COLUMBIA — A special prosecutor has charged former Columbia police officer Rob Sanders with third-degree assault for pushing a suspect in a police holding cell.
Special prosecutor Mike Fusselman filed the charge in Boone County Circuit Court on Friday, nearly one year after the police department released a security video showing Sanders pushing a man being held in the jail cell. Sanders could face up to one year in jail for the misdemeanor.
Police Chief Ken Burton fired Sanders, an 18-year police department veteran, for use of excessive force in September. He said at the time that officers pepper-sprayed Kenneth Baker while he resisted arrest on two outstanding felonies, and thought Baker was asking for water just before Sanders forcefully pushed him, according to a previous Missourian report.
Baker’s attorney, Ron Netemeyer, requested access to the security tapes, and Burton then called for an investigation.
Documents supporting the charge filed by Fusselman, prosecutor for Randolph County, cited the police video from the holding cell incident. The video “shows officer Sanders abruptly shoving” Baker “backwards, causing” him “to fall and strike the back of his head, neck or back against the far wall,” according to the probable cause statement filed in Boone County Circuit Court.
Though not specified in the report, Netemeyer previously said Baker suffered a fractured vertebra and permanent back injury. The city paid Baker $250,000 to settle a civil lawsuit in December that arose from his injuries and medical bills.
Fusselman filed the charge 360 days after the holding cell incident, five days before the statute of limitations deadline. Fusselman could not be reached for comment as of Monday evening.
Kevin Ahlbrand, state president of the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police, said on Monday that he was shocked at the timing and degree of the charge.
“To take 360 days to decide a case like this is utterly preposterous,” Ahlbrand said. “It’s unheard of. The statute runs out in a year. For them to issue the charge five days short of that is very strange. Normally, a misdemeanor case even in something sensitive would take no more than a week.”
The Fraternal Order of Police will continue efforts to support Sanders in appealing his termination as well as in the criminal proceedings, Ahlbrand said.
“I think the evidence is clear that there was no assault,” he said. "We suspect this person’s injury came from something else.”
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.