KALAMAZOO Officer punches teen in Face for spitting at him
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Uploaded on Aug 12, 2009
Police dash cam(released August 12/09) - KALAMAZOO Video of an incident that led to a Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety sergeant's unpaid suspension last week shows the officer punched a handcuffed 16-year-old three times after the youth spit in his face.
Sgt. Jeff VanderWiere, 37, was suspended last week for 10 work days after an Office of Professional Standards investigation into the April More..incident.
The Kalamazoo Police Supervisors Association has filed a grievance on the suspension.
The video and police documents related to the case and VanderWiere, a 12-year department veteran, were released by the city Tuesday after the Gazette filed a request under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.
The images, captured from the mobile-video recording unit inside Officer Travis Ulberg's patrol cruiser, shows the teen was with two other people when he was approached by VanderWiere and another officer at 1:45 a.m. on April 5 in the 1300 block of Cobb Avenue on the city's north side.
A report from another officer said the teen appeared to be intoxicated. The video shows him becoming confrontational and screaming profanities at the two officers who were investigating reports of gunshots being fired in the area.
The teen matched a description given to police when the gunshots were reported, according to the police documents.
The teen was eventually handcuffed, but he and one of the other boys with him attempted to run from officers. VanderWiere wrestled the teen to the ground.
In the video, the teen can be seen making attempts to get up but is held down by VanderWiere, who places a knee on the youth's chest near his neck.
VanderWiere held the boy down as another officer stood nearby. On the video, the teen can be heard screaming and cussing at the officers and, at one point, apparently spits on VanderWiere.
The video shows that VanderWiere promptly hits the teen in the face three times and tells him not to spit in his face again.
"I think I broke my finger punching him," VanderWiere told Lt. Jay Kowalkowski after the incident, according to footage captured by VanderWiere's in-car mobile-video recording unit. "He spit in my face so I punched. It's either dislocated or broke."
Documents show that police later found a box of .22-caliber bullets inside the jacket pocket of the youth who was with the 16-year-old.
The youths were arrested. The teen who was struck was arrested on charges of minor in possession of alcohol, violating curfew and resisting police. The other teen was arrested for interference and resisting police.
The teen who was struck was initially taken to the Kalamazoo County Jail and then to the county's juvenile home after officers discovered he was 16 years old. Footage of his ride to the county jail shows the teen continued to shout profanities and threats at Ulberg.
Hadley has said the teen was not injured during the incident.
A 24-page report by Assistant Chief Lynn Wetmore says that when VanderWiere was interviewed by the Office of Professional Standards he said "he was trying to maintain control of (the teen) and a field of view regarding his officers."
According to the report, VanderWiere said the teen spit "directly into his face and the spit went into his eyes."
"VanderWiere stated that was an assault on his person and he did not want to get spit on again so he delivered three quick jabs to (the teen's) facial area."
In concluding her report, Wetmore writes that VanderWiere "gave no verbal warning, did not consider the utilization of other techniques" to stop the teen's spitting and did not request assistance from Ulberg who was standing nearby before striking the teen.
"Although there is no evidence to indicate that there was any intent to cause serious injury to (the teen), it appears the strikes were delivered out of frustration that (the teen) was not compliant ..."
Wetmore's report says VanderWiere violated two sections of the department's code of conduct that mandate an officer must use "only objectively reasonable force to overcome resistance" and document any injuries to the officer or a suspect with photos. The report also says that VanderWiere violated a general order that requires officers to have their mobile-video recording body microphone activated at all times when in contact with a citizen.
The video of the incident shows VanderWiere did not have his mobile-video recording activated when he initially responded to the shots-fired call or during the time when he had the teen on the ground and struck him in the face.
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