Danville man alleges police brutality

June 30, 2004|TODD KLEFFMAN

A Danville man who was beaten by city police officers while being arrested Monday says the officers used excessive force taking an innocent man into custody.

"It wasn't right. All of this was for nothing, man. I didn't do anything," said Robin "Robbie" Houston. "And I want to get paid for it."

This morning inside his Parkside East apartment, Houston groaned with pain as he showed off his bruises and recounted his arrest. One officer struck several blows with a metal baton, another blasted him with chemical spray, and two others punched and kneed him in the parking lot outside his apartment, Houston said. He was wearing a neck brace for whiplash that he said occurred when an officer rammed into another vehicle while trying to take him to jail.

"It was like a Rodney King thing," said Kathy Houston, who was among about a dozen people who witnessed her husband's arrest at Parkside East Apartments. "They were all over him, kicking and hitting him. It was just terrible the way they did him."


Houston, 43, was charged with four counts of second-degree assault, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and criminal mischief. Along with assaulting officers, he also is accused of breaking a window of a police cruiser. He was released from jail Tuesday afternoon on a $500 cash bond after the Rev. William Jenkins of St. James AME Church and others appealed to Boyle District Judge Jeff Dotson to reduce his bail from $40,000.

Danville Assistant Police Chief Jay Newell said the officers, who were responding to a call about a man with a gun, said that Houston was the aggressor and attacked the officers as they were trying to search him. Four officers suffered minor injuries in the incident. No weapon was recovered.

Police received an anonymous 911 call about 2:15 p.m. Monday that a black male with a gun, possibly with the last name of Houston, was in the Parkside East parking lot. Sgt. Tony Gray and Officer Jonathan Courtwright were first to arrive and found two men sitting a car registered to a "Houston subject," according to Houston's arrest citation.

Accounts diverge over what happened

Both police and witnesses agree that the two men, Houston and Andre Burns, complied with the officers' requests to step out of the car to be searched for weapons. The accounts diverge, however, over what happened next.

According to the arrest citation written by Officer Sally Bustle, "when Officer Courtwright began to pat down (Houston), he attempted to strike Officer Courtwright. I also tried to take control and he began yelling and cussing. We all attempted to take control and subject began to fight. Subject grabbed Sgt. Gray, threw elbows into officer Courtwright, grabbed me on the arms and pushed me. When Officer (Todd) Davis arrived, subject was still fighting and scratched Officer Davis. All officers held down subject and finally got cuffs on. All officers had numerous cuts, scrapes and bruises."

Houston disputed that version. He said that during the search he turned quickly on Courtwright because he thought the officer was trying to handcuff him but did not swing at the officer. Court-wright responded by trying to tackle him, Houston said.

"I turned around and told him 'I don't have no gun. You don't have to do this. I'm not doing anything" and he grabbed me and then it was on," Houston said." The only thing I was doing was trying to protect myself."

Houston, Burns, Kathy Houston and other witnesses all said they screamed at the officers to stop, that they "had the wrong man," to no avail. Davis drew his telescoping baton and struck Houston several times across the legs and shoulders, and Bustle sprayed him with Mace, witnesses said. Even after Houston was cuffed and on the ground, the officers continued to hit him, Houston and others said.

"It was like four roaches fighting over a crumb," said Matanza Robinson, Houston's daughter, who witnessed the incident. "They were beatin' and Macein' an innocent man."

Newell declined to comment on accounts supplied by Houston and others.

"I'm not going to engage in a street corner debate over what they're saying and what the officers are saying," Newell said. "There are procedures in place to deal with that and I'm not going to speculate."

Officers were on "heightened alert" because gun was reported

Newell did say that the officers were on "heightened alert" because they were responding to a call reporting a gun in a densely populated area. The officers' first concern was on making sure no weapon was present, he said.

"They treat that kind of call with officer safety and public safety in mind," Newell said.

No disciplinary action has been taken against any of the officers, Newell said. The department automatically reviews any situation when an officer uses force, he said, and such a review is under way.

Houston said he was meeting with local NAACP leaders this morning to get advice about hiring a lawyer and how to pursue criminal and civil cases against the officers. He said he plans to file a grievance with the city as soon as possible.

Jenkins, who has been the Houstons' pastor for several years, described Houston as a quiet, low-key person who minds his own business and has never been in trouble with the law. A check of court records in Boyle County showed Houston only has been charged with speeding in 1993.

"We wouldn't be involved in this if we didn't think highly of that young man," said Jenkins, who helped raise Houston's bail money. "They had to provoke him. He's not the type to go out and jump people. I don't believe this was a racial incident. The police were just over zealous. The level of professionalism from the police was lacking in this situation."

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