MEMPHIS, Tenn. — What started as a request to use the police precinct’s bathroom ended with an elderly man being pepper sprayed and hauled off to jail.
Now, the family of the Marine veteran is blasting the Forrest City Police Department about how officers treated their loved one.
The Forrest City Arkansas Police Department’s police chief said it is pretty common for people in town to wander in and sit for a while.
However, things went wrong when Tommie Jackson, 62, dropped in on the first of February. The disable Marine veteran told WREG that he requested to use the bathroom after sitting for a while in the lobby.
“There was no other place to go,” Jackson said. “I thought they may have a public bathroom.”
He said a worker behind the counter then told him the bathroom was out of order, and that started everything.
“I just want to use the bathroom, that’s all,” Jackson said.
The lobby camera picked up what happened next, showing Jackson getting up, going to a garbage can in the corner and relieving himself.
A police officer was called from the back. WREG is unaware what was said, but the video showed the female officer reach out. Jackson, who was using a cane, then fell down.
There was a confrontation, and the officer who was later identified as a Lieutenant, pepper sprayed Jackson. Two other officers then got involved and got on top of Jackson. The camera angle made it difficult to see everything except Jackson’s feet in the air.
Police eventually dragged him to the back of the jail and arrested him. Jackson was charged with indecent exposure, public intoxication, resisting arrest and assault.
Jackson’s family, including his nephew Albert Rogers, admits his using the lobby as a bathroom was not right. However, they also said what Jackson told his sister about the incident was not right either.
“She asked him ‘Hey what happened, are you okay,'” Rogers said. “And he stated to her that they had kicked his (expletive).”
The family said they would have never known what happened if they had not filed a Freedom of Information Request for the lobby video. They also said police took two months to release the video to them.
“They were trying to hide the fact that they had beat him and jumped up on him and treated him like a dog, like he wasn’t human,” Rogers said.
The video has no sound.
WREG met with Forrest City Police Chief Deon Lee at the police station. He showed WREG the lobby video camera and said the audio on that particular camera malfunctioned during the incident. Lee said he questioned his officers and looked at the video himself.
“At one point, it seems that Mr. Jackson got agitated and if you look at the still shots, it looks like he took his cane and he raised it towards her face, and she put her hand up to keep him at distance,” Lee said. “Mr. Jackson came back at her. She put her hands up again, and it appears that Mr. Jackson falls back on the ground.”
On Jackson’s arrest ticket, the officer said he grabbed her around the bottom of both of her calves and ankles with a tight grip and would not let go. His family said officers kicked Jackson.
“We questioned officers about that. Again, the angle of the video, you can’t really tell exactly what happened,” Lee said. “Video is tricky. You can see something in the video that appears to be there but is really not there. When I look at the video, there are some things that are kind of disturbing.”
He said he emphasizes with his officers to try to deescalate situations with the public.
“The guy’s on the ground. You got two officers there who should be able to restrain a handicap, appear to be handicap,” Lee said. “I feel like there was more than enough force there to handle that gentleman without any extra force being needed.”
The police chief also said his officers could have better handled this incident by allowing Jackson to use the restroom. However, the only violation the chief found was officers did not turn on their body cameras during the incident, which would have allowed everything to be seen and heard.
One officer will not face any charges for that, but a second one is already on leave for a different incident.
“I held a hearing two days ago on the Commander,” Lee said. “No decision has been made at this point on what disciplinary action will be taken against her.”
Jackson and his family want more.
“I think they are all covering up for each other,” Rogers said. “They think what they did to him is okay, and it’s not.”
The Forrest City Police Department did its own investigation and sent the findings to the state prosecutor, who ruled there was no wrongdoing by the officers.
The police chief said the female Lieutenant involved did ultimately get a two-day suspension without pay for not turning on her body camera.
Jackson’s family said they are looking at their next options in their search for justice.