A recent video posted to YouTube appears to show two Columbus police officers taking a man to the ground and punching him several times.
The video’s source told the Ledger-Enquirer the incident happened on 10th Street near Rigdon Road on Feb. 15. The contents of the video appear to match police reports from the incident.
According to one report, two Columbus police officers arrested Tony Edge Jr., 31, for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and obstruction of justice.
Officer Ryan Vardman (who was injured during the officer-involved shooting captured on bodycam last year) said in an incident report he and Officer Chad Haynes saw Edge loitering in the road near a 10th Street home on Monday around 2 p.m. According to Vardman, Edge fled on foot when the two tried to investigate him.
“I was able to grab Edge again and he turned toward me in an aggressive stance as I attempted to take him to the ground,” Vardman wrote.
Vardman said Edge continued to resist arrest, even after being taken to the ground, and continued to hide his hands.
“After striking Edge several times in the face with a closed fist, I was able to momentarily stun Edge and we then placed him in handcuffs,” Vardman wrote.
According to the report, they found seven bags of marijuana (total of 7 grams) in the jacket Edge discarded while trying to flee. The arrest report from the incident lists the street value of the seven bags at $70.
Vardman also noted that Edge tossed a small black bag while fleeing. It isn’t likely they’ll recover the bag, the officer wrote, because there were 10-15 people in the yard, and it was not recovered at the time.
“I WAS ABLE TO GRAB EDGE AGAIN AND HE TURNED TOWARD ME IN AN AGGRESSIVE STANCE AS I ATTEMPTED TO TAKE HIM TO THE GROUND.”
Police said Edge was transported to Midtown Medical Center for clearance. The arrest report said he also was treated on the scene for injuries that included a busted lip.
“Judging from what I have viewed, which was the video report and the offense report submitted regarding this incident, it appears to be an appropriate use of force and within our policy,” said Assistant Chief of Police Lem Miller.
Miller explained that for these use of force cases, the officers involved must file a report for review by their superiors, the office of the chief of police and the Office of Professional Standards. He said that review process had not finished for Edge’s case yet.
Lt. Tim Wynn, who trains Columbus police, said officers are trained to consider a number of factors when deciding what to use on the “force continuum.”
He said police officers have to consider differences between the officer and suspect in age, weight, strength, fighting skill and gender. They also need to take into account the presence of guns, which Wynn pointed out are almost always involved because officers bring them.
Wynn told the Ledger-Enquirer police also are trained to be aware of how many fellow officers are on hand versus how many suspects are present.
When it comes to use of force, Wynn said, police are held to a certain legal standard established in Graham v. Connor.
“What does the court think a reasonable officer would do in the circumstances?” Wynn asked rhetorically.
Wynn said he could not give an opinion on the video without seeing it. He also said the events leading up to the takedown (which the video’s source said were not filmed) could slant how it comes across.
According to the sheriff’s website, Edge has not been released from the Muscogee County Jail.
The group of men who gather at the 10th Street home said the arrest of Edge was another link in a chain of unfair law enforcement practices. They complained about receiving loitering tickets from Columbus police for gathering in the home’s front yard, on private property (one of the men said he was Tony Edge Jr.’s uncle and owned the home).
“IT’S UNFORTUNATE THAT IT’S 2016 AND WE HAVE THIS TYPE OF DISPARATE LAW ENFORCEMENT TARGETING A GROUP OF BLACKS.”
Attorney Alfonza Whitaker (not to be confused with Alonza Whitaker) is working with the men to dispute the loitering tickets, which he considers an example of unjust policing.
“They were on private property and the owner had not complained,” Whitaker said. “They congregated there after they ate lunch at a church.”
Whitaker called the case unusual. Loitering tickets are something he said usually go to people looking into car windows in a parking lot at 2 a.m. or strangers standing around a business while it’s closed without a good purpose.
The lawyer said he plans to challenge the loitering tickets in court.
“It’s unfortunate that it’s 2016 and we have this type of disparate law enforcement targeting a group of blacks,” Whitaker said.
Whitaker said that finding marijuana on Edge after the arrest does not justify targeting him for the stop and arresting him in the first place.
According to the men at the home, Edge was standing in front of the yard when the police asked him for his ID. They said the confrontation began after he stepped back into the yard to avoid a loitering ticket.
“They have to have probable cause,” Whitaker said. “Their probable cause is the color of a person’s skin, and that’s not right … if they’d stop seeing color and just see individuals and activity and base their stops and their activity on that, it’d be a lot different.”
Miller said he could not speak with complete certainty on the loitering tickets because he did not know the full situation surrounding them. For Edge’s case, he said the officers’ report said Edge was in the street.
“If that’s an arrest that did not have any merit, surely that would be vetted in court,” Miller said. “If the judge deemed that they were not guilty, that would be the judge’s decree and decision.”