Bodycam video of an August arrest in Wilmington appears to show a former Wilmington police officer choking a black man in custody.
An investigation is continuing into the alleged actions of police officer Jerry Popp, who resigned late last year after the Warren County Sheriff’s Office concluded an internal investigation. Meanwhile, the City of Wilmington has implemented a new directive following the incident, which occurred Aug. 23, 2018. On that day, Richard Stewart, 37, of Wilmington, came into contact with officers of the Wilmington Police Department for allegedly violating a protection order.
During the contact, an altercation occurred and was captured on the bodycam of another officer.
Although the incident occurred last summer, city administrative officials, including Mayor John Stanforth, said they learned of the severity of the incident in January after gaining access to the video evidence via the Clinton County Prosecutor’s Office.
Stewart remains incarcerated in the Clinton County Jail on an unrelated probation violation.
“What is on the recording is disturbing and inconsistent with our values and with the rules and procedures of the City of Wilmington and its police department,” said Stanforth in a statement Thursday.
The inability of police leadership to communicate the severity of departmental situations and behaviors to city administration led the mayor to order a new policy, the statement continued.
In addition to an active Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) investigation, Stanforth said he ordered a new policy for responses to resistance and aggression reporting. Acting Chief Ron Cravens has created a new directive within the department, including additional reviews on use-of-force incidents and a mandatory notification procedure to city administrators.
Following the incident, other officers present during the altercation reported the incident and their concerns to police department leadership, Stanforth said.
A review of the video in January by city administrators demonstrated that police department policy and procedure were not followed, according to the Thursday statement.
“We are grateful to the officers who spoke up and condemned this behavior. We are actively taking steps, including remedial training and enhanced directives, to ensure no repetition of this ever occurs,” Stanforth said.
The video shows Stewart, who was handcuffed behind his back, engaging in self-harm activity and officers attempting to restrain him. At one point in the incident, Popp appears to gouge one of Stewart’s eyes and then he puts his hand around Stewart’s neck.
Because Stewart was making suicidal threats and harming himself, the WPD had Stewart transported to Clinton Memorial Hospital. Stewart tested positive for meth and THC, according to the report.
Clinton County Prosecuting Attorney Rick Moyer said of the video Thursday, “After seeing that video as a prosecutor, I was not very happy with the behavior of the officer. At all.”
The incident remains under investigation by BCI for possible charges. Moyer asked BCI to investigate the incident.
Moyer estimated that between six and 12 criminal cases were dropped due to Popp being deemed “a Brady officer” who has made a false statement under oath. Most of those cases were drug cases in which police dog Karson, Popp’s canine partner, was deployed to detect illicit drugs, according to Moyer.
The prosecutor said the video is shocking to watch.
There was a prior situation also involving Popp and a similar allegation occurring July 9, 2018 at the Clinton County Jail. After Wilmington Police Sgt. Neil Rager — who is the WPD subject control instructor — reviewed the jail video, it was officially determined that Popp’s actions during that incident included a disapproved use of force, city officials stated Thursday.
The victim in the August incident of which the bodycam video was released Thursday is African-American. The alleged victim in the July incident at the jail is white.
Police body cameras were introduced by the city in 2016. Stanforth credited the technology with providing crucial information for the ongoing review.
“Body cameras provide protection for our citizens and officers alike,” he said.
Then-police chief Duane Weyand — who resigned that post on Monday — stated in December that Popp “left to pursue other opportunities.”
The News Journal contacted Popp on his cell phone late Thursday afternoon for comment on the incident and/or investigation. He declined comment, and stated that “I’ve left the department and I’ve moved on to another career.”
The News Journal reported in late January that four investigations related to the Wilmington Police Department were underway — patrol officer Anthony Mitchell, who later resigned in mid-February, and Chief Det. Josh Riley; a former patrol officer (Popp); and an administrative assistant, Anna Collins.
Stanforth told the News Journal in January that, in the wake of multiple investigations, Weyand was placed on administrative leave pending the outcomes of the investigations and a review of internal procedures. The mayor stated that there was no criminal investigation being conducted of Weyand.