DALLAS – A white east Texas police officer shown on dashboard camera video slamming a black handcuffed suspect face first onto the hood of a squad car has appealed his two-day unpaid suspension, officials said Friday.
The arrest was the latest incident to spark 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 video shows a squad car pulling up to the site of a Nov. 10 roadside arrest. Paris Police Officer Jeremy Massey, who is wearing sunglasses, a cowboy hat and is not in uniform, is standing alongside his unmarked pickup truck holding a handcuffed suspect, 18-year-old Cornelius Gill.
The instant the squad car pulls to a stop, Massey 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.
"We believe the use of force is reasonable," said Chris Barrett, Massey's attorney. "I know it's easier to look at the three seconds where Jeremy puts Gill on the car, but that would be grossly unfair to Officer Massey."
Massey is an 11-year-veteran of the Paris Police Department and has an otherwise clean record. He appealed his suspension during a two-day hearing before an independent arbitrator in June, Barrett said Friday. A decision is expected by the end of next week.
The suspension followed an internal affairs investigation that ended in February, Chief Bob Hundley said.
"Putting the individual on the patrol car to make sure he won't escape — I didn't have an issue with that," Hundley said. "What I had an issue with is the amount of force he used when he put him on the hood of the car."
According to Lamar County court records, Gill pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of criminal mischief and resisting arrest and no contest to misdemeanor assault causing bodily injury in connection with the incident. He was sentenced to 100 days in the Lamar County Jail and a fine of $285.
Gill, who was a high school senior when he was arrested, did not graduate because he had missed so much class time, said his attorney, Sharon Reynerson.
"Now he's a high school dropout," Reynerson said. "I just don't get it."
What happened in the two to three minutes before the arrival of the squad car and its dashboard camera is in dispute.
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.
"Cornelius refused to talk to him, and the officer said he used a cuss word," said Brenda Cherry, the head of a Paris civil rights group called Concerned Citizens for Racial Equality.
Barrett said his client was dealing with "a very volatile, dynamic, unknown situation."
Gill was with his brother and at least one other man, Barrett said. When Massey arrested Gill on a disorderly conduct charge because of his cursing, Gill's companions briefly left the scene and returned with a third individual.
"Now it is a 4-on-1 situation," said Barrett, adding that the handcuffed Gill kept trying to pull away from Massey.
Around that time is when a second officer, in uniform, shows up in a marked squad car.
"He was attempting to secure Gill on the car and turn around quickly," Barrett said.
Cherry, with the civil rights group, said Friday that Massey's two-day suspension was not enough.
"It's just another example of the different ways black people are treated, and we have been complaining about it for years," she 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.
Police dashboard camera video posted by Concerned Citizens for Racial Equality, http://bit.ly/9zpDx6