Police overseer: ‘I believe … these boys got the crap kicked out of them’
By JIM WALLS
Oct. 15, 2010 — An Atlanta police officer should lose three days’ pay for strip-searching a college student who had alleged an earlier beating by his partner, a citizen oversight panel said Thursday.
The Atlanta Citizen Review Board recommended a three-day suspension for Officer Victor Guevara for the March 20 incident involving complainant Trenton Boyd.
The panel said it could not corroborate a complaint of excessive force against Guevara and his partner, R. Pettis, for the earlier incident, in which Boyd sustained fractures of two facial bones. Boyd alleged that Pettis and other members of APD’s Red Dog unit beat him and a friend on Jan. 29 without provocation, while Pettis said Boyd had resisted arrest and reached for his service weapon.
“It’s unfathomable to me that this kid would do anything like that. … It makes no sense whatsoever,” board member Rod Edmond said. “I believe in my heart of hearts these boys got the crap kicked out of them.”
Nevertheless, said Edmond, a lawyer, the board’s investigation could not prove police misconduct in the earlier incident: “This case smells, but we can’t create the facts of the case.”
Other board members did not comment on Edmond’s characterization of the case.
Boyd said he was getting a ride to school when Red Dog officers pulled over his friend’s car Jan. 29. The driver let down his window three-quarters of the way, but refused Pettis’s request to open it all the way, then sped off after he pulled his nightstick and “began to yell that he was about to bust the window,” Boyd said.
The officers chased them down within a couple minutes and, with guns drawn, ordered him and the driver to lie on the ground, Boyd said:
“We both complied immediately. Then in the next minute, we were surrounded by 5-6 Red Dog officers, who began to assault me with several blows to the face as well as kicks to the face. Then an officer lifted me up while another officer … gave me a final kick to my chest as if he was kicking a door open.”
Officers took Boyd to an EMT and then to Grady Hospital for medical attention after he told them he had a heart condition and complained of chest pains. He told investigators later that he’d had open-heart surgery as a child.
Pettis admitted striking Boyd numerous times in the face and chest because he was resisting arrest and attempting to get his gun, CRB investigator Sheena Robertson said. Guevara said he saw Boyd reach for the gun but little else of the struggle because he was occupied with subduing the driver, she said.
Officers initially pulled over the car because the driver failed to use his left-turn signal. The driver said he sped off because “he had dealt with Red Dog officers in the past and he was just afraid they were going to do something to him,” Robertson said. He told her the Red Dog unit “was known for beating people.”
Police charged Boyd with obstructing an officer and attempting to remove the weapon of a public official. He pleaded guilty as a first offender when the charges were reduced to misdemeanors. He told Robertson he was innocent but pleaded guilty so he wouldn’t have a felony record that could ruin his career.
Boyd filed a complaint with the Citizen Review Board on March 15. Five days later, he said, he and a friend were driving past a restaurant when his friend, who was behind the wheel, nearly collided with a car full of Red Dog officers. Boyd said he made eye contact with one officer, at which point the patrol car stopped abruptly and Guevara jumped out:
“He ran toward me as I was approaching the door to enter the cafe. At this point I tried to continue into the restaurant and Officer [Guevera] detained me and began strip searching me in front of the door. … I repeatedly asked him to stop touching me and repeatedly asked why was he searching me. Then another officer began to assist in the search and told me to calm down and asked why my heart was beating so fast if I had nothing on me.”
Robertson said the wife of the restaurant’s owner witnessed the incident, but none of the officers in the car could recall the stop. Officers are required to document all stops with a radio call and a notation on their daily activity sheets, but Robertson said she could find no record of the incident.
Maj. Elder Dancy, commander of APD’s Office of Professional Standards, sat throughout the board’s Thursday meeting, occasionally taking notes. OPS’ investigation of the alleged beating is still open.
Police Chief George Turner also attended Thursday’s meeting to pledge his cooperaton with the review board.
“I hope we can get to a place where we can be very transparent throughout our investigations,” Turner said, “so we can provide oversight of police that the citizens expect and that they deserve.”