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Jury to get cop excessive force case

APD officer used Taser, struck man

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

A jury should begin deciding sometime today whether the force used by former Albuquerque Police officer Connor Rice on two individuals while investigating a suspected drug crime was reasonable or criminal.

Rice’s partner, a 17-year APD veteran, former detective and bike patrol trainer, testified Tuesday that he believes the force was appropriate.

Prosecutors rested their case, and the defense called its first witness before the jury was sent home by 2nd Judicial District Judge Judith Nakamura.

Nakamura denied a defense request to direct a verdict in favor of Rice, 32, who is charged with battery and aggravated battery, both misdemeanors.

Rice had been with APD for more than six years and was a bike patrol officer when he was fired over the incident.

Defense attorney Zach Ives suggested through questioning that Rice had fallen victim to APD brass embarrassment over videotapes showing the Tasering of one person and blows to another during an arrest.

The lapel videos, which the officers themselves tagged into evidence, were released to the media and widely broadcast following the May 31, 2012, incident in Southeast Albuquerque.

Rice and his partner, officer Ron Surran, had received a request from a crime prevention specialist to look into drug activity in the park adjacent to Mesa Verde Community Center during daylight hours when children were present, according to Surran’s testimony. The two bike officers headed to the park that morning to have a look.

They saw four men at a table under a covered picnic area, and as they approached the group, two immediately got up and walked toward the community center, Surran testified in a videotaped deposition. Surran was not available to testify in person because he is in Afghanistan on a military deployment.

Surran said the plan was to make consensual contact and see what was going on.

As they neared the table, the officers smelled marijuana and asked if the men had anything illegal. One volunteered that he had marijuana and was taken into custody.

Another, whom they later learned was Dion Alexander, gave a false name and immediately began to change his story, but when Rice began to handcuff him he took off, with Rice on his bike trying to catch up.

As Alexander jumped fences and hid, other police officers set up a perimeter.

Both Rice and Surran ended up perhaps half an hour later at an apartment complex in the 400 block of Rhode Island. Surran said he came up when Rice was asking two of the men from the park, Kenneth Box and his roommate David Whitney, if they had seen Alexander, and they denied knowing him.

Box stepped quickly inside his apartment, shut the door and tried to brace it as Rice and another officer pushed to get in. Whitney asked if the officers had a warrant, and Rice replied that it was “hot pursuit.” Rice used his Taser through the partially open door and he and the other officer went inside to question Box, who was Tased again several time in the chaos as he yelled about needing to retrieve his pit bull, who’d escaped out the door.

Surran said he heard Rice yell, “He’s going out back,” and saw a shirtless Alexander leap onto a table, a birdcage and two fences before disappearing again.

Surran later saw Alexander pop up from behind a dumpster and said that at that point, “He pretty much gave up.” Surran approached with his gun drawn and Rice arrived by bike, dismounted while braking and started taking Alexander into custody. Alexander was on his stomach and moving, with his hands behind his back and at one point out to his side.

The moment amounted to a “dynamic explosion of movement,” according to Surran, with both officers telling the suspect to stop resisting.

Surran said that in his peripheral vision, he saw Rice strike Alexander he thought three times in rapid succession – not punches, but a “distraction technique” officers are trained to use in some circumstances.

The arrest happened in less than a minute, Surran said.

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