Disturbing footage shows a Minnesota jail officer punching and kneeing a handcuffed black man who can be heard pleading for his life as other officers restrain him.
On Monday, Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher released video of the 2016 incident, which happened before his term.
Travis VanDeWiele pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct last month and has resigned his post after footage shows him viciously assaulting Mr. Johnson.
The suspect, Terrell James Johnson, 24, complained the officer used excessive force while restraining him.
VanDeWiele had been a Ramsey County sheriff’s correctional officer since 2014. He has been on paid administrative leave for the last two years.
VanDeWiele is one of about five officers seen removing Johnson from a St. Paul police squad car at the Ramsey County jail after he was arrested on a theft charge.
In the footage, VanDeWiele tells him: ‘You can either step out or I’m going to drag you out, those are your options.
According to the charges against VanDeWiele, Johnson had been sprayed with a chemical agent and his mouth is covered with a spit-guard mask.
He is handcuffed with his pants around his ankles. In the video, Johnson is lifted into a wheelchair-like ‘transport chair’ after he falls to the ground limp.
He is seen pushed by one deputy and then pulled by another as they try to strap him into the chair.
VanDeWiele repeatedly orders Johnson to sit back as the suspect’s hips remain raised.
Another officer can be heard saying in the background: ‘If he doesn’t sit back use pain compliance on him. ‘You’re choking [me].’
The video then shows VanDeWiele kneeing Johnson twice in the stomach, causing Johnson to protest and call all five officers ‘pigs.
Johnson screams out: ‘I’m sitting the f**k back, I’m sitting the f**k back, don’t hit me in my knees.’
The video was filmed by an ‘acting or temporary’ correctional sergeant on duty when the incident happened in April 2016.
In a statement, Fletcher called the video ‘extremely disturbing’ and said he is making changes, including appointing a new detention superintendent to oversee the jail.
‘The conduct captured on the video will not be tolerated under my watch,’ the sheriff said.
This week’s video release came after a lengthy legal case for VanDeWiele. A sheriff’s office employee raised concerns about the incident, and authorities from nearby Washington County were asked to investigate.
When Johnson accuses the officers of using excessive force, VanDeWiele responds: ‘You ain’t seen excessive force yet.’
VanDeWiele is then seen punching him repeatedly in the stomach as other officers hold his head and neck in position.
Another officer tells him: ‘If you stop fighting, we’ll stop using force against you.’
‘Please don’t kill me. Please don’t kill me, I’m sorry,’ Johnson pleads in the video.
He can also be heard crying out in pain as deputies push his head into his lap. He eventually is secured in the chair and wheeled into jail. Johnson pleaded guilty to one count of theft in August 2016.
Prosecutors from that county did not file felony charges. The case was then sent to Minneapolis prosecutors for review and VanDeWiele was charged with misdemeanors in February 2017.
The case’s end was followed by an internal affairs investigation. VanDeWiele agreed to resign last week, and Fletcher – who was elected sheriff in November – moved to release the video.
The St. Paul branch of the NAACP and other organizations condemned ‘the horrific, racist and discriminatory treatment’ of Johnson.
County commissioners on Tuesday spent time discussing the incident and its effects on the community.
Ramsey County Board Chairman Jim McDonough said ‘the racial dynamics’ are alarming of ‘a white officer acting upon a black male with a group of predominantly white officers present.’
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter called the actions shown in the video ‘torture.’
‘We can’t separate the individual actions from the law enforcement culture that allowed him to feel like it was OK to do that and that allowed several deputies to stand around and watch it take place,’ Carter said.
Bob Fletcher told CBS Minnesota that there have been and will be more changes, including additional training and the hiring of more supervisors.
In a court filing, VanDeWiele’s attorney wrote that prosecutors did not produce any evidence that the officer ‘used unreasonable force to gain the compliance of an uncooperative inmate.’
County commissioners said Tuesday they’ll do whatever it takes to prevent a recurrence.
‘We do take this seriously – very seriously – and need to do everything that we can to correct this to make sure something like this does not happen again,’ Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt said.
Commissioner Toni Carter added: ‘There is a strand of Jim Crow-like culture that continues to exist even into this very day.’
Members of the African American Leadership Council and the St. Paul NAACP stood in solidarity with current Ramsey County sheriff to denounce the treatment of Johnson by deputies.
‘What happened to Terrell Johnson is a tragedy and no human being should be treated in that manner,’ said Tyrone Terrell, President of the African American Leadership Council.
When Vandewiele resigns with no discipline on February 28, he will be given almost $10,000 in vacation and sick time, CBS Minnesota reported.
For the two years he was on paid administrative leave, Vandewiele collected more than $120,000 in salary.