New excessive force lawsuit to be filed against Columbia police officers

Wednesday, November 9, 2011 | 4:19 p.m. CST; updated 10:36 a.m. CST, Friday, November 25, 2011

COLUMBIA — Attorney Stephen Wyse will file a federal lawsuit within the next week alleging civil rights abuses by the Columbia Police Department after two of his clients complained that officers pointed guns at them, handcuffed them and searched their car unnecessarily.

Phillip Porter, 32, and Joshua Williams, 30, filed a complaint with the department Oct. 13, the same day of the incident in a parking lot adjacent to the Rainbow Softball Fields at Cosmopolitan Park.

Police Chief Ken Burton, through an assistant, declined to comment on the pending investigation.

At Wyse's direction, Porter and Williams re-created their interaction with the three officers at a Wednesday afternoon news conference in the same parking lot that the incident occurred.

The two said they were sitting in Williams' car at noon in the empty parking lot listening to rap music. Both had cans of beer, though Williams, who was sitting in the driver's seat, said he hadn't opened his.

Open container laws do not apply at the softball fields, and alcohol is routinely served during games. In any case, Wyse said the officers didn't complain about the men having beer.

Porter and Williams said they saw lights approaching and turned to see officers Jeff Forck, Matt Stephens and Scott Decker approaching them on motorcycles. The three officers stopped about 25 feet from the car, and Porter and Williams could hear them saying something. So they moved to turn down the loud music. They said the officers moved closer — to about 10 feet away — their guns still drawn and fingers on the triggers.

The two said they heard the officers shouting: "Don't move!" "Hands up!" "Don't do it.; It's not worth it!"

The officers asked Porter and Williams whether they had weapons or drugs, to which Williams said he responded that he had a registered .40-caliber gun in his car. The officers pulled both men from the car and handcuffed them. Williams said the officers also questioned him about a felony conviction he said he didn't have. (A search of Missouri did not reveal any felony convictions for Williams.)

Williams said he asked the officers to handcuff him gently, as he had recently suffered a wrist injury. But he said the officers didn't heed his request and injured his wrists, which required medical treatment later. Williams wore a wrist brace at the news conference, and Wyse noted that Williams footed the medical bills from the incident.

Porter was held for about 20 minutes and Williams for about an hour while the officers waited for a patrol car to transport them to the police department. But the two were released before other officers arrived.

Wyse said the officers cited suspicious behavior and Porter and Williams' failure to follow instructions as reasons for taking the actions in question. He said his lawsuit would allege Fourth and Fifth amendment violations and the officers' excessive use of force.

Wyse said that on Oct. 20, he requested an audio recording the officers made during the arrest but received a copy he couldn't play. He filed another request Monday but said he has yet to hear back from the department.

He said he wanted to "provide a human face to what's often a statistic" of what he suspected was racial profiling. Both Porter and William are black.

"I feel like if that was a couple of white men out here, this wouldn't have happened," Wyse said.

Porter and Williams agreed.

"I don't want to feel that way, but do you jump down on every two black people you see sitting in a car in a park?" Porter said. "I didn't feel like it was necessarily handled properly."

Wyse said he saw publicity about the incident as an opportunity to voice serious concerns he has with the department, which fired former Officer Rob Sanders for his use of force against a prisoner on Aug. 14 and is still investigating other instances of use of force.

"I think it's a moment to drive the point home," Wyse said. "But I would have done the same thing regardless of the moment within the department."

Wyse said he thinks the chief is "trying hard" to make changes but that the friction caused by other officers is slowing the process.

"I think this chief is trying to turn the corner, trying to get the department better connected to the community," Wyse said. "He's got a department that doesn't want to turn the corner. He's riding a bull, trying not to get thrown underneath."

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Steve Baumann November 10, 2011 | 12:37 p.m.

People complain about the crime then complain about the way law enforcement handles it.
And playing the racism card is oh so tiring....

(Report Comment)
Sarah Hill November 10, 2011 | 2:02 p.m.

Ok, consider yourself walking up to a car with two people in it (I DON'T CARE WHAT COLOR THEY ARE!). They are sitting in an empty parking lot, drinking beer at noon, with their music blaring. You have asked them to follow your commands, as you are yelling them to them b/c of the music. They do not follow them...whether they are choosing not to, or can't hear you b/c of the volume of the music, you don't know. Eventually, they turn down their music, you ask if they have weapons or drugs. They answer that they have a gun. What would you do? UH, YEAH I WOULD HANDCUFF THEM! THEY HAVE BEER IN THEIR HANDS AND A GUN IN THE CAR?????

Although a police officer's job description is to keep the community safe, they should also be keeping themselves safe! If they can't protect themselves, how can they protect us??? And, it sounds as if the officers thought this was or could be a suspect in a felony case, with a gun!

It's so easy for everyone to sit back and criticize our police officers and their actions. Before you do criticize, sit back and think, what if this was YOU or SOMEONE IN YOUR FAMILY? What if this was YOUR SON? YOUR HUSBAND? YOUR DAD? YOUR BROTHER? How would you have wanted them to handle it? Would you want them to just walk up on the car, and take the chance on this being THE situation where the person in the car DID turn that gun on the officers and start shooting? It makes me sick that someone is actually trying to fight for these guys. Are we just going to sit back and let another tragic incident like what happen to Officer Molly Bowden happen again before we realize that maybe, just maybe, we should trust our officers, and when they feel the need to protect themselves, let them do it?!?!

(Report Comment)
Sally Willis November 10, 2011 | 2:22 p.m.

This is such a joke! (Porter and Williams agreed) of course they agreed they want money! Here's my question Wyse said this wouldn't have happened if these men were not black, but if it did happen to two white men would Wyse still be trying to sue? Wyse wants to make money and this is a bogus way to do it. Any way to file suit. Instead of ambulance chaser lawyers now we have cop cruiser chasers! Get real.

(Report Comment)
Vince Powers November 10, 2011 | 8:12 p.m.

"Before you do criticize, sit back and think, what if this was YOU or SOMEONE IN YOUR FAMILY? What if this was YOUR SON? YOUR HUSBAND? YOUR DAD? YOUR BROTHER? How would you have wanted them to handle it?"

Gee. If it was someone in my family I would have wanted them to break his wrist!

(Report Comment)
Sally Willis November 11, 2011 | 2:11 p.m.

@ Vince Powers the didn't break his wris! He said his wrist was hurt. I'm sure the cuffs were not put on that tightly or he would have had marks left and anyone with any sense would have photographed those! If you want to have a case for excessive force you have to say the cuffs were to tight. And what were the silly cops thinking you pull up to a park (a place where children play) and see a car playing loud music (who cares if it was rap or clasical) two people sitting inside the car drinking alochol and one tells you he has a gun in the car...why on earth would these cops search this car?????????

(Report Comment)
mike mentor November 11, 2011 | 2:51 p.m.

You are worthless and weak !!!!
You are the kind that give ambulance chasers a bad name !!!
Sorry Missourian, but I couldn't help myself...

This is nothing more than an attempted money grab because of the recent publicity for CPD.

Word to the Wyse...
You are not supposed to be drinking beer in the front seat of a car. It is a felony to be drunk with a gun. Further contact was called for.

(Report Comment)

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