Video: NC police defend takedown of cyclist
Department believes officers acted "professionally and within policy" in arresting a man whose lawyer is claiming excessive force
By Ray Gronberg
DURHAM, N.C. — Releasing video of the incident, police department commanders said Tuesday they believe officers acted "professionally and within policy" in arresting a man whose lawyer claims one used excessive force.
The unusual move came two days before the City Council is scheduled to hear a report from Durham's Human Relations Commission that, among other things, says there's evidence of racial bias and profiling in the department's practices.
The lawyer who made the excessive-force claim, Scott Holmes, told The Herald-Sun earlier this month that he planned to give the video of the incident to at least one civil-rights group for likely use in a news conference before Thursday's City Council meeting.
But "the community needs to know officers did not act inappropriately when they are being told they [had], by someone prominent in this community," Police Chief Jose Lopez said.
Holmes' client, John G. Hill Jr., was arrested last Sept. 28 and charged with resisting arrest and running a stoplight on his bicycle as he rode through the intersection of Alston Avenue and Lawson Street.
Hill was acquitted of the charges on May 8, Holmes taking to Facebook the next day to say among other things the officer who made the stop should be prosecuted for assault inflicting serious injury.
The lawyer said Hill had told the officer he didn't run the light, and demanded to see the officer's in-car video. But the officer, J.A. Daniels, told him to sit down and, when Hill didn't, "grabbed him by the arm and slammed him to the ground."
Holmes said Hill suffered a broken arm.
The videos released Tuesday include three from Daniels' car and one from a backup officer's car. Department officials posted three of them to YouTube, the fourth in substance being only a duplicate of the audio of one of the others.
It has little audio, Daniels having failed to attach a microphone to his belt as he stepped out of his patrol car.
The images begin with Hill on his bicycle in front of Daniels' patrol car, gesticulating at himself, the officer, the road and the patrol car. He is plainly agitated, and Daniels pauses to use his radio. The officer then resumes discussion with Hill, pointing at the patrol car.
Hill gets off the bike, as the officer points to the curb. Hill then throws the bike to the side and faces Daniels squarely.
The exchange between the two continues for about 25 more seconds, Daniels then stepping forward to take hold of Hill by the wrist. Hill steps forward into the street, Daniels countering by reaching around Hill's back and leveraging him to the ground.
"Stop moving," he told Hill in one of the few intelligible comments recorded before officers open the car's door to place Hill inside.
Department commanders say Daniels had asked Hill to take a seat on the curb, and then in reaching for Hill intended to "place him into detention in order to gain control of the situation."
When Hill tried to pull away, Daniels responded with a "standard arm-bar technique" officers are trained to use by both the N.C. Justice Academy and the Durham Police Department, he said.
The second video is the in-car video of a backup officer and recorded much of the subsequent dialogue from officers and Hill.
It captured Hill's denial of having run the light, him telling officers the signal "was green before I got to the crosswalk."
"All I'm doing is going to work," he added. "These m------------ are trying to accuse me of something because I'm black. I'm going to sue the s---- out of you."
Daniels, meanwhile, talked to the other officers and a sergeant who showed up after a bit to open a use-of-force investigation. The group appeared for the most part unruffled and unhurried.
"I don't even know who the f--- he is," he told one colleague who asked if Hill had any warrants pending against him.
"Just goes to show you the smallest thing can be a big thing," the other officer said.
Daniels did tell Hill he had video of him running the signal. But he found that the camera only started recording when he switched on the car's blue lights. "I don't know why it won't go back to the very beginning," he said at one point.
Lopez and Deputy Police Chief Larry Smith said commanders have updated camera software and tightened procedures on the use of in-car recorders since the November in-custody shooting death of Jesus Huerta.
That incident, unrecorded by an in-car camera, led to widespread criticism of the Police Department and a series of street protests. The procedure and software changes should help ensure that video of incidents is more commonly available, Smith said.
The second video also caught Daniels saying he'd intended only to give Hill a warning.
"All I was gonna do was just tell him not to run the stoplight," he told the sergeant.
The third video captured some of Hill's discussion with the sergeant and all of his comments to Daniels as the officer took him to the Durham County Jail.
He several times referred to Daniels as a "cracker," and accused the officer of "blatant racism" and lying. He also repeated his threat to sue and at one point claimed to be "very well connected."
"Sorry sapsucker," he told Daniels. "Yeah, I can't wait. I'm gonna spend these couple of days in jail, I'll be out Monday, but you're a-- is gonna lose your job. You don't think so? You don't think so? You're gonna lose your job, I'm gonna make sure of it. Might not get you in court, but there's Facebook; there's Twitter. We gonna get rid of you, get you off the street before you shoot a n------ 10 times like that other guy did. What's my crime, standing up to you and your lies?"
Police commanders said Tuesday that the only injury they knew Hill suffered was some scrapes to the head that Hill received treatment for from EMS at the scene.
Hill filed a complaint two months after the incident but didn't cooperate with internal-affairs investigators or appeal the matter to the Civilian Police Review Board, they said. He has provided no medical records documenting any other injuries, Deputy Police Chief Anthony Marsh said.
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