Columbia police officer fired over use of excessive force in holding cell

Wednesday, September 21, 2011 | 5:17 p.m. CDT; updated 6:27 p.m. CDT, Thursday, September 29, 2011
This is an excerpt from an Aug. 15 security tape from a Columbia Police Department holding cell. The officer shown pushing the man in the cell was fired Wednesday by Police Chief Ken Burton.

COLUMBIA — An 18-year veteran of the Columbia Police Department was fired Wednesday after an internal affairs investigation into his use of excessive force against a man in a holding cell on Aug. 15.

The officer, whose name Police Chief Ken Burton declined to release during a news conference Wednesday, was a patrol officer. He was placed on administrative leave with pay on Aug. 24, nine days after the assault on a prisoner who had been pepper-sprayed while resisting arrest.

Two other officers were involved in the incident but were not placed on leave. Burton said the department investigated allegations that those officers failed to seek adequate medical care for the person who was arrested as well as violations of city policies related to the treatment of prisoners.

The incident was captured on a holding cell security tape. At around 11:20 p.m., the tape shows a man restlessly pacing, covering his eyes with a paper towel and yelling, though his statements are barely audible on the tapes.

Burton said the man had been arrested on two outstanding felony warrants and was pepper-sprayed after getting into a “pretty significant fight” with officers not shown on the tapes.

At 11:37 p.m., officers can be seen suddenly entering the cell, and one is seen forcefully pushing the man from a standing position into a wall. A loud thud can be heard, and blood can be seen on that officer's forearms as he handcuffs the man.

Burton said he thought the man was asking for water just before the officers entered the cell.

The man was taken to the hospital, though Burton said he didn’t know how long after the assault that happened.

“(The injuries) weren’t significant that I know of, but obviously there was some blood,” he said.

Conversations among the officers’ can be heard on audio from the department’s booking area. Amid laughter, they debated before the assault who would have to exert force on the man.

“Well, let’s just say he lost Round Two,” one of them says after the assault, referring to the fight upon the man’s arrest and the subsequent assault in the holding cell.

“He’ll probably have to go to the hospital,” another says.

Burton said at the news conference that the officers' conduct left him "speechless" and "disappointed."

Although there was no complaint filed by the man, his attorney, Ron Netemeyer, filed a preservation request for the tapes from the cell. When internal affairs Capt. Dianne Bernhard fulfilled that request, she reviewed video surveillance of the cell and was concerned about what she'd seen. She then brought the video to Burton’s attention, which Burton said automatically prompted an investigation into the use of excessive force. He said the department tried unsuccessfully to contact the man.

“We are actually reviewing a lot of things in the holding area that we came across during the investigation,” Burton said.

Burton said the incident was "not acceptable" and not indicative of the department's treatment of prisoners.

“It is, and will remain, my expectation that all Columbia police officers will treat every citizen that they contact with dignity and respect," he said. "And when they do so, to use only the force that is necessary to achieve the lawful objective.”

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Paul Allaire September 21, 2011 | 5:30 p.m.

Wow. It sounds like somebody really IS trying to clean up the department.

(Report Comment)
Peter Steeves September 21, 2011 | 7:31 p.m.

I'm impressed with the actions this department is taking. This is a very difficult issue, and it faces professional law enforcement significantly more often, but it does impact citizens involved with stopping physical violence as well.

If you'd like to see some of the liability reduction efforts being made by our most famous group of hands-on citizens, the Guardian Angels, please take a look at their training information.

You'll have to login with a name and email address, but access to all of the video training and information is free, and always will be:

I hope this helps, and I'd certainly welcome any feedback.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle September 21, 2011 | 9:09 p.m.

Sensational public taserings and beatings are only the tip of the iceberg. Once they get you totally in *their* domain and comfort zone, this is SOP: deliberately planning and carrying out abuse against people they've already got under control and locked up, to "teach them a lesson." And, smugly laughing about it. That's sick puppy power tripping.

Beware, those surveillance cameras just might have sharp edges on both sides. I'm sure there are groups of citizens who would be happy to help review surveillance video to make sure none of this kind of abuse goes unnoticed, if Burton is serious about stopping it.

Speaking of which, have any of the anti-downtown surveillance camera people made good on their threat of bombarding the police with requests for footage from those cameras yet? How many crimes have they helped solve so far?

As for Burton, I'm displeased with his flippant attitude and stonewalling when he's in the reactive role regarding perceived problems with officers or his department. But, he seems equally tough on his own guys when he's leading the charge. After working through a backlog of problems left by his predecessors, he's done a good job of keeping the CPD out of the news.

If someone as far left as me (with a distrust born from being abused once by police in a similar fashion myself) is only a *little* displeased with him, he's doing pretty well. "Tough but Fair" in a police chief works for me.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz September 21, 2011 | 9:22 p.m.

Derrick, the Trib had a story on the downtown cameras a week or so back when the revelation came out that CPD is usually monitoring the cameras live from 10 PM to 3 AM or so. The only crimes the cameras have caught suspects for thus far was one DWI, a dastardly litterbug, and crowds that looked like they might evolve into something more.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle September 21, 2011 | 9:34 p.m.

Fair enough. I don't pay much attention to the Trib since they put up the paywall.

But... it does make me want to go play hacky sack in front of one of the cameras in the middle of the night sometime.

(Report Comment)
Ryan macker September 22, 2011 | 2:19 a.m.

What if there was no footage? Would there ever have been an investigation then?

(Report Comment)
Delcia Crockett September 22, 2011 | 9:09 a.m.

First time overreaction for Rob Sanders? Check the media archives of other news sources to be sure. I think you might be surprised.


(Report Comment)
billy kurtz September 22, 2011 | 12:05 p.m.

I'm glad I'm not a cop. One tries to serve and protect by serving warrants that went through all the hoops in the court system. The guy won't cooperate when you ask nicely, he fights and fights. Then when he all of a sudden wants to play nice you're supposed to walk-in nicely and assume he won't fight again? Hello average citizen allow me to respectfully assist you. Not even high school teachers put up with cussing patrons. Do cops get to send non-cooperative folks to the principal? Are we all assuming there is only one side to this story? Why was the guy standing in the cell facing the door? Don't police ask you to sit down before they have to enter a cell or turn around or something? Why were three officers going in? I bet there was a reason. Nah. Its easier to assume the cops are power tripping idiots who deserve to be badmouthed in the media.
I am pleased the CPD has stayed out of the news lately, but it amazes me that after 18 years of taking my tax dollars that there was not anything salvageable about this officer. That sounds like poor management, or a police chief cutting a man loose to please the media to me.
Hey Chief! As a taxpayer, I want him to complete some training without pay and get back to work for me and mine.

Thanks to all you cops out there that keep my wife and kids safer than they would be otherwise. Keep pulling us over and checking into suspicious looking stuff, even if we're black, wearing a turban, play ball for the college, or look ready to sue you in a 3-piece suit. We are all gonna complain about you, sue you for profiling, and generally disrespect you anyway. So, keep it up for average people like me who (try to) appreciate it!

(Report Comment)
mike mentor September 22, 2011 | 12:32 p.m.

We have come a long way when an officer is fired for using some force on a combative inmate. I am glad we have people out there like you Billy that appreciate the CPD for the work they do. They have a tough job. I will freely admit that I could not do what they do, deal with what they have to deal with, and hold my tongue and the back of my hand like they need to. The problem is that when stuff like this happens, we get to pay for it with our tax dollars. It might be obvious to you and me that this guy probably didn't get pepper sprayed for nothing, but teaching this scumbag a lesson in any way that could end up with lawsuits being filed and scumbags enriching themselves with our tax dollars isn't acceptable...

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire September 22, 2011 | 12:46 p.m.

Gee Billy. I suppose then you probably think that your police chief was an ass for firing him.

(Report Comment)
Sally Willis September 22, 2011 | 1:40 p.m.

@ billy kurtz: I agree with you that's kind of an impossible job, they just can't win for losing. What would you do? I had someone tell me they were going to hit me today if something didn't go right, all I could think was if you hit me I WILL hit you back. It didn't come to that, but I will say what's good enough for you is good enough for me. I think the officer should have been ordered to go maybe to anger management or something. I don't know his history but if this was his first offence firing does seem a bit drastic. I know I couldn't do what they do and I like knowing that if I need help there will be the C.P.D.

(Report Comment)

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