Too much force? Part 2

Did a Berrien County Sheriff’s Deputy use too much force while making an arrest?

The answer to that question often depends on exactly who you ask.

ABC57 travelled hundreds of miles to find independent experts to view the police bodycam and dashcam video we obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests and from law enforcement sources to get their opinions.

The incident unfolded just as dawn was breaking at the Chemical Bank ATM on Main Street in Eau Claire, Michigan on May 2, 2019.

The suspect assaulting his girlfriend that early morning was ordered to stay in front of a Berrien Springs patrol car but, you can see on the bodycam video, 38 year old Daniel White decides to walk away.

The Berrien Springs officer warns him, “Daniel, Daniel. You’re not free to leave!”

But White, who was intoxicated at the time, briefly runs but then stops and faces the officer appearing to surrender.

That’s when Berrien County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Haskins arrives shouting, “Get on the ground now! On the ground!”

Haskins suddenly kicks White in the midsection, then takes him to the ground and the officers get one handcuff on him.

Deputy Haskins then uses his taser to try and get White into the other handcuff.

Then he punches White in the head, twice.

Daniel White wound up pleading guilty to domestic abuse, resisting arrest and obstruction. He’s now serving 18 to 36 months in state prison.

But Tracy Richardson, Daniel’s stepfather says, “That cop was totally out of line. Nobody should take the beating that that young man took.”

His parents believe the deputy crossed the line into police brutality and White did file a handwritten Excessive Force Complaint with Berrien County. It was quickly dismissed by Sheriff Paul Bailey.

"Deputy Haskins used reasonable force to both defend himself and arrest Daniel White," Sheriff Bailey said.

Cynthia Heenan is a longtime civil rights attorney based in Detroit whose firm once sued the the Berrien County Sheriff's Department in another case. We showed her the all the dash and bodycam videos.

She called it a “police takedown.”

“He just ran up and kicked the guy. I think there’s definitely some unreasonable and unnecessary force going on there. I think that’s completely contrary to their training or proper police procedure. They’re trained that their strongest and first weapon or instrument is their voice to try to deescalate the situation," Heenan said.

Tim Corbett was the longtime head of the St. Joseph County, Indiana Metro Homicide Unit and is now a cold case investigator who’s trained hundreds of officers.

Corbett said, “Cops aren’t perfect but we react to your reaction”

And he views the same video very differently.

"He was given verbal commands and he walked away from them, he took off running. The police officer didn’t force him to run he did that on his own," Corbett said.

Corbett maintains all White had to do was obey police orders.

“If you watch him, he could have gave up his hands, he chose not to. He could have rolled over on his stomach, he chose not to. He could have given up and complied he chose not to. He brought the use of force on himself," Corbett said.

Professor Erick Barnes teaches criminal justice and police procedure at the University of Detroit Mercy and rose to Deputy Chief in the Detroit Police Department. He says officers have to make “split second decisions” in such moments.

Professor Barnes also watched the video.

"There’s several factors that clearly jump out with this, officers gave him lawful commands which he ignored," Barnes said.

Professor Barnes stops short of calling it excessive force but does say the officer’s actions were “inappropriate."

“Even though the suspect is not complying to the commands that are given and putting up different levels of resistance in there I find those punches a bit problematic," Barnes said.

Of the officer’s response he says, “They’re supposed to deescalate if the situation dictates deescalation. Each officer is trained on a force continuum. One would have to review the general order or the procedures and protocols for use of force for this department.”

ABC57 filed a Freedom of information Act request with the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department to review their use of force policy and training manual but it was denied.

The county’s attorney calling those documents legally “exempt from disclosure."

“The Berrien County Sheriff’s Office’s policies/manuals contain sensitive and confidential information, plans and criteria aimed at assuring the security and safety of officers and citizens.”

And when it comes to Deputy Haskins kicking White in the stomach without warning, our three experts have varying views.

Professor Barnes said, “I see the kick as highly problematic and unneccesary level of force.”

But Corbett said, “The kick, I don’t find that to be out of line at all.”

Heenan said there’s “no call for that at all.”

And when she took a closer look at White’s mug shot she said, “Oh yeah got him in the eye really good. That looks familiar.”

The reason it looks so familiar to her is because Heenan’s firm once sued Berrien County and Deputy Haskins in a very similar case, and lost.

We’ll have that part of the story for you next week in Part 3 of our ABC57 News special series: Too Much Force?

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