A Pendleton police officer is under investigation following allegations of brutality. Chief Stuart Roberts said so far, those allegations don’t match with what police are finding.
But the 15-year-old boy and his mother said an officer choked him and struck him on his head when he was trying to return his dog home.
The East Oregonian generally does not identify minors facing criminal charges. The EO also has not identified the officers involved because they remain on duty and are not facing criminal charges.
The teen and his family live off Southwest 18th Street, which ends at the Umatilla River levee. They said the evening of July 29 several juveniles came from the direction of the levee and squared off to fight in the street near their home. About then, someone opened the front door, and Apollo, the teen’s 8-month-old pit bull mix, took off at a dead run and headed to the levee.
The teen said he gave chase and caught the dog a few blocks away at Trailhead Park. The juveniles who were in the fight also headed that way, he said, and police followed.
He scooped up the dog, but an officer told him to stop.
“I said no,” he said he responded, “I’m taking my dog home.”
The officer grabbed his right wrist, he said, but he yanked away. The scuffle escalated, and he said the cop put him in a choke hold and slammed him on the hood of the police car.
He dropped Apollo, which scratched the dog’s face. The teen pointed out the dog’s wound during an interview Tuesday.
The officer bent him over the hood of the police car and had control of his left arm, he said, but he kept his right arm in front his body. Then a second officer threatened to shock him with a stun gun if he did not stop resisting and stick out his right arm.
The teen said he did, but police still grabbed him by the hair to shove him in the back of the car.
The fight didn’t end there, he said, as one officer jerked open the car door and he felt something strike him on the back of his head.
“I went black,” he said.
He came to several seconds later, he said, with his head in pain and strands of his hair all over his body.
He stayed in the police car about 30 minutes before officers took him to a holding cell at the station, then drove him late that night to the juvenile jail in Walla Walla. The teen faces charges of aggravated harassment, a felony, and misdemeanors of interfering with police, attempted assault of a public safety officer and harassment.
He left the jail the next day and in the afternoon checked into St. Anthony Hospital, Pendleton, where a doctor examined him. The medical report the family provided noted the brain scan was negative but he suffered a contusion to his head and strain to the muscles of his neck.
The family filed a formal complaint last week with Pendleton police Lt. Chuck Byram. Police Chief Roberts said Byram began an internal investigation immediately to determine if the officers followed department procedures.
Several officers responded to the call for juveniles fighting or about to fight. Roberts said police ordered the parties to stop what they were doing, but one teen didn’t follow orders.
Instead, he threw an elbow at an officer, and that led to his arrest and putting the teen in the back of a police car, where he spit on an officer.
The teen said he did know in his struggle that he hit an officer, and he only spit to keep police from assaulting him in the car.
Pendleton police requires officers to report when they have to use any force, and Roberts said the officers did just that. Administrators also brought up the use of force in an email to officers and during the morning briefing following the incident.
The department has yet to talk to all witnesses and see all the evidence. The family said it would provide a video of the incident, but Roberts said police have not received that.
One of the teen’s relatives sent a copy of one video to the EO. The footage is shaky and murky but shows a police car some distance away. Someone on the video yells “Let me go” and “Let go of my hair.” The teen claimed that was him from the back seat.
The video shows an officer open the back door of the car, duck inside for a couple of seconds, stand up and shut the door. The teen said that was when the officer struck him. Someone on the video claims the officer is strangling the teen, but the video only shows the car’s dark windows and is too poor to clearly show any officer’s face.
The police involved are not on administrative leave. Roberts said the department takes that action when there’s obvious evidence of misconduct or wrongdoing, or an officer is suffering from trauma or an injury, but none of those apply here.
The police dash cam video was off, and Pendleton police don’t use body cams. Roberts said the departments is seeking a federal grant to cover the $100,000 price tag for the cams.
“We can’t even keep our cars running, let alone do something like that without a grant,” he said.
The teen said he is serving two years probation for using marijuana, alcohol and other misconduct, but this was his first run-in with police in a long time. The teen said he wants the officer to lose his job. His mother said she wants Pendleton residents to know how police act.
Pendleton police since 2014 have received seven complaints: zero in 2014; one in 2015; four in 2016; zero last year; and two this year. If the internal investigation reveals the officer may have broken the law, Roberts said an outside agency would conduct a criminal investigation.
He called it “extremely rare” for one of the department’s internal administrative investigations to result in a criminal case.