ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A prosecutor told a jury Monday that the state would show former Albuquerque police officer Connor Rice not only jumped on a suspect who had surrendered but also delivered three blows to the 20-year-old who had managed to evade police for some time.
“I surrender” are the last words Dion Alexander spoke before lying down with his hands behind his back before Rice “slides into him” and hits him, Assistant District Attorney Tim Callaway told a jury.
Those words and Rice’s punches made headlines when video from the three pursuing officers’ lapel cameras were made public. They showed Rice and two other officers pursuing Alexander, punching and jumping on him and tasering his friend Kenneth Box.
But Zach Ives, an attorney for Rice, said Alexander and Box created the situation they now complain about.
“Although he said, ‘I surrender,’ that’s not what he did,” Ives told a jury before 2nd Judicial District Judge Judith Nakamura. He said Alexander began to kick his legs during the arrest. And that was after Alexander had lied to officers repeatedly about his name, Social Security number and whether he’d been to jail before, taking off running so fast the officers on bikes couldn’t catch up with him and continuing to hide and flee before they finally caught up with him again.
APD fired Rice a year after the May 31, 2012, incident in which Box was zapped with a stun gun in his apartment multiple times and Alexander was struck at least three times after his surrender. He is appealing the termination.
Ives said in his opening statement that the only force used was three palm strikes to Alexander’s upper shoulder.
Rice is criminally charged with two misdemeanors, battery and aggravated battery.
Alexander was given immunity to testify in the case, though he is pending sentencing in another, unrelated case.
Both Box and Alexander testified in the case before Nakamura sent the jury home after 5 p.m.
The event that police began investigating was potential narcotics activity by a handful of young men who were together in a park adjacent to a southeast Albuquerque community center.
Box, who lived in a nearby apartment, said he was in the park exercising a dog when they sat down in a gazebo near Mesa Verde Communtiy Center when they were approached by officers on bikes who asked if they were selling drugs. One of the men in the informal group had marijuana he had offered to share, according to testimony.
Two other young men, including Alexander, began walking toward the community center while the officers began asking questions. Alexander gave his name as “Demontre Alexander” and took off running.
Box testified he was walking back to his apartment when he encountered the officers a second time. He said he was shutting the apartment door when officers, suspecting Alexander was hiding inside, were demanding to be let in. When Box’s roommate asked if they had a warrant, Rice responded that they didn’t and added, “It’s called ‘hot pursuit.’ ”
Box said he didn’t know what that meant.
Box said he had moved quickly inside with the dog, while Rice started pushing against the door. He used his stun gun on Box’s leg while another officer broke down the door, he said, and once inside, the stun gun was used several times more.
Box, in cross-examination, denied approaching the other officer who deployed the Taser until he saw slowed-down video and conceded, “It looks like that.”
Alexander testified that he had started running because he erroneously thought there was a warrant out for his arrest.
Although he didn’t possess anything illegal, he said, “I was a little unsure, scared. Me and police haven’t had good relationships before; I just knew they weren’t on my side.”
He said he took off running to Box’s apartment, but he didn’t think Box knew it. He hid in a closet and took off his shirt “because I was on fire” and trying to catch his breath.
He said he left the apartment after hearing a loud boom and kept running “because I heard Kenny screaming.” He said he eventually surrendered because he knew he was surrounded, said, “I surrender,” and “felt a knee in my back, as if Rice had landed on me.” He said he was hit three or four times.
“It’s like the air got physically squeezed out of my lungs,” he said.
Afterward, however, there were few signs of injury, according to photos Ives showed of Alexander shortly after his arrest.