BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — An attorney for five Birmingham police officers who were fired after being shown on videotape beating an inert suspect said Thursday they thought the man was conscious and armed.
Attorney Gayle Gear said the officers who approached Anthony Warren had not seen him thrown from his van when it overturned at the end of a police chase, and they assumed he was a threat.
Gear said the officers were following their training to force Warren to submit and they have appealed their dismissal to the Jefferson County Personnel Board.
As Gear defended their actions, an attorney for Warren said a lawsuit is expected to be filed this week against the officers and the police department. An internal investigation was ordered by Police Chief A.C. Roper to determine if others in the department knew about the beating, recorded by a patrol car camera, but did not report it.
The video surfaced by surprise in March more than a year after the Jan. 23, 2008 chase. Warren, 38, was nearing trial for attempted murder, a charge stemming from the chase, and a copy of the video given to prosecutors didn't include the beating. But when the chief prosecutor sought the original tape for technical reasons, the beating was discovered.
Warren's attorney, Wendy Crew, said the suit would seek monetary damages and ask the court to order the city to change the way it trains police officers.
Gear said the officers responded at the end of a hair-raising chase in which Warren appeared to try to hit several vehicles and a Hoover police officer.
"He was trying to hit everybody. You can't just run from police like that," Gear said.
She said the officers who first arrived didn't know if Warren was armed and assumed he had a weapon under his body. She said the officers were not trying to injure Warren, but hit him in pressure spots, such as behind the neck, that would force him to submit.
She said David Doran was the first officer to approach Warren and shouted "show me your hands." She said Doran then struck Warren with a baton to get him to comply. She said one officer hit Warren on a part of the leg to disable him.
Birmingham police have not released the names of the police officers. But Gear identified them as Doran, Heath Boackle, Thomas Cleveland, Barrett Dewitt, and Kenneth Prevo. The officers were fired by the police chief on accusations they used unnecessary and excessive force and failed to submit required reports.
Governor Bob Riley said Thursday the officers appeared to over-react to the situation.
"You have to give police officers some latitude, to go through what they go through every day, and the adrenaline's pumping and everything is moving very quickly, but you should never tolerate that type of reaction from any segment of law enforcement," Riley said.
A spokesman for Birmingham police, Sgt. Johnny Williams, said Roper decided to fire the officers based on the department's policies and procedures and "the actions he observed" on the video.
Crew questioned why police were chasing Warren in the first place. She said he never was charged with any drug offense, which was the alleged reason police first approached him.
"We are seeking systematic changes in the Birmingham Police Department," Crew said. She said business has been conducted in the department in a way that creates "a culture of tolerance for this type of behavior."
She said it concerns her that the incident involved at least five police officers and that it took 14 months before the videotape surfaced and details of the incident were revealed to the public.
"This was not just one rogue police officer," Crew said. "It took many more than the five officers involved in this to keep it from coming to life for 14 months."
Williams said the officers were disciplined as soon as top police officials became aware of the videotape.
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"Chief Roper addressed it right off," Williams said.