Too much force? Part 1
ABC57 News Investigates the arrest of a Berrien County man making allegations of excessive force against the Berrien County Sheriff’s deputy involved.
During a three month investigation ABC57 Investigative Reporter and Anchor Brian Conybeare obtained multiple police body and dashcam videos of the incident, police reports, court documents, photos and more; some from law enforcement sources, others through Freedom of Information Act requests.
The question is: did the deputy use “Too much force?”
As the sun was coming up on May 2, 2019 police body cam video shows Daniel White being questioned by a Berrien Springs officer about attacking his longtime girlfriend in her car at the Chemical Bank ATM on Main Street in Eau Claire, Michigan but then the 38-year-old suspect starts to walk away apparently ignoring Officer Donald Divis’s orders who can be heard telling White, “Daniel you’re not free to leave.”
The video also shows White briefly running away before quickly turning around showing his hands to surrender claiming falsely, “I’m not Daniel, I’m not Daniel.”
Then a Berrien County Sheriff’s deputy suddenly arrives and takes action shouting at White, “Get on the ground now! On the ground!” and kicking the suspect in the midsection.
Then Deputy Jason Haskins takes White to the ground and the officers get one handcuff on him. But White was allegedly intoxicated at the time, possibly even on meth, and appears confused asking in a panic, “What are you doing?”
Haskins says, “You’re under arrest. Put your other hand behind your back, put it behind your back now!”
He does not appear to be punching or kicking the officers, but he is resisting their efforts to get his other hand in the cuffs. Then Deputy Haskins uses his taser.
White screams in pain, “What are you doing to me?!”
The officers order him to put his hands behind his back or he would use the taser again.
After a Haskins punches White twice in the head during the two minute struggle, they eventually subdue him and make the arrest.
“That cop was totally out of line,” says White’s stepfather Tracy Richardson during an exclusive interview. “I think the officer needs to be fired, he needs to go. Nobody should take the beating that that young man took.”
Richardson and his wife Kathryn, who live in Niles, said they can’t believe what they saw on the video.
“He just comes out of nowhere and kicks him then starts tasing him like he was a mass murderer," Kathryn Richardson, White's mother, said.
Kathryn says White has had a few rough years since the death of his 6-year-old daughter
“She was born premature, she ended up getting liver cancer and passing away,” Kathryn said.
She says that led to a downward spiral.
“He never got counseling and turned to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism," Kathryn said.
They both admit White should not have walked away from the Berrien Springs officer or resisted arrest.
“If any of his actions were wrong, you don’t beat him down like that you don’t beat anybody down like that," Tracy said.
The other officer seemed like he went by the book and was doing everything right and this guy just comes out of nowhere and starts attacking! He should be ashamed of himself," Kathryn said.
Gwen Swanigan is the founder of a Benton Harbor non-profit called Society Harmonizing Against Racial Profiling or S.H.A.R.P. but in this case both the officer and the suspect happen to be Caucasian.
“That incident was totally wrong,” Swanigan said. “It’s not about white, it’s about right. It’s about doing right by everyone, white, black, brown, yellow doesn’t matter what color they are what race, culture, you know we all have rights.”
Swanigan helped White file a hand-written excessive force complaint against Deputy Haskins that reads:
“Officer Haskins ran up at top speed and kicked me in my abdomin (sic) and then he threw me to the ground and then tazed (sic) me then he hit me twice in the head as they were apprehending me and I was not fighting back and was scared for my life.”
ABC57 repeatedly reached out to Berrien County Sheriff Paul Bailey and Deputy Haskins for their side of the story but they declined to talk on camera about the arrest on camera or the allegations of excessive force.
But on his own body cam video Haskins does explain to other officers on the scene his take on what happened that morning.
“I think I might’ve broken my knuckle. I punched him in the face," Haskins said.
Then he described the incident to a Michigan State Trooper.
“I got up here and the Berrien Springs officer had him in front of his car and was patting him down. He took off running and then he turned and I was just about to tase him and he turned and refused to get down on the ground so I kicked him in the stomach and then he crunched over and that’s when we went down on the ground and then I went to drive stun him. Then after that it was just like a scuffle in the middle of Main Street. It was a mess," Haskins said.
Sheriff Bailey did issue a statement to ABC57 saying, “Deputy Haskins responded to a 911 call from a victim who was being assaulted by Daniel White; Deputy Haskins used reasonable force to both defend himself and arrest Daniel White. Daniel White is currently serving 1.5 - 3 years in prison for resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer, and committing domestic violence.”
White, who has past arrests for drunk driving, marijuana and domestic violence did plead guilty, hoping for probation but is now sitting in prison for at least 18 months.
One week after filing the Excessive Force Complaint, Swanigan got a voicemail from the sheriff in which he said, “Hey Gwen, Sheriff Paul Bailey. I just wanted you to know that we closed out that citizen’s complaint and we reviewed all the documents and videos and that it is my decision that he used the force necessary to get the situation under control.”
ABC57 asked Swanigan for her reaction to that call.
“My reaction to that was a bunch of baloney. How could you say that was justifiable? How could anybody in their right mind say that was justifiable, it was not!" Swanigan said.
We posted all four police body and dashcam videos at the top of the story, and the redacted police reports (below), so you can see for yourself and make your own judgement on whether the Deputy used too much force.
Next Friday, in Part Two of “Too much force?” we show the videos to multiple policing experts to get their opinion on whether the deputy crossed the line or not.