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Body Cam Footage Conflicts with Social Media Posts on Claxton Use of Force Incident

An incident in the City of Claxton from last week has drawn the ire of some Evans County citizens after a man was arrested for felony obstruction of a law enforcement officer.

An incident in the City of Claxton from last week has drawn the ire of some Evans County citizens after a man was arrested for felony obstruction of a law enforcement officer.

Reports from neighbors alleging ‘excessive force by police,’ a man’s act of self-defense while ‘getting hit and a unpaid traffic ticket,’ and a pattern of poor behavior from several law enforcement officers spread like wildfire over the weekend, prompting at least three individuals to contact the media. Community members expressed outrage over the response to a call that started as a reported assault and ended with an obstruction charge, a charge they now say was unnecessary. 

Community members took to social to raise awareness about the incident and plead for financial help after reportedly learning that unsettled citations, which led to a warrant, would have to be paid before the county jail would address the bond matter. Friends ultimately raised $500 in donations to pay the fines and family assisted in paying the rest. A property bond was then posted for the felony obstruction charge, friends told AllOnGeorgia Thursday. The man arrested, they say, is a veteran who keeps to himself and spends most of his time on the porch.

But the social media discussion on the incident quickly spiraled out of control with misinformation, alleging a beating by multiple officers who stormed into a residence without an understanding of the situation. 

What Did Happen: Body Cam Footage & Incident Report

Claxton Police responded to a call on North Clark Street just before 5:00 p.m. on September 11, 2020. Dispatch reported a call in which a male was reportedly assaulting a female and was still at the scene. 

Body cam footage shows Officer Dustin Skipper arriving at a duplex residence where the door is already open. A neighbor sitting on the porch attempts to share that he was a witness to the event as Skipper enters the residence where three individuals are yelling. The footage shows Skipper approach a man and a woman standing face-to-face, with the man yelling loudly. The woman in front of West appears to have a knot on the side of her face and an incident report later indicated ‘a deep cut above the same eye on her eyebrow area.’

Skipper asks the man, now identified as Jesse West, to sit down and West replies that he ‘ain’t fixin’ to sit down.’ Skipper tells West that ‘he is’ [going to sit down], and as he grabs West by the arm to turn him away from the woman, body cam footage shows West shove Skipper away from him. Skipper is still holding on to West as he’s shoved onto a glass table, which can be heard shattering. Video is obstructed by arms and hands at several points during the ~40 second scuffle, but frame-by-frame examination shows Skipper’s body cam pointed at the ceiling for at least three seconds, indicating he was leaning backward or on his back. As the skirmish continues, Skipper ultimately gets West on his back and tells him to put his hands behind his back. West repeatedly says it is ‘his home’ and Skipper tells West he is going to let him up but he needs to put his hands behind his back. 

Frame-by-frame of 3:20 mark to 3:34 mark. (Story continues below)

 

Once West is on his back, Skipper radios for help. He then asks the woman to approach him so he can see her injuries and then asks dispatch to send EMS as well. Mac Edwards and Matthew Mallard both from the Evans County Sheriff’s Office, arrive on scene to assist. The woman was taken to the back of the ambulance and West was handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car.

A gun was recovered from the scene next to the couch where West and Skipper had tussled and photographs of cocaine, a ‘metal homemade smoking device’ for marijuana or cocaine was located, and spilled alcohol with the broken glass were taken by CPD. 

Full video (Story continues below)

In an incident report after the arrest, Skipper said he used a ‘hip toss’ to get West off of him after he had fallen on the glass and was in ‘a position of disadvantage.’ Skipper also reported that he used two ‘knee strikes’ to West’s ribs when he ignored verbal commands. 

A neighbor and witness listed as Sharar Rabich told officers that West was not the aggressor in the incident and that he was just trying to restrain the woman, Jacqueline Daniels after she attacked West unprovoked. 

Rabich also took to social media about the events:

A Few Points for Clarification

  • West was not charged with assaulting an officer. He was charged with ‘Felony Obstruction of an Officer,’ which according to OCGA 16-10-24(b), means ‘knowingly and willfully resists, obstructs, or opposes any law enforcement officer in the lawful discharge of his or her official duties by offering or doing violence to the person of such officer.’
  • West was not charged with family violence because CPD could not identify a primary aggressor based on conflicting witness testimony.
  • Officer James Waters did not respond to the call and did not assist with the arrest.
  • No responding officer has been fired by another agency for excessive force or any other reason.
  • ECSO Deputies Edwards and Mallard did not arrive on scene until after the scuffle.

Claxton PD Transports West to Evans Memorial Hospital

West told Skipper after he was fingerprinted that he would like to go to the hospital to have his ribs evaluated before going to the jail. Skipper asked him if he needed medical attention and West replied, “Well it depends if I’m going to jail or not. If I’m going to jail, then yeah I want to go to the hospital because my side hurts.”  Skipper told him he was going to jail either way, but if he needed medical attention, he would transport him. 

During intake, a nurse asked West a number of questions, including one regarding possible substances in his system. West told the nurse that he had ‘probably three shots of liquor’ that evening, that he smoked cigarettes, and occasionally used cocaine and marijuana. 

When the doctor came in to evaluate West, he told him an assessment would be done with some testing, including a scan of his head and chest. West became agitated by some of the questions and the doctor assured him he was not concerned with anything that happened prior, only with doing an assessment and administering care. West said he only wants his side checked.

Body cam footage shows a nurse request that West provide a urine sample, but he refuses. West tells Skipper just to take him to jail. Another nurse is heard asking him to keep his voice down and telling him that she would like to keep an eye on his blood pressure. West apologized and said that he would quiet down. West settles back in the bed when another officer arrives. 

The body camera footage from the hospital from Officer Dustin Skipper’s body camera is below. Story continues after the video.

The video stops after Skipper is relieved from duty by another CPD officer who ultimately transported West to the Evans County Jail. That video was not provided because AllOnGeorgia inadvertently left it out of the public information request, not knowing that an additional CPD officer responded to the hospital. We apologize for this oversight. No additional body cam footage is included because the ECSO does not currently utilize body cams.

Use of Force

The Claxton Police Department confirmed Thursday that the incident has been reviewed by a Sergeant and a Lieutenant and no policy violations were found. CPD said the review is not unusual as all Use of Force incidents are reviewed by supervisors, regardless of whether or not a complaint is lodged. 

Domestic disputes are among the most volatile and dangerous calls for law enforcement response. Police protocols instruct officers to diffuse the dispute and separate the parties upon arriving on the scene so that each can be interviewed individually and the primary aggressor can be identified. 

Jessica Szilagyi is a Statewide Contributor for AllOnGeorgia.com. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia. Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and has two blogs of her own: The Perspicacious Conservative and "Hair Blowers to Lawn Mowers."

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