ATLANTA – Desmond Marrow rejoiced when the officer he said choked him during an arrest was fired soon after a video of the encounter went viral. But now his lawyers say police and elected officials initially tried to cover up any wrongdoing.
Henry County police arrested Marrow on Dec. 2 while responding to reports of a road rage situation. After video of the arrest circulated widely online in April, lawyers for Marrow called for the officers involved to be fired and for criminal charges against Marrow to be dropped.
In the one-minute video clip, officers can be seen forcefully taking a handcuffed Marrow to the ground by sweeping his legs out from under him as he yells, "I'm not even fighting back." When he's on the ground, an officer puts his hand on Marrow's throat for several seconds and Marrow says, "I can't breathe," while another officer tells him to settle down.
Police Chief Mark Amerman announced a couple of weeks later that an internal affairs investigation had found that officer David Rose used unnecessary force and also was recorded on his in-car video camera system saying he had choked Marrow and didn't plan to include that in his report. Rose was fired.
The same day, Henry County District Attorney Darius Pattillo said no felony charges would be brought against Marrow and that misdemeanor charges would be turned over to the county solicitor general for review.
Marrow and his lawyers were thrilled.
"We're happy that this chief stepped forward and is holding the officer who choked Desmond accountable and getting him off the force," attorney L. Chris Stewart told The Associated Press at the time.
But it was all a sham, Stewart said Monday.
"We saluted that department for taking immediate action because it's so rare," Stewart told reporters. "Sadly, that wasn't the truth of what happened."
In a lawsuit filed Monday in Henry County State Court, Marrow's lawyers said the officers violated his rights and that police and elected officials covered that up.
County spokeswoman Melissa Robinson said in an email that the county doesn't comment on pending litigation.
A full internal affairs investigation had already been done days after the arrest, according to a report dated Dec. 7 that Marrow's attorneys obtained through an open records request. Then-Major Mike Ireland writes that he reviewed Rose's in-car video, a second video shot by a citizen, 911 calls, witness statements and the officers' reports.
Ireland, since promoted to deputy chief, found that the officers complied with policy. The placement of Rose's hand on Marrow's neck "does not appear to be intentional," the report says.
Emails show officials worried about potential protests and the county's reputation in the wake of the arrest and wanted to sweep it under the rug, Stewart said.
"It almost went away. It went away for four months," Stewart said, referencing the time between the arrest and the video surfacing online.
Capt. Joseph Smith wrote in a second internal affairs report dated May 4 that Rose can be heard on dashcam video telling fellow officer Matt Donaldson, "I'm not gonna write it down but hell yeah, I choked that (expletive)."
Rose didn't deny saying that but said he didn't remember and that it must have been said "in the bravado of the situation," the report says. Donaldson told Smith his attention was divided and that if Rose said that, "it went in one ear and out the other."
The police and elected officials named in the lawsuit were all "fully aware of the false report created by Defendant Ireland and the dash cam audio which captured Defendants Rose and Donaldson planning to hide their use of excessive force," the lawsuit says.
"You don't do two investigations for the same incident and then hide one and release the other one because you got caught covering for the officer. That's just wrong," Stewart said.
Henry County Solicitor General Pam Bettis on Thursday charged Marrow with misdemeanor obstruction of officers, reckless driving and aggressive driving and a disorderly conduct county ordinance violation.
Bettis told the AP she convened a citizen panel to review the charges, an unusual step prompted by the high-profile and divisive nature of the case. The panel met for four hours and agreed with all the charges.
Marrow's attorneys said they notified the county in mid-July that they had uncovered a conspiracy to cover up the use of force and the initial investigation. They called the charges filed last week "a clear attempt to silence Mr. Marrow."
Bettis said she didn't want anyone to be silenced.
Marrow played football at the University of Toledo in Ohio but wasn't drafted out of college. He signed a contract in 2012 with the Houston Texans but was cut during preseason. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers picked him up but he didn't make the team.