Durham PD releases videos countering excessive force claims
Posted May 20, 2014
Durham, N.C. — Countering claims of racial profiling and excessive use of force, Durham police on Tuesday released dash-cam video of an arrest to show the officer followed procedure when he took a bicyclist into custody.
John Hill was riding his bicycle in the area of Alston Avenue and Lawson Street on Sept. 28, 2013 when he was stopped by Durham Police Officer J.A. Daniels for running a red light. The video of the arrest does not include audio because Daniels did not place his microphone on his belt when he got out of his vehicle, but it shows Hill throwing his bicycle to the side and apparently arguing with the officer, who then calls for backup.
Daniels repeatedly asked Hill to sit on the curb in an attempt to defuse the situation, the department said.
“Mr. Hill refused to sit down on the curb or provide his identification, and kept his aggressive posture,” Durham police said in a statement. “Officer Daniels reached for Mr. Hill’s arm to place him into detention in order to gain control of the situation. Mr. Hill pulled away and officer Daniels immediately took him to the ground with a standard arm bar technique. This controlled technique is taught and approved by the North Carolina Justice Academy and the Durham Police Department.”
Hill was treated by paramedics for small cuts on his head and complained of no additional injuries, the department said. He was later charged with running a red light and resisting arrest.
Scott Holmes, Hill’s attorney, said the officer was too quick to use force.
“There’s nothing unlawful about arguing with a police officer,” he said. “You have a constitutional right to say ‘I didn’t run the red light, let’s go look at your video.’ We disagree it was an aggressive stance. He did nothing to provoke an excessive use of force. You can’t just slam someone to the ground because you don’t like what they’re saying or how they are standing.”
Durham County District Court Judge Marcia Morey agreed, dismissing Hill’s case on May 8.
“I don’t see that there was any reason for him to put his hands on him,” said Morey, according to a recording of the hearing provided by Holmes. “I didn’t see Mr. Hill get aggressive. There were no words that were spoken that we could hear. There is much inconsistency between what was testified to and what we saw on the video. Within really 60 seconds of this encounter, his arm was grabbed and he was slammed…slammed to the pavement. When you get slammed to the pavement and you are injured, you do move.”
Jon Blum, an instructor for the state Department of Justice and law enforcement expert who reviewed the video at the request of WRAL News, said while the officer has discretion in using of force, doing so can be questionable, even with video.
“Assuming the arrest is legitimate, the force does not appear to be unreasonable just looking at the video itself,” he said. “Video doesn’t always tell the whole story…given everything that’s been going on with Durham police with transparency and public perception, the question becomes what offensives are you really interested in taking enforcement action on. Is running a stop light on a bicycle tantamount to having the use of force to arrest somebody? It becomes an officer discretion thing, it becomes an agency culture. Where are your enforcement priorities? Lots of times these types of events don’t necessarily enhance the public perception. You have to weigh the pros and cons with every arrest.”
Hill filed a complaint against the department two months later, alleging he was knocked unconscious and his arm broken during the traffic stop. Neither was reflected in the videos provided by Durham police of the encounter and of Hill sitting in the back of a police vehicle. Hill refused to provide any paperwork of his injuries, Durham police said.
“Officer Daniels’ original intent was to provide a verbal warning to Mr. Hill about operating his bicycle in a safe manner,” the department said. “Mr. Hill can be heard on the video from an officer’s in-car camera saying that the officer told him that if he had just talked with the officer, the officer would have let him go.”
Holmes’ claims come less than a month after the Durham Human Relations Commission released a report determining that racial bias exists within the Durham Police Department. The review was requested by Durham Mayor Bill Bell in October after a series of highly publicized incidents, including the shooting of a 26-year-old man at a downtown Durham plaza.
The report listed 34 recommendations, including:
- Implementing diversity, mental health and crisis intervention training for new police recruits and enhancing training for current officers
- Changing police department policy that allows officers to disable cameras installed in patrol vehicles
- Requiring police officers to clearly communicate to citizens the purpose for their interactions
In an Oct. 31 report to Durham City Manager Tom Bonfield, the department said it doesn't deny that racial bias might exist among some officers, but it denies "the existence of any pattern, practice, culture or tolerance for bias-based policing."
“There is as much racial bias in the police department as there is in any organization," Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez said at the time. "If we discover it, we work to address it."
Holmes believes the practice may be widespread within the department.
“We believe they use force and they conduct searches against people of color at a higher rate than other people,” he said.