Two police officers in Kansas City, Mo., have been indicted on assault charges after they were caught on video using what critics say was excessive force while trying to arrest a transgender woman.
The officers, Matthew Brummett, 37, and Charles Prichard, 47, were charged with fourth-degree assault for their actions when attempting to restrain and handcuff 30-year-old Breona Hill last year.
Prosecutors allege that the video, shot by a passerby on his cell phone, shows the two officers slamming Hill’s face against the concrete sidewalk and kneeing her in the face, torso and ribs at various points during the arrest.
According to the indictment, the officers were called to the scene on May 24, 2019, after Hill became involved in a dispute with the owner of a beauty supply store. The owner phoned police to ask that Hill be removed from the premises.
Prosecutors say Hill allegedly flung slurs and insults at the store owner, and the officers decided to arrest her, charging her with trespassing, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and possession of drug paraphernalia.
The officers later claimed she resisted arrest, and was wrestled to the ground as they attempted to restrain her. Hill was later taken to Truman Medical Center and treated for injuries, including a cut above her right eye and bruises on the left side of her face, reports NBC News.
Hill was later killed in an unrelated shooting in October — becoming the 22nd known transgender or gender-nonconforming person fatally injured in an act of violence in 2019. A suspect has since been charged in that case.
The bystander who filmed Hill’s arrest, Roderick Reed, said he was driving by when he saw an officer punch a woman, prompting him to grab his cell phone and start filming. Reed says he saw Brummett and Prichard kneeling on Hill while Brummett slammed her face into the ground twice. Prosecutors say Hill can be heard moaning and crying in pain, and asking for help. They also claim the actions caught on video don’t match with the officers’ statements about the arrest.
Audio from the cell phone video captures Prichard threatening to take Reed’s phone as evidence and saying Reed is going to get “a ticket,” according to the charging documents. Reed was later cited for allegedly interfering with Hill’s arrest and blocking traffic.
Jean Peters Baker, the Jackson County prosecutor, released a statement saying her officer was required to place the case as to whether the officers used excessive force before the grand jury because the Kansas City Police Department declined to cooperate with her office by refusing to provide probable cause statements concerning why the officers decided to arrest Hill. The police department ultimately decided not to pursue criminal charges against the officers following an internal investigation.
“This case is particularly disappointing that my office was prevented from filing the charge independent of a grand jury,” Baker said in a statement.
Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith noted in a statement to local NBC affiliate KSHB that the officers have been placed on “administrative assignment until the outcome of the proceedings,” adding that investigators had found “no probable cause” to conclude the officers broke the law.
Lawyers for the officers said in a statement that their clients were innocent and had fully cooperated with the department during the investigation.
“They maintain that the force they used was reasonable under the totality of the circumstances,” the lawyers said. “They vehemently dispute the basis of these charges and believe they will be ultimately exonerated in court.”
Brad Lemon, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 99, issued a statement accusing Peters Baker of pursuing “a politically motivated prosecution that is unfortunately becoming all too commonplace across our country.” He also claimed Hill “purposefully struck her head against the concrete” and said the charges against the officers were “unjustified.”
But David Smith, a lawyer for Hill’s family, said that Reed’s video footage proves the officers used excessive force and questioned the sufficiency of the department’s internal investigation.
“The police investigate their own incidents with no outside agency involved,” Smith told The New York Times. “The community is in uproar over this. All you have to do is watch the video. A picture speaks a thousand words, but a video speaks two thousand.”
Brummett and Prichard are next scheduled to appear in court in August. If convicted of the fourth-degree assault charge, they could face up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000.
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