Family bringing excessive force complaint to city commission

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- Video showing the arrest of a suspect who was resisting police is raising questions about whether the officer involved used excessive force - or if his actions were justified. The answer depends on who you ask.

Benton Harbor Public Safety Director Dan McGinnis defended his officer who was seen on video punching a suspect three times while the suspect resisted arrest. Civil rights activists and the suspect's mother view the video differently.

Joined by supporters, Michelle Evans held a press conference Tuesday about the incident involving her 27-year-old son Michael Thompson.

Video showed Benton Harbor police officer Drew Wagner punch Thompson after using a taser on him during a pursuit on December 28.

"What he did was not right but also what the officer did was not right. He was down on the ground. He wasn’t resisting and I hit him three times, that’s not right," Evans said.

Gwen Swanigan runs the anti-police abuse SHARP Foundation, the Society Harmonizing Against Racial Profiling.

“We are calling for justice for Michael Thompson and his family and also justice for others because this is not the first time, but we’re hoping this is the last time especially with this officer," said Swanigan.

McGinnis said the trouble started when Thompson, who had an active felony drug warrant, chose to run after being pulled over in a car with invalid license plates.

“In my judgment the officer didn’t do anything wrong as far as effecting that arrest and delivering those blows," McGinnis said.

After a block -long pursuit Officer Wagner fired his taser outside the Marathon gas station on May Street and Thompson kept going until a second jolt sent him to the ground.

On Monday, Thompson filed a handwritten formal complaint calling the officer's punches "excessive and unnecessary" because he claims he was no longer resisting.

McGinnis says the struggle wasn’t over and Michael was actively trying to pull the taser prongs out of his back.

"Running is a clear indication that he doesn’t want to be taken into custody so when he turns around and takes the prong out of his back again, that tells us that he still trying to get away at that point he was not free to leave and Officer Wagner was trying to take him into custody," McGinnis said. "Although the optics don’t look terrific to a certain perspective, to law-enforcement, from case law, from policy and from state law, nothing was done that was improper."

After the arrest, Thompson and Wagner had a conversation in the police car.

Wagner: Hey, nothing personal man.
Thompson: Yeah I know it’s your job
Wagner: Did that taser even affect you?
Thompson: Nah. I'm sorry for real.
Wagner: It’s alright.

Thompson’s mother and her supporters will take their concerns to the Benton Harbor City Commission meeting Tuesday evening.

The departments use of force policy allows for non-lethal force including hand strikes “to control or restrain or to overcome the resistance” of a suspect.

Share this article: