercy and yet continues to threaten and abuse them. If you want to portray the brutality of the scene then you don't have a problem. If you didn't intend for it to sound so harsh then you need to look at how you describe their actions.

Why are they doing it?

When a character is truly brutal and cares little for the life of their target then they will show little emotion or even take pleasure in the acts. Writing their behaviour in this way will increase the brutality of the scene.

She uses these tactics because she is smaller than he is and she would lose in a fight. She cannot allow him, at that moment, to consider resisting.

This makes it sound like the motivation is fear. MC2 is afraid of what MC1 will do when they break out and are doing everything they possibly can to prevent that. You need to show your readers that fear, a voice-crack and shaking hand when pointing the gun something that displays that MC2 isn't as confident as their actions appear.

Her concern was she was without backup and if he resists, her chance to apprehend him is gone.

Desperation is a similar motivator to fear. Show how the character doesn't want to do this but feels like they have no choice. This works particularly well if you show us the reason for their desperation, why is this so important to them?

Characters acting out of fear or desperation is something we can emphasize with and will reduce the feeling of brutality in your scene. Potentially you still make one too many threats but if you make it clear that these are hollow threats and MC2 is unlikely to follow through it won't seem so brutal.

A side note, if MC2 is performing an arrest in any kind of official capacity; law-enforcement, military or covert operation, they have certainly crossed the line. The most concerning is the choke-hold leash and the threat of gelding. Everything else is within the bounds of normal arrest behaviour.

  • 1
    The choke-hold is something she rigs so she can safely transport him. She cannot be both guard and driver, so rigs the choke-hold to maintain control during transit
    – Rasdashan
    Mar 28, 2019 at 0:38
  • 6
    @Rasdashan Fair enough, the point is that a police officer still wouldn't do this. Lock them in the boot/trunk of a car maybe if they had no other way to restrain them but choke-hold is pretty brutal. Usually restraining the arms and putting them in the backseat is enough.
    – linksassin
    Mar 28, 2019 at 0:40
  • 4
    As a brainstorm: if your POV permits getting in her head, you could spend a few sentences showing her convincing herself that the gelding threat needs to be made, needs to be successful, and thus she needs to believe it herself. I think that it would be easy to sympathize with someone who realizes she is going to have to convince herself the gelding threat is a legitimate threat in order to make the threat do its job.
    – Cort Ammon
    Mar 28, 2019 at 15:41
  • @CortAmmon That is an excellent suggestion. She has a theory that a gap exists in CIA training and this threat helps to render such an officer easier to read, if only briefly. She knows she has to sell it or it is worse than useless. MC1 figures it out, but by then the threat has served its purpose. I will just make that a bit more clear.
    – Rasdashan
    Mar 28, 2019 at 20:14

Assuming the detainer is a police officer, in many jurisdictions this would be considered unnecessary force, i.e. illegal, and would likely result in the detainee having to be released.

Police forces in many nations are bound by principles of criminal justice ethics, and in fact, there are laws that police officers must adhere to in order to avoid misconduct.

Your officer is likely fully aware that misconduct will badly affect the case she is working on, so unless her behaviour is driven by personal factors rather than professional ones (e.g. fear, hatred, revenge, prejudice), this is likely too brutal.

  • 8
    +1 Laws regarding police misconduct might be different in different places. It is actually a very good idea to check what those laws are in the location where the story takes place. If more brutal actions are permitted there, that could make for an interesting story element. Mar 28, 2019 at 0:48

Justification is a theme for you to explore

You decide what is justified. You decide what gives someone the right to do what she does.

  • Do the ends justify the means?
  • For the greater good.
  • Fear and self-defense. Is it self-defense when she is the pursuer?
  • No cause is just enough. As an officer of the law she has a duty to make apprehensions while maintaining the basic human rights of the prisoner.

I find a couple of things unlikely and requiring explanation, if you pursued this. Your officer is highly trained and presumably used to making captures. Or is she? If she is new, unqualified or unskilled in some way that might justify her fear. Your prisoner could also have a reputation that precedes itself. Even the most skilled and trained officer might be afraid when faced against a notorious fugitive. These are pretty drastic extremes, but sometimes that happens in our writing.

One thing struck me though. Something you said in a comment in response to me asking you if she was highly trained.

Yes, she is. Her concern was she was without backup and if he resists, her chance to apprehend him is gone.

That doesn't sound like she is afraid for her safety. That sounds like she is afraid she might not win.

If she does this just to be sure she wins, because she always gets her man, and they never escape when she does, then she is a sociopath. This is absolutely brutality.

But then again, maybe she needs to get her man because too much is at stake if he escapes. Too many people will die.

Or they live in a police state.

Regardless of which direction you go with, you should research takedown and restraint techniques for people of smaller stature vs people much bigger than them. Something tells me that even if she was okay with brutality,

  • 1
    prisoner is known to be potentially lethal. She is experienced, but feels these measures are required to ensure success and her own safety.
    – Rasdashan
    Mar 28, 2019 at 1:19
  • 5
    @Rasdashan there is a difference between apprehending a known murderer and pursuing Jason Bourne. Many dangerous criminal are potentially lethal. If that alone was justification you would see cops carrying choke collars with their handcuffs.
    – Summer
    Mar 28, 2019 at 1:22
  • He is a bit more Jason Bourne than known killer.
    – Rasdashan
    Mar 28, 2019 at 1:34
  • 2
    @Rasdashan Well if she knows that, then yes, maybe.
    – Summer
    Mar 28, 2019 at 1:36

It does depend on what her job is.

If she's special forces of some kind, it's very likely this is SOP. MC1 can think himself lucky he's still alive. As with the raid on Bin Laden's compound, taking a target alive is very much secondary.

For the military in general, this is something they shouldn't do, but evidence shows they'll almost certainly get away with it. It took years before anyone noticed that anything was happening at Abu Ghraib, and only then because some inmates died. Until Obama, torture of prisoners was a formal part of US military intelligence procedures - the issue at Abu Ghraib was simply that the staff there had not been told they could torture those prisoners, and that torture was not carried out according to procedures. She'll get a minor warning at best.

For the police in places ruled by law, this will almost certainly result in disciplinary proceedings. MC1 may need to make a formal complaint for that, of course. And the methods are not sound either - if she can rig a chokehold then she can equally well hogtie him, which is a much more effective way of stopping him running off. Or the cuffs can go on his ankles instead of his wrists, because however much bigger he is, removing his mobility limits his range to purely the reach of his arms. Then she waits for backup.

As a civilian, it's more of a grey area. If you're immediately afraid for your life or for others, nothing you do to protect yourself or them is illegal. Since it's a grey area, you may need to convince a court of that, of course.

But then you say it's Bolivia. Transparency International rate it 29/100 and 132nd out of 186 for rule of law. They had (and may still have) literal death squads of police going round executing street kids. For comparison, Saudi Arabia's police routinely sexually assault and beat prisoners as part of their interrogation, and they rate 49/100. Your MC2 is more likely to be commended for ingenuity, possibly with a verbal warning that we don't arrest these sort of people and we don't let them walk away. Normal rule-of-law principles simply don't apply in places like that.

  • 3
    "If you're immediately afraid for your life or for others, nothing you do to protect yourself or them is illegal." This very much depends on local law. In some places, what you say might be true. In others, not so much, depending on circumstances.
    – user
    Mar 28, 2019 at 10:06
  • Backup is hours away and she could get him to HQ before they arrived, so she leaves him his legs
    – Rasdashan
    Mar 28, 2019 at 12:02
  • @aCVn Somewhat agree on the details, but that's the general principle of self-defence as a legal defence, and all systems of justice recognise that principle. The OP's scenario fails on that score because the easiest way to make herself safe is to let him run away - that's where many alleged self-defence cases (e.g. Tony Martin in the UK) fall down.
    – Graham
    Mar 28, 2019 at 12:34
  • 2
    @Rasdashan I appreciate that's something which needs to happen in order for the rest of the plot to follow. It's still a bit like the young half-naked female character in a horror movie going down into the cellar though. A reasonably smart regular cop would just sit it out, knowing that however long they wait, they're still safe. Unless you can tweak your story somewhat so that backup isn't coming - maybe in a radio and phone blackspot?
    – Graham
    Mar 28, 2019 at 12:57
  • They are in the middle of nowhere and reception is spotty at best. The manhunt is beginning - so they would reach her location by morning. She was nearby when she was called in - thought going to HQ a waste of time they did not have.
    – Rasdashan
    Mar 28, 2019 at 13:27

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