DALLAS – A white east Texas police officer's suspension for slamming a black handcuffed suspect face first onto the hood of a squad car has been reversed by an arbitrator who determined the officer's actions were reasonable.
Examiner Harold E. Moore determined that Officer Jeremy Massey was maintaining custody of 18-year-old Cornelius Gill while protecting himself as three others came toward him during the Nov. 11 arrest.
The arrest sparked outrage in racially charged Paris, about 90 miles northeast of Dallas, where the Nation of Islam and the New Black Panther Party led protests last year after murder charges were dropped against two white defendants accused of fatally striking a black man with a pickup truck.
The ruling — issued last Friday and made public this week — means the Paris Police Department must restore income to Massey, who was suspended earlier this year for two days without pay. Also, the suspension will not be a part of Massey's personnel file, leaving the 11-year veteran with a clean record.
Paris Police Chief Bob Hundley did not immediately respond to messages left by The Associated Press on Thursday. Gill's attorney also did not immediately return a message.
"We are obviously happy with the result," said Chris Barrett, Massey's attorney. "We got a well-reasoned and thought-out decision from the arbitrator."
Brenda Cherry, head of Paris civil rights group Concerned Citizens for Racial Equality, said the ruling sends a message to local police that they can do whatever they want.
"What's going to stop the officer from doing that again and again? It makes me fearful," she said.
Video from a dashboard camera shows a squad car pulling up to the site of Gill's Nov. 10 roadside arrest. Massey, who is wearing sunglasses, a cowboy hat and is not in uniform, is standing alongside his unmarked pickup truck holding a handcuffed Gill.
The instant the squad car pulls to a stop, the 6-foot-3 officer slams Gill, who is 5-foot-4 and weighs 136 pounds, into the hood. Gill's upper chest and the side of his face appear to take the brunt of the impact. Gill's companion starts yelling in protest.
What happened in the two to three minutes before the arrival of the squad car and its dashboard camera is in dispute.
Gill's attorney, Sharon Reynerson, said her client was picking pecans he hoped to sell to buy diapers for his child when Massey drove up to ask about some area car thefts. Gill declined to discuss the thefts and began cursing at Massey, who arrested him for disorderly conduct.
Barrett said Massey was facing four people alone. Gill was with his brother and at least one other man. When Massey arrested Gill because of his cursing, Gill's companions briefly left the scene and returned with a third individual.
Gill was trying to pull away from Massey while his companions advanced on the officer in the moments before the squad car arrived, Barrett said.
The dashcam video was released after Concerned Citizens for Racial Equality filed an open records request. It was one of the latest incidents to spark outrage in the town.
"We're already in a bad situation here in Paris, and this just make it worse," Cherry said.
In April, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found black workers in Paris employed by a Louisiana-based oil-services company were taunted with racial slurs and nooses in the workplace and routinely were denied promotions.
Last year, hundreds of black protesters led by the Nation of Islam and the New Black Panther Party marched in Paris after the murder charges were dropped in the pickup truck case. They were met by a small group of whites carrying Nazi flags and claiming associations with the Ku Klux Klan.
In 2007, a black girl in Paris was sentenced to up to seven years in a juvenile prison for shoving a teacher's aide at school, while a white girl was sentenced by the same judge to probation for burning down her parents' house. The disparity in sentencing drew widespread attention.