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.”