Body camera footage of a Ferguson officer blew up the cover story he told about why he punched a handcuffed man in the face. On Tuesday, ex-cop Jackie Matthews pleaded guilty in federal court to violating the arrestee’s civil rights and filing a report to obstruct an investigation.
Matthews was charged in November 2020, although documents filed with the court at the time only alleged that he “knowingly made a false entry in a file” and assaulted a suspect who was handcuffed “and not posed no physical threat to anyone.”
However, the recent guilty plea goes into more detail about the lies Matthews offered to explain how a March 13, 2020 arrest turned violent.
That day, Matthews responded to a call for a suspected domestic disturbance case in the 1600 block of Norlakes Drive in Ferguson, and there he arrested a man identified in court documents as “GR”.
Here’s what Matthews claimed to have happened next: After he was put in the back seat, GR allegedly started “banging on the back door and the window in [the] full-power patrol vehicle,” resulting in an altercation between the cop and the handcuffed man.
But, as the guilty plea makes clear, the body camera attached to Matthews’ uniform showed a different story: Instead of GR kicking the cop from the backseat, the footage showed Matthews standing at outside the vehicle and talking to the man he had just arrested. Both engaged in “verbal chatter” that quickly turned contentious, turning into “insults, profanity and shouting”, according to the plea.
Although both men were involved in the argument, only one had use of his hands: the plea describes GR asking to be let out of the vehicle – and Matthews obliged. The officer unlocked the rear door and “challenged GR to exit the vehicle”.
The description of the incident in the plea continues:
GR then got out of the vehicle. Matthews and GR continued to argue outside the vehicle and then Matthews pushed him back into the vehicle. While trying to force GR back into the vehicle, Matthews and GR struggled. GR moved his face to Matthews and spat at him. Matthews placed his hands on GR’s throat and struck GR several times in the face with the heel of his open hand. GR attempted to defend himself but was only able to kick Matthews because GR remained handcuffed. Matthews then punched GR in the face.
In his police report, Matthews described the scuffle, but he made up details of how it started that would justify his violence and later attempts to press charges against GR for assaulting a police officer and damaging property. .
But the body camera was watching. Matthews claimed that he opened the back of the vehicle to fasten GR’s seat belt, and that GR then “quickly got out of his vehicle” and “ran up to” the officer and spat in his face. face.
As the plea notes, “these claims are totally contradicted” by the images. Matthews would eventually admit that his statements were false.
After reviewing the footage, the Ferguson Police Department fired Matthews, ending his policing career at Ferguson just a year after he was hired in 2019. His sentencing is scheduled for April. He could face up to 21 months in prison for his crimes.
Matthews’ attempted deception is all the more notable given that Ferguson was among the first Missouri departments to deploy officers equipped with body cameras following the shooting death of Michael Brown. Amid conflicting eyewitness accounts, the murder itself was not recorded because the department had no cameras equipped for its officers or patrol cars.
While Ferguson began deploying its body cameras to officers quickly enough for the devices to be used in subsequent protests in 2014, other departments in the St. Louis area have struggled for years to get their programs off the ground. body cameras. In St. Louis County, body cameras were not fully implemented until 2019, while the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department faced numerous delays and false starts before finally deploy cameras to approximately 600 officers in July.
Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. Email the author at [email protected]
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