03/18/2009

Officers arrested after use of force caught on tape

Editor's note: PoliceOne columnist Capt. Greg Meyer says, "The increasing proliferation of video cameras guarantees that more and more police incidents will be captured. The truth almost always lies deeper than the video." Read more about use of force indicents caught on video and how to respond in his article Use of force caught on tape: What's next?

Associated Press

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PEORIA, Ill. — Two central Illinois police officers have been charged with beating a man who claims he was pepper-sprayed, kicked, punched and shocked with a stun gun following a police chase that was videotaped by a squad car camera.

Peoria Officers Andrew Smith, 29, and Gerald Suelter, 39, were arrested Monday night on charges of official misconduct, aggravated battery, battery and mob action, according to the police department. They were jailed pending a Wednesday afternoon court appearance, Peoria County Chief Sheriff's Deputy Joe Needham said Tuesday.

Peoria County State's Attorney Kevin Lyons decided to pursue the case after seeing the videotape, which he said shows Bryce Scott stopped running and cooperated before the officers allegedly beat him last year.

"You can tell that a person made a conscious decision to pull over," Lyons said. "When you for whatever reason say, 'I'm going to give myself up,' if this is what they are going to do to you ..."

A call to a Peoria telephone listing for an Andrew Smith was not returned. A number listed for a Gerald Suelter was not answered. It was not immediately clear if the men had attorneys.

Police spokesman Doug Burgess declined to comment on specifics of the case, saying only that the officers were on unpaid leave. He wasn't sure how long either officer had been with the department, only that both had worked there fewer than seven years.

Scott was beaten early May 3 after leading officers on the car chase, authorities said.

The squad car video shows Scott's SUV being chased, stopping at a stop sign and, after a shouted order from a police officer, the driver sticking his hands out the driver's side window.

An officer then opens the SUV's door and the driver steps out before quickly dropping to the ground and out of the frame. One officer kneels over the spot where the driver appears to be, another officer is seen stomping over the same spot, and screaming and moaning can be heard.

In a January lawsuit filed against Smith, Suelter and four other unnamed officers, Scott said officers pursued him after his girlfriend's mother called them saying Scott was outside her home.

Scott says he got out of his car at officers' request but was then pepper sprayed, kicked, shocked with a stun gun and punched.

Lyons said he didn't pursue the case earlier because he didn't know about the incident until the lawsuit was filed and the videotape emerged. Police never forwarded information about Scott to him, he said.

It wasn't immediately clear whether charges stemming from the chase were filed against Scott.

Scott's attorney in the lawsuit, Dan Cusack of Peoria, said that while much of the action his client alleges doesn't appear in the videotape, it's clear to him what happens just off camera.

"Bryce, you know, was in a high speed chase, but then he stopped," Cusack said. "He appears to me and a lot of other people ... to have been obeying commands when the aggressive part of the tape picks up."

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