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Recording shows Kan. officer wrestling suspect to the ground

Sgt. Steve Thompson, right, throws an unidentified booking suspect to the floor Sunday at the Shawnee County Jail in Topeka, Kan. The KBI is examining the incident to see whether Thompson used excessive force in booking the suspect. The video shows the officer grabbing a suspect by the neck and wrestling him to the ground.
(AP Photo/Shawnee County Commission)
Associated Press

TOPEKA, Kan. - Topeka police here received their third dose of bad publicity in six months with the release Thursday of a DVD file showing a sergeant grabbing a suspect by the neck and wrestling him to the ground at the county jail.

The question was whether Sgt. Steve Thompson used excessive force in booking the suspect into the Shawnee County Jail. The incident, which occurred about 3:30 a.m. April 2, was captured on a jail camera, and the county commission made it public Thursday.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation is examining the incident, which also prompted interim Police Chief Steve Harsha to publicly apologize to the city's residents.

"There is no excuse for substantiated misconduct of any kind, and we will hold our employees accountable," Harsha said during a news conference.

KBI Deputy Director Kyle Smith said his agency was asked Wednesday by the district attorney's office to look into the matter.

"We are investigating at this time and will turn our report over to the DA's office," Smith said.

Thompson, 34, was placed on paid leave pending the outcome of the investigation. He joined the department in June 1994.

The incident occurred about a month after Harsha disciplined two detectives for making racially charged statements in e-mails and a letter to the president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, criticizing a newspaper column she wrote.

Those detectives sued Harsha in federal court, arguing their free speech rights had been violated. This case is pending.

In October, the district attorney released a report that said narcotics officers regularly tampered with drug evidence and falsified records and that Topeka's former police chief knew about the problems when he sought prosecution of flawed criminal cases dating back to 1999.

"I've been here 37 years, and it's one thing after another," said Sonny Scroggins, a longtime Topeka human rights activists. "We want mercy and justice."

But Harsha said such incidents are uncommon, noting that his 296-officer force had more than 300,000 contacts with citizens last year. There were 13 allegations of using excessive force against nine officers in 2005, Harsha said, and only in one did an investigation conclude an officer had acted improperly.

"This is a very serious matter, and we want to assure the city that we take it very seriously," said City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. "And the Police Department is handling it."

So far, Harsha and other officials have said little about the incident because of both the KBI's investigation and an internal police investigation, which will determine whether Thompson faces disciplinary action.

They've not released the name person in custody or said why he was booked into jail.

Tom Lemon, Thompson's attorney, wasn't available immediately for comment, and the local Fraternal Order of Police chapter does not plan to comment until after the internal police investigation is finished next week, President Jackie Mackey said.

The incident occurred in a holding area just off a garage, where suspects are taken by police after their arrests, said Elizabeth Gillespie, director of the county corrections department.

People wait there until they can be escorted to an adjacent room for a pat-down search, and a camera constantly records what occurs because the area is busy, she said.

The jail has 557 beds in its adult section and 70 beds in its juvenile facility.

The recording, without any sound, shows the sergeant was trying to move the suspect into a chair. The suspect's arms remained behind his back, and his hands were covered by a jacket, so that it's not clear whether he was handcuffed.

When Thompson tried to guide the suspect to the chair, the suspect appeared to stiffen and turn toward the sergeant. Then, the DVD shows Thompson shoving the suspect into a doorway and to the ground. It wasn't clear whether the officer struck the man while he was on the ground, because Thompson's back was to the camera.

The DVD was turned over to police on April 3, Gillespie said.

Chairman Vic Miller said the county commission's members thought it was in the public's interest to release the DVD.

"Rather than speculating on what occurred, they can see what happened and judge for themselves," Miller said.


On the Net:

City of Topeka: http://www.topeka.org

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