BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – A police chief who said his officers received death threats after being accused on social media of beating a suspect and throwing him off a bridge in Alabama answered with the best weapon he had: body camera video.
Rainbow City Police Chief Jonathon Horton said he knew he had to act when claims about his officers mistreating a man began showing up on Facebook and spread quickly. A woman who identified herself as the mother of the man's children posted that he was "beat half to death" by Rainbow City police and pushed off a bridge Thursday night.
"We'd received more than 100 messages threatening to do all sorts of things, rape and kill our wives and children and launch an all-out war on police," Horton said in an interview Monday. "It was pretty crazy stuff."
While body cameras have come into use as a way to monitor police behavior, Horton decided to use it for another purpose: to show there was no wrongdoing on the part of his officers. Horton posted a 30-plus minute video on the Police Department's Facebook page that showed officers talking to Jonathan Dawon Davis, 29, during a traffic stop.
Davis was wanted on felony warrants for a drug-related charge and a probation revocation, and a misdemeanor warrant for driving with a suspended license, Horton said.
Told that officers knew who he was, the man bolted and jumped off a bridge over a creek, the video showed. The video showed officers later under the bridge assisting the man, who had a bloody mouth and screamed in agony about a broken leg.
Horton said officers neither prompted the man to jump nor struck him, but they did use a stun gun on Davis when they first located him along a creek bank under the bridge because he was still trying to get away.
The woman whose original message sparked the threats later posted that all she had to go on was a loved one's word "until the body cam was released."
"I truly believed he was done wrong and we needed help. Excuse me for being human." There was no response to a message left on Facebook seeking comment.
Davis was charged with using a false identification to obstruct justice, resisting arrest and attempting to elude, Horton said. Currently hospitalized for a broken leg, busted teeth and other injuries suffered in the fall, he will be jailed later.
A woman who was in the car with Davis was charged with resisting arrest for allegedly trying to hide Davis' identity from police, Horton said, and officers are researching whether charges are possible against the woman whose Facebook post prompted threats.
Horton said the wave of threats toward officers stopped after the video was posted, and he hopes the worst is over.
While police critics and advocates seeking better oversight of law enforcement have pushed for bodycam videos to help prevent abuses by police, Horton said video may actually help both his officers and police elsewhere.
"I'd hate for some guy to get radicalized and think it was true and take it out on some poor cop somewhere else," Horton said. "That was the real thing that pushed me to do it."