Another Troubling Case in Columbia
The Columbia Missourian ran a story earlier this week about allegations of police abuse at a convenience store last fall:
Ricky Gurley has opened up his firm’s private investigative files on a Sept. 28, 2009, incident in which police said area car salesman David Riley, 31, tried to rob an undercover police officer at a gas station and then resisted arrest.
The case concluded Aug. 9 in the 13th Circuit Court of Boone County when Riley took a plea deal of two years in prison for a felony charge of resisting arrest. […]
According to video recordings and witness statements, Riley, along with local woman Desiree Kemp went to buy beer at the Ultra Mart at 2102 Paris Road. Riley and Kemp were leaving the store when Columbia Police Department Officer Chris Hessenflow started watching Riley. Hessenflow was working undercover with a teenager to see if the gas station was selling alcohol to minors.
Video surveillance from the convenience store, provided by Gurley, shows Riley standing at the passenger door of his car as Hessenflow walks toward the entrance of the store. When Riley noticed Hessenflow looking at him, police said Riley cussed at the officer and demanded his wallet — a claim Gurley said is ridiculous.
“How do you rob a guy from 15 feet away?” Gurley said. “What do you say: ‘Throw me your wallet’?”
The store’s surveillance video shows Hessenflow drawing his gun on Riley. Then, Riley gets on his knees with his hands behind his back, facing away from Hessenflow.
Although the video is partly obscured, Hessenflow can be seen kicking Riley to the ground. That, Gurley said, led an angered Riley to resist arrest when more officers arrived on the scene. Gurley also said Riley was not handcuffed soon enough; handcuffs could have prevented at least some of Riley’s resistance to officers, as well as some of his injuries.
The justice of the arresting officer’s actions hinges on three questions, in my mind. Did Riley demand the officer’s wallet? Did the officer identify himself as a police officer when he pulled his gun? Did the officer use excessive force to restrain Riley?
I strongly recommend that you watch the video for yourself and read Gurley’s two blog posts on the topic, so you can make an informed judgment of evidence on your own, but, to me, the hardest question to answer is the first one. Both Riley and Kemp maintain that Riley said something antagonistic — not a demand for the officer’s wallet, although the officer could have misheard him. As to the second question, however, three witnesses claim that the officer did not identify himself as a member of the police force: Riley, Kemp, and Kendrick Hardrick, who is wearing a bright blue jacket in the surveillance video. Finally, as far as I’m concerned, kicking a man in the torso when he is already on the ground qualifies as excessive force in almost all circumstances. Unless the officer can show evidence that Riley was an imminent threat at that point, he acted inappropriately.
There is probably more evidence from this story yet to surface, and it deserves further investigation.