A video showing a mid-Missouri drug task force detective kicking a restrained, prone suspect in the head is raising allegations of police brutality.
The family of the suspect, Timothy Whittle of Moniteau County, has hired a lawyer to look into the matter.
The task force’s leader declined to discuss the incident with The Star. The detective who kicked Whittle has left the task force.
The video, which appeared in November on YouTube, shows a fleeing Whittle running through a field. He turns to surrender and raises his hands before lying facedown as plainclothes detectives run toward him.
The first detective sits on Whittle and waits for his partner. As the second detective arrives, he kicks Whittle’s head, which jerks violently.
Moments later, Whittle rolls slightly and looks up. Blood is streaming across his forehead and down his face.
The video surfaced at a time when emotions were frayed nationally regarding police procedures during arrests of unarmed individuals that turned deadly in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y.
The Mid-Missouri Drug Task Force incident occurred Sept. 3. Police reports, court records and video The Star obtained through an open-records request detail the chase and arrest. In some cases, the written reports don’t match what the video shows.
Task force members intended to serve a search warrant that authorized them to look in Whittle’s home for materials used to make methamphetamine.
As deputies in nearby woods watched, Whittle and another man left the home in an SUV. A camera-equipped Missouri National Guard helicopter followed the vehicle to an Olean residence, in Miller County, where Whittle climbed into a black pickup truck and took off as task force members arrived.
The camera tracked the long pursuit along two-lane roads, across several fields and yards, and through fences. At one point, as the truck spun in a field, its nose hit the open passenger door of a pursuing task force vehicle, knocking the door shut before the detective could climb out. At another point, one of three task force vehicles attempting to corner Whittle overturned in a ditch.
The chase ended after Whittle drove into a yard, jumped from the still-rolling truck and ran across a field before stopping, his hands raised in surrender. Then he lay down on his stomach.
The first detective to reach Whittle sat on him, straddling his lower back while holding his wrists. As the second detective, Michael Chinn, arrived, he kicked Whittle in the head and then held Whittle’s neck down with his knee while he pressed a stun gun against Whittle’s back. Chinn handed handcuffs to his partner, who cuffed Whittle.
Chinn could not be reached for comment.
Capt. Don Isaac, the task force leader, declined to comment to The Star.
But last month he told a Jefferson City television station that Whittle had assaulted officers before leading them on the 20-minute chase. He also said the silent video didn’t capture the detective’s instructions to Whittle.
“The conversation between the officers, which you don’t get, is, he’s hollering at him, ‘Stop resisting, stop resisting,’” Isaac told the station.
Asked by The Star to view the video, one Missouri lawyer called the kick and the force applied on Whittle’s neck violations of recognized police policies and procedures.
“Officers are only to use that amount of force that is necessary and called for under the circumstances,” said S. Rafe Foreman, a law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City who has filed several lawsuits against police departments after excessive-force incidents.
“There was absolutely no circumstance in that video that would justify a violent kick to the suspect’s head,” Foreman said.
“I am not trying to say the officers are bad,” Foreman said, adding that the detectives may not have been properly trained.
In his written report, Chinn wrote that as he was running, he heard Detective Kip Bartlett yelling at Whittle to put his arms behind his back.
“As I approached I observed the suspect Timothy Whittle continuing to turn his head and … attempting to resist by furtive movements,” Chinn wrote. “While running I swiftly arrived next to the suspect and gave him a dry stun, and an application of a five second burst from the Taser in the center of his back to gain compliance and control. … At this time the suspect, Timothy Whittle, stop (sic) resisting.”
Bartlett’s account also maintained that Whittle resisted.
“I ordered him to the ground,” Bartlett wrote. “Once on the ground I attempted to handcuff him. Whittle started stiffing his arms and kept pulling his right arm away. I was telling him to stop resisting.”
Neither account mentioned the kick to Whittle’s head. Bartlett did mention “two small cuts” near Whittle’s right eye, writing that Whittle “told me he had hit his head on the windshield when he jumped a mound of dirt in one of the field (sic).”
In the video, however, no blood showed on Whittle’s face as he ran through the field.
Whittle pleaded guilty in October to resisting arrest for running from the officers and to tampering with a motor vehicle for taking a friend’s truck. He is serving a four-year prison sentence.
Whittle’s family hired Rachel Russell, a St. Peters, Mo., lawyer, to look into Chinn’s actions.
On Russell’s advice, Whittle declined an interview request from The Star.
“We look forward to sharing the truth about the police brutality that goes beyond the video clip shown to the media and the lies used by law enforcement to cover it up,” she said.
She declined to elaborate.
But the full chase and arrest video obtained by The Star shows other instances where the officer’s written reports don’t match the video.
For example, Chinn and Bartlett both reported that Whittle resisted being handcuffed before Chinn arrived.
But according to Foreman’s examination of the video, Whittle did not resist Bartlett for the 15 seconds Bartlett held him alone.
The incident represents a highly visible example of unprofessional behavior by drug task force members who operate largely without oversight, said Aaron Malin, a Columbia member of Show-Me Cannabis, a pro-marijuana legalization group.
In October, Malin sued the Missouri Narcotics Officers Association, saying the group violated the state Sunshine Law by not supplying financial records and other information about the training the group provides to other law enforcement officers.
Chinn has left the drug task force, according to Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond, whose office had commissioned Chinn as a deputy sheriff. Pettis County is a member of the six-county drug task force.
Chinn never directly worked as a Pettis County sheriff’s deputy, Bond said.
Morgan County Sheriff Jim Petty confirmed that although Chinn had left the task force, it was to take another law enforcement job within the state and his departure was not related to Whittle’s arrest.
Petty declined to comment on the arrest itself.