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Sarasota Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009 8 years ago

Police panel grills Chief Abbott

by: Robin Roy City Editor

At its second meeting, the Police Advisory Panel spent about two hours recounting the June incident that led to the panel’s creation.

Panel members first gave their thoughts about the videotaped kicking of a handcuffed arrestee.

“It was clear from the reports two security officers were able to keep (suspect Juan Perez) down by just placing a hand on his shoulder,” said panel member John McGruder. “Clearly, the officer was there to get rough.”

McGruder was referring to the portion of the internal-affairs report, which dealt with Perez’s arrest.

It stated a security guard held Perez “with minimal force” until Officer Christopher Childers arrived. The guard said Childers struggled to put handcuffs on Perez and used a knee strike in his back and pepper spray on his face to get him under control.

After each member expressed some sort of outrage at the incident, they invited Police Chief Peter Abbott to the table. They, then, questioned him about the incident.

Abbott began by telling the panel, in no uncertain terms, that he did not hesitate to start an investigation once he saw the videotape.

“The incident you’ve been looking at does not represent the police department. I want to make that clear,” he said. “That is not what we’re about. I can’t be more firm than that. That will not be tolerated.”

When Chairwoman Susan Chapman suggested Childers could have accepted an offer from the guard to help handcuff Perez, Abbott said that is discouraged.

“You typically don’t want to have someone help,” he said. “That’s a difficult job. We don’t want to see anyone get hurt by that.”

Abbott also said Perez’s high level of intoxication and lack of English-speaking skills may have contributed to Childers’ actions.

McGruder told Abbott that he didn’t like his answer.

“You are acting very defensive,” McGruder said. “The officer had a bad attitude.”

Abbott said he was not defending Childers; he was just answering the questions.

Panel member Barbara Langston told Abbott that there are good officers and bad officers, and the bad ones use racial slurs and are cruel and rude in her Amaryllis Park neighborhood. She also said that many African-Americans are afraid of the police.

“Why don’t we trust the police department? Lynching,” she said. “(During) the civil-rights movement, people were taken to the police department and were never seen again.”

Abbott said he didn’t want anyone to be afraid of the police. And he told the panel members who represent minority communities that if people are afraid to make the complaint themselves, they can make it through the panel member, instead.

“You can help me,” Abbott told them. “If someone is mistreated, I want to know about it.”

Contact Robin Roy at [email protected].

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