APD responds to police brutality allegations

APD responds to police brutality allegations

Amarillo, TX - The Amarillo Police Department is dismissing a case of alleged police brutality and clearing all officers who were involved.

Attorney Jeff Blackburn claims his client, Robert Johnson, was thrown to the ground and severely beaten by police for riding his bicycle through an unmarked crime scene. He took his complaints to the police department, and Thursday Chief of Police Robert Taylor announced investigators found no truth in his accusations.

Dashcam video captured the incident and Johnson's attorneys made it sound as bad as it looked. "He's slammed down in the snowy grass, two other officers pile on top of him and repeatedly beat him in the crotch," explained Ryan Brown, one of Johnson's attorneys on July 9.

Taylor said that is not what happened. "The truth is, there is no evidence that anyone piled on and began beating Mr. Johnson. The video clearly shows that before delivering any blows of any sort to Mr. Johnson, the officers tried to pin him on the ground and handcuff him."

Police were at a house on NE 24th Street on March 28 because they had just arrested a suspect in connection to a double shooting. About 10 minutes later, Johnson rode his bike into the crime scene.

Taylor said officers did not know if he was connected to the crime and attempted to arrest him.

Video shows Johnson moving his hands away from police three different times before he is pushed to the ground. Taylor said Johnson continued to resist arrest, which is why an officer then hit him in the leg eight times.

"Once on the ground, Johnson admitted to placing his hands underneath his body towards his pockets, which created an unsafe situation for the officers," said Taylor. "The officers used the force necessary to effectively handcuff Mr. Johnson and to get him to release the officer's leg that became trapped during the incident."

Blackburn claimed his client never rode through a crime scene. "It is not a crime to ride your bicycle down the street," said Blackburn on May 28. "There was no police tape, no blockade, no barricades, no nothing. This idea that they created later about there being a crime scene is ridiculous."

According to Taylor, five patrol cars were blocking the street at the time of the incident. He said it was captured by a cellphone video from a witness.

Johnson was charged with possession of marijuana, but his prints were not found on the two bags police confiscated. This led to a claim that the drugs were planted on him.

"We find no evidence that the officers planted that marijuana on Mr. Johnson," said Taylor. "The truth about fingerprints is they are not left on every surface a person comes in contact with." Taylor explained the wrinkled bags of marijuana rubbed against material in Johnson's pockets and were then handled by multiple officers, which makes finding usable prints highly unlikely.

Blackburn plans on responding to the investigation's findings Friday morning at a news conference. NewsChannel 10 will be there and we will bring you a full report.


From the Amarillo Police Department:

Detail, diagram, and videos of information provided by Chief Taylor
at today's (Thursday, July 12th) news conference.

On May 28, 2015 I received information from the Amarillo Globe News that the Law Office of Blackburn and Brown had sent them a package of papers containing a police report involving Mr. Robert Johnson who was arrested by the Amarillo Police Department on March 28, 2015 for Resisting Arrest and Possession of Marijuana.  In this packet of papers the attorneys for Mr. Johnson make several accusations about the incident.  Upon receiving these documents, I appointed Sergeant Marvin Hill to investigate this matter.

In order to conduct this investigation Sergeant Hill conducted interviews with numerous police officers, six civilians, including the complainant Mr. Johnson, spoke to Mr. Johnson's attorneys on numerous occasions, reviewed videos and other physical evidence, spoke to experts and reviewed policy and procedures.  Although it is highly unusual for witnesses to a crime or incident to be represented by the same attorney that represents a defendant, the department nonetheless accepted that Mr. Brown represented three of the four witnesses and therefore all interviews with those witnesses were conducted in the presence of either Mr. Brown or Mr. Blackburn, or both.

It is unfortunate that this incident happened.  I do not like any situation in which an officer must use force on any citizen to effectuate their compliance, detention or arrest.  However, in some cases it must happen.  In this case, Mr. Johnson did not cooperate with the officers; he repeatedly pulled his hands away from them.  Once on the ground, Mr. Johnson admits to placing his hands under his body towards his pockets which created an unsafe situation for the officers.  The officers used the force necessary to effectively handcuff Mr. Johnson and to get him to release the officer's leg that became trapped during the incident.

The following are highlights some of the specifics and the facts of the situation.  The following complaints that were made have been proven to be incorrect:

Complaint:  "APD officers had been called to the scene of a domestic altercation.  They tracked the suspect in that case to 403 N.E. 24th Street."

Truth:  APD officers were called to the scene of a double shooting in which both an adult female and a child had been shot.  The suspect in this shooting fled in a vehicle to a house at 403 N.E. 24th Street where he was apprehended and found in possession of a loaded firearm. It is approximately ten minutes later while officers are still attempting to process the scene that Mr. Johnson arrives at that location.

Complaint:  "After apparently making an arrest at 9:25 p.m., the police officers began to leave.  No barricades, roadblocks or police tape had been set up at the scene."    Further, Mr. Blackburn is quoted in the media as saying, "There was no police tape, no blockade, no barricades, no nothing. This idea that they created later about there being a crime scene is ridiculous."

Truth:  There were police cars that were blocking the entire road. See the attached diagram of approximate vehicle positions based on a cell phone video.  All of the police cars had their emergency lights on.  Vehicles that were coming towards the police vehicles stopped and did not try to go past the police cars.  Officers were actively guarding the suspect vehicle and weapon as well as trying to ascertain why the suspect had come to this location. In fact, after Mr. Johnson was handcuffed, vehicles can be seen turning around and going back the way they came because the road was indeed blocked.

Complaint:  "At this point Mr. Johnson did nothing wrong with the exception of having a poorly equipped bicycle."

Truth:  The officers had a legal reason to stop Mr. Johnson, because he rode past the police cars and his bicycle did not have the required lights on it.  However, the primary reasoning for the stop was that the officer did not know why Mr. Johnson drove past the multiple police cars and what his intent was at that time. After a brief exchange with Mr. Johnson the officer tried to handcuff Mr. Johnson for safety and until the officer decided what to do.  The handcuffing of Mr. Johnson was intended for the protection of the officers, it was legal to do so and prudent on the part of the officers.

Complaint: "Despite Mr. Johnson stopping his bike, APD Officer Bryan Hughes ran towards him, grabbed him, and spun him around.  Another officer, Jeremy Strickland, then helped Hughes push him down."  AND "According to these reports, Mr. Johnson was "pulling away" from them.  Once again, the video proves this to be false."

Truth:  As can be plainly seen in the video, Officer Hughes approaches Mr. Johnson, grabs his bicycle and arm, and the bicycle is spun around.  Despite the complaint, the video shows Mr. Johnson pulling his arm away from the officer at least 3 times as the officer tries to take a hold of Mr. Johnson.  It is only after Mr. Johnson continues to pull his arm away that the officers remove him from his bike and take him to the ground.

Complaint:  "Seconds later, two more policemen piled on and joined in beating Mr. Johnson."

Truth:  There is no evidence that anyone "piled on" and began beating Mr. Johnson.  The video, again, clearly shows that before delivering any blows of any sort to Mr. Johnson, the officers tried to pin him to the ground and handcuff him. Mr. Johnson continued to resist this handcuffing, which he admits while in the police car with Officer Hughes.

Officer Hughes: "and I told you to put your hands behind your back, why did you pull them away from me? And keep pulling them away from me when I told you three different times, stop fighting me."

Mr. Johnson:  "because you got my wrist and the other one pulled me on the other side and I just, and I sorry, just."

Officer Hughes: "Ok, and then when we got you to the ground why did you keep sticking your hands underneath you?  Even when I kept telling you stop putting your hands underneath you?"

Mr. Johnson:  "cause I'm like, like I'm always, like, I'm always, like every time I go somewhere I always put my hands in my pants like that, sir."

Complaint:  Originally, Blackburn and Brown say that Mr. Johnson was "severely beaten," and that "It is plain from the video that he was kneed in the face."  In press interviews Mr. Johnson states he was struck in the knee and his shirt was torn.  In his interview with the department, Mr. Johnson says he was struck in the leg and ankle.   At the recent community meeting Mr. Blackburn claimed that the officer repeatedly struck Mr. Johnson in the "crotch".

Truth:  Mr. Johnson continued to struggle with the officers and was hit approximately 8 times in the leg by Officer Strickland.  The officers then gained control of Mr. Johnson's hands and he was not struck any further.  There is no evidence that he was ever struck in the "crotch" or in the "head." When Officer Strickland struck Mr. Johnson in the leg, Mr. Johnson was face down.  It is clear from the video that these strikes were made in a downward direction making it impossible for Mr. Johnson to have been struck in the crotch.  Further, the video shows Mr. Johnson was not struck after being handcuffed.

Further, no medical records were offered as evidence.  Mr. Johnson made no claim of injury at the jail despite being directly asked whether he needed any immediate medical attention.

Complaint - Verbal Abuse:  "Summarized, it shows a pattern of emotional and verbal abuse of Mr. Johnson. Once Hughes concluded that Mr. Johnson was intellectually impaired he began using his "questions" to ridicule him."

Truth:  There is nothing to indicate that Officer Hughes ever "concluded that Mr. Johnson was intellectually impaired."  Although I am not disputing his mental acuity as professed by his attorneys, the officers, on the scene, did not have any way of knowing Mr. Johnson's IQ or education level. When questioning Mr. Johnson he indicates that he attends college, he then indicates that he does not know how to read or write.

The officer is in disbelief and skeptical of these statements which appear not to make sense.  It is the officer's job to question Mr. Johnson to determine why he was there and to make sure there is no connection to the shooting.   Further, at intake at the jail, the jail indicates that Mr. Johnson showed no apparent signs to indicate he had any mental limitations.

Complaint - Planting Marijuana:  In their entire original statement and all accompanying media interviews, not once do Mr. Johnson's attorneys make a single allegation that the officers planted marijuana on Mr. Johnson.  It is only after they receive information that there are no useable latent prints on the baggies that Mr. Brown first raises the topic.  He states: "One thing I would like to add to the scope of your investigation is whether the police officer involved in the incident with Robert Johnson planted the baggies of marijuana on him.  In light of the fact that Mr. Johnson's fingerprints were not on the baggies, I would like you to investigate whether the officers involved planted the marijuana on Mr. Johnson."  In interviewing Mr. Johnson, Mr. Johnson states affirmatively that he saw the officer planting the evidence.  There is no explanation for why the allegations of force are made immediately and yet no allegations of planting evidence are made until after Mr. Brown finds out that there were no usable fingerprints found on the baggies.  Further, while in the vehicle with Officer Hughes, despite having a conversation about where the marijuana came from, Mr. Johnson does not state that the other officer just put it there.  No video evidence or eyewitness accounts corroborate this claim. We find no evidence that the officers planted the marijuana.

The truth about Fingerprints:   Fingerprints are not left on every surface that a person comes into contact with.   Whether fingerprints are recovered from any surface is dependent on a number of factors.  In this case, a small plastic bag that is wrinkled and concealed in a pocket, subject to being rub on both sides by the material of the pocket, was further handled by officers and evidence technicians as well as by the lab that tested it, all creates an unlikely situation that useable latent prints would be recovered.

At the conclusion of this investigation and after a thorough review of all of the evidence and all witness statements I find that the officer's actions were justified under the circumstances and I have exonerated them from any charges of excessive force and planting of marijuana.

I strongly encourage all of our citizens to look beyond unsubstantiated allegations and sensationalism and look carefully at the evidence.

NOTE: The following link shows a compilation of videos presented at the news conference to illustrate points as shown by Chief Taylor today at 2:30 PM at the Amarillo Police Department: