AKRON, Ohio — The Akron Police Department disputed the claim that an officer put a knee on the neck of a man while arresting him during a domestic violence dispute in February, but the department did denounce the officer's act of shoving snow into the man's face repeatedly, calling it "not appropriate." The attorney for the man who claimed the officer put a knee to his neck said his client felt like his airway was being restricted.
In a Thursday press conference, Akron police released body-worn videos to show the moments before and after Charles Hicks II, 26, was arrested on Feb. 7, following an alleged domestic violence incident in which police say he threatened his significant other with a knife.
According to News 5’s media partner the Akron Beacon Journal, Eddie Sipplen, attorney for Hicks, said former Akron police officer John Turnure, who resigned during the investigation, put his knee on his client’s neck and pushed snow down his throat.
“I just felt like they was trying to kill me,” Hicks said. “It was one of the scariest moments of my life," he told the Akron Beacon Journal.
The bodycam videos released by police do not appear to show an officer placing a knee on Hicks' neck.
At one point in the video, snow is gathered and placed onto Hicks’ face three different times. After airing the video, police said the arrest was textbook up until when Turnure shoved snow in Hicks' face.
“This tactic was not supported by the circumstances and is not trained by the Akron Police Department. We moved to hold the officer accountable for this act,” said acting police chief Mike Caprez.
During the arrest, Caprez said his officers used their body weight to pin the suspect's legs, hips and shoulders to the ground to decrease the opportunity for injury.
Caprez said the statements from Hicks’ attorney do not match what the department learned in its investigation, pointing out that the officer’s knee comes into view when Hicks was on his back.
When Hicks finally caught his breath, he told officers, “Yes, sir. I can’t breathe.”
The use of force investigation comes nine months after George Floyd was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis. The officer, Derek Chauvin, who knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes, is now on trial for his death.
“Evidence of a knee on Mr. Hicks' neck is not apparent, but we acknowledge this is a legitimate fear in the community,” Caprez said.
Caprez did say the department believes it “was likely” that Turnure blocked Hicks’ airway.
Sipplen, who spoke to News 5 on the phone after Thursday's news conference, said his client is an “All-American kid” in the U.S. Army Reserve, with no criminal record prior to the February incident.
“What the press conference today was, (it) was the City of Akron’s attempt to get their narrative out of what happened,” Sipplen said. “Part of their playbook is to demonize the defendant.
“Whether the knee was on his neck or not, my client felt his airway being restricted. They are trying to distance themselves from George Floyd.
"This officer’s actions put my client’s life in jeopardy. He should be charged."
Caprez said an internal investigation started the same night of Hicks' arrest, calling it normal for the department to start an investigation internally after a use of force incident.
"As public servants, we answer to you, our city," he said. "We know our work is rightly under scrutiny. The only way we can move forward as a community is with transparency, accountability and some mutual understanding. We hope the release of these clips and more will prove that we are diligent in our process."
When asked if the arresting protocols were up to standard, aside from when the snow was used, Caprez said yes.
"As you saw from the deescalation through the entire incident, up to the point where the snow was used, we were textbook. We communicated with each other, we acted as a team, and we used this little amount of force as we could to effect the arrest. We did everything right up until that point," said Caprez.
Sipplen said he is planning to continue to pursue justice for his client and is expecting “unedited or unmodified information from the city."
”Give us complete transparency. Don't tell us what you want us to hear or show us what you want to show us,” Sipplen said. “They saw what he did was wrong. Now they have to make the determination of how they are going to handle their officer’s purposeful restriction of my client’s airway... of trying to inflict serious bodily harm and/or kill my client.”
The Fraternal Order of Police said Turnure made the decision to resign for various personal and professional reasons.
"The Fraternal Order of Police, Akron Lodge 7 takes issue with some in the media who have portrayed former Officer Jon Turnure’s resignation was an admission of wrongdoing and not following the Akron Police Department use of force procedure. Nothing could be further from the truth. When Officer Turnure made the decision to resign it was for various personal and professional reasons. Some of the same reasons police officers including police chiefs across the country are taking early retirement. The same reasons police departments across the country are having difficulty hiring and retaining officers.
The use of force by Officer Turnure, must be judged using an objective reasonableness standard. Objective versus subjective – examining the officer’s intent. Reasonableness – is incapable of precise definition and is a range of reasonableness. The question is, would a reasonably prudent and well-trained officer have done what Officer Turnure did in those exact same circumstances. The use of force must be judged at the moment, based on whether perceptions were reasonable, and the totality of the circumstances faced by Officer Turnure – the suspect was 6 foot tall and 200 lbs., was muscular, under the influence of alcohol, he had been involved in a domestic violence incident wherein he had threatened his girlfriend with a knife, he made threats that officers would have to kill him, and resisted arrest until such time he was forcibly taken down to the snow covered ground, and later handcuffed. According to case law and APD policy, force is not to be judged in the 20/20 vision of hindsight. Further, Officer Turnure’s need not use the least intrusive option available."
Read the full statement from FOP on behalf of Turnure HERE.
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