MUNCIE — Body camera footage from Muncie Police Department officers of a 2018 arrest is raising new questions about possible excessive force.
The newly obtained video by WRTV shows a different story than the one the department told at the time of Joshua Douglas’ arrest in April 2018.
WRTV also found Officer Alex Moore, the officer who punched Douglas during the arrest, had been disciplined twice before the incident, and no officers involved with the arrest were disciplined after an internal review of the incident, a Muncie assistant attorney told WRTV in a letter in February.
The Muncie Police Department has faced scrutiny in recent years amid allegations of excessive force. Since 2019, WRTV has been requesting body camera footage from the department on several cases where excessive force is alleged.
While WRTV hasn’t received all the footage from incidents we have requested, WRTV got footage of an arrest that made headlines in 2018.
The arrest of Joshua Douglas
Video taken by a bystander and posted to Facebook of Douglas’ arrest on April 8, 2018, on South Madison Street in Muncie went viral.
The incident started when police were called to investigate an intoxicated person. Douglas initially ran away when officers approached him, according to a police case report.
At the time, then Muncie Police Department Chief Joe Winkle only shared a short clip of the body camera footage with WRTV and said the punching was not excessive.
“I don’t think so,” Winkle said. “Those punches, as long as you’re telling him what you want him to do and where they were thrown, that’s how we are trained.”
More than two years after the incident, WRTV obtained multiple angles of body camera footage from the incident.
You can watch the videos below.
Note: The videos below have graphic language and materials that may be disturbing to some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.
Moore, the officer seen punching Douglas, said in his official case report he approached Douglas after finding a baggie of amphetamines.
“He pulled his hands in front of his person and tensed his upper body,” Moore wrote in the report. “I gave him an order not to pull away but he continued to flex his body in an effort to avoid custody.”
Moore later continued in the report, ”officers were able to roll Joshua onto his side but he continued to resist and did not move to his stomach to enable handcuffing.”
At the time, the department said the officer’s force wasn’t excessive.
Douglas suffered injuries and physical pain as a result of the arrest, according to an excessive force lawsuit filed against the department in 2019.
WRTV shared the footage with Seth Stoughton, a University of South Carolina law professor and former police officer who wrote “Evaluating Police Uses of Force,” about police use of force.
“When they bring him to the ground, the thing that sticks out to me is at best, this individual is tensing his body, but he’s not trying to get up and strike the officers,” Stoughton said. “What appear to be a series of closed-fisted punches to the face are painfully inappropriate. It’s obviously excessive there.”
He said punches to the head, especially if someone is laying on the ground, significantly increase the chance of serious injury.
“You’re actually sort of impacting them in two places at once,” he said. “Punching someone in the face is a really bad way to get them to comply. It’s a bad way because it’s very instinctual that you hide your face, you cover your face, you bring your hands up to protect your face.”
Stoughton also said the situation seemed to escalate unnecessarily.
“The officer seemed unnecessarily aggressive to me,” he said. “Jumping immediately to, ‘put your f*****g hands behind your back.”
He also noted Moore wrote in his official report of the incident the situation became “tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving.”
Stoughton said Moore is using boilerplate language from Graham v. Connor, a Supreme Court case that established a “reasonableness test” when examining an officer’s actions in alleged excessive force cases.
In the body camera footage, Douglas told officers after the incident “you punched me in my eye.” Moore responds, “in your head, your teeth.”
This exchange also stuck out to Stoughton.
“I’m a little alarmed at the way the officer seemed to relish after the fact having used force when the individual says, ‘You punched me in the face,’ the officer says ‘Yeah, in the eye, in your teeth.’ That seems a little concerning,” Stoughton said.
But the Muncie Police Department wasn’t concerned enough to suspend, demote, or fire any of the officers involved in Douglas’ arrest, even after an internal review of the incident.
WRTV Investigates uncovered Moore, the officer seen punching Douglas, received a written reprimand in August 2016 for engaging in a physical altercation while off-duty. A year later in August 2017, he was suspended for 80 hours without pay for his role in a domestic dispute while he was off duty.
Yet Moore kept his job until Feb. 14 when resigned from the department, nearly three years after the Douglas incident and after WRTV obtained the body camera footage.
Moore declined to comment to WRTV.
It doesn’t appear any outside agency reviewed the footage.
“Per policy, the FBI does not confirm or deny investigations,” Chris Bavender, public affairs specialist for the FBI Indianapolis field office, said in an email.
“The Indiana State Police has not reviewed the video for which you’ve inquired about,” Indiana State Police Chief Public Information Officer and Capt. Ron Galaviz said in an email.
Delaware County Prosecutor Eric Hoffman wouldn’t confirm or deny if the FBI looked into the arrest and declined to comment specifically about the incident.
Prosecutors later dismissed a resisting law enforcement charge against Douglas. He pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine in July 2019, Hoffman said.
Douglas is currently in federal custody on new drug charges.
Stoughton said police departments should review officers' body camera footage and make improvements to their policies and protocols. By doing this, he said it could create more peaceful interactions between the officers and citizens.
“Even if an individual is a bad dude. Even if they have significant criminal history,” Stoughton said. “Even if they’re not fully complying with the officer’s commands, officers still have to react to that noncompliance or resistance appropriately.”
Other cases of alleged excessive force
The Douglas incident is just one of several cases connected with excessive force lawsuits WRTV is looking into.
The scrutiny has come at a significant cost to the City of Muncie.
In September 2019, WRTV reported the federal government was investigating the Muncie Police Department for alleged police brutality.
A short time after, then Chief Joe Winkle, stepped down.
On March 11, 2020, a federal grand jury indicted Winkle’s son, Officer Chase Winkle, Officer Jeremy Gibson and Sgt. Joseph Kresja following an excessive force investigation on arrests not related to the Douglas case.
Kresja was charged with two counts of writing false reports. He is no longer with the department, Muncie assistant city attorney, Benjamin J. Freeman, said.
Chase Winkle was charged with five counts of false reporting and four counts of deprivation of rights associated with excessive force. Gibson was charged with one count of deprivation of rights associated with excessive force.
Gibson is facing up to 10 years, Winkle is facing up to 140 years and Kresja is facing up to 40 years.
Chase Winkle and Gibson still work for the department and are on leave without pay, Freeman said.
Current Muncie Police Department Chief Nathan Sloan declined WRTV’s repeated requests for an on-camera interview regarding the Douglas case and his department's protocols.
Freeman told WRTV, “This administrative team is making a significant effort and is allocating considerable resources toward policy revision, training and equipment our policing professionals,” and they’re focusing on “accountability for the actions of our officers.”
WRTV spoke with the new department administration in 2019 as they were about to on their new jobs.
Sloan acknowledged a tough road ahead.
“I think there have been some issues,” Deputy Chief Melissa Pease said when asked if she thought the public trusted the department. “Some relationships have been fractured.”
Some say the damage is already done.
Nine civil lawsuits filed against the Muncie Police Department
At least nine civil lawsuits alleging excessive force have been filed against the city since 2017.
|Dewayne Emberton||July 2020|
|Joshua Douglas||November 2019|
|Danny Terry||August 2019|
|Jessie Vernon||October 2019|
|Lonnie Gannom||August 2020|
|Emanuel “Manny” Montero||May 2020|
|Myra Davis||August 2020|
|Tommie Isom||June 2020|
|Charles Herschel||August 2017|
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WRTV learned the city has reached settlements in three of those lawsuits, totaling $583,126. The lawsuits filed by Douglas, Jessie Vernon and Danny Terry have been settled.
It’s not yet clear how much will be paid out by insurance and how much taxpayers will have to pay.
Terry received a settlement after his lawsuit alleged he was permanently injured while serving as an informant.
“A Muncie police officer came up to Mr. Terry when he was lying face down on the floor and stomped his head into the corner of the cabinet and the floor,” his attorney Jon Little said. “Kicked Mr. Terry repeatedly. Just beating him, while he’s on the ground. Kicking Mr. Terry.”
Audio provided by Terry’s attorney captures Terry’s interactions with the officers.
“Ow, you broke my nose,” Terry can be heard saying in the recording.
“Shut the f**k up,” an officer can be heard saying.
“My nose is broken sir,” Terry said.
Note: The audio below has graphic language and materials that may be disturbing to some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.
Little said Terry has developed an infection and will likely spend the rest of his life in prison or a hospital.
“We are going to be judged as a society by how we treat the least among us, and we treat the least amongst us horribly,” Little said.
The Muncie Police Department denied WRTV’s request in September 2020 for body camera footage and documents regarding Terry’s arrest “due pending investigations.”
WRTV Investigates was first to show you the body camera footage from the arrest of Jessie Vernon in 2018.
Just seconds into the altercation, both officer’s body cameras fall to the ground.
Their body cameras are still on the ground as you hear officers deploy a stun gun on Vernon, who is handcuffed.
Attorney Rob King represents Vernon.
He acknowledges most of the suspects have criminal backgrounds when they had a physical interaction with Muncie police.
“No person should be subject to illegal excessive force, regardless of that person’s status or stature within the criminal justice system,” King said.
Prosecutors later dismissed charges against Vernon.
Vernon and Terry’s cases were not part of the federal indictment against the officer, which identifies the people arrested in the incidents by initials only.
All three of the officers federally indicted have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled for trial in September.
WRTV is still waiting on footage from several additional cases and will continue fighting for it.
WRTV Investigates’ offer still stands to sit down with Muncie Police Department Chief Nathan Sloan to talk about what they’re doing to ensure officers are properly using force.
Do you have a tip, information or a story to share about the Muncie Police Department? WRTV wants to hear from you.