Warning: The video linked here contains graphic language and violence.
(Audio on this video starts 30 seconds in; a standard affection of the brand of body cam the Muskogee Police use)
Justin Dale Neel, 32, of Muskogee was arrested around 3 p.m. on March 17 of this year on complaints of failure to appear, assault and battery on a pregnant victim resisting arrest and assault on a police officer.
Officer Veronica Kennedy arrested Neel after police say they saw him physically assault his then-girlfriend. After Neel was cuffed, Kennedy’s body cam video, obtained by MuskogeeNOW, shows Neel asking police to let his girlfriend get his necklace before he is taken to jail.
Muskogee Police Lt. Devin Beach yells “hey” twice at Neel, ostensibly to get him to be quiet.
At 39 seconds into the video. Neel leans forward toward Beach while being held from behind by Kennedy, and yells “hit me, you punk-ass bitch!” At 40 seconds, Beach grabs Neel by the neck and face and pushes him to a police cruiser, slamming his head into it. Then, through gritted teeth, Beach yells “who the hell do you think you are?” and wraps his arm around Neel’s neck, his forearm compressing the suspect’s windpipe and vocal cords.
Kennedy puts a can of pepper spray into the suspect’s face and he slumps to his knees and continues asking for his girlfriend to get his necklace, eliciting several orders to “shut up” from Beach, who then places his knee on the prone man’s neck and drives his face into the asphalt.
Asked yesterday about the video and the restraint techniques used by Beach during the arrest, the Muskogee Police Department acknowledged that the forms of restraint used by Beach were not authorized by the department and that “corrective action was taken,” though it would not specify what action was actually taken.
The neck restraint approved by the department is called a “vascular neck restraint” and is fashioned after similar MMA moves that use the arm to compress the carotid artery to suppress blood flow to the brain and cause unconsciousness. The department only allows officers who are trained in the technique to use it in “limited circumstances,” including where the officer believes the suspect has the reasonable potential to harm others or himself. Beach, however, is not trained in the technique, the department said, and thus not authorized to use it.
Further, Beach did not use the vascular neck restraint technique. Instead, he used a “bar arm choke” which compresses the windpipe and vocal cords and suppresses the air flow to the lungs, which can induce unconsciousness. That dangerous and potentially fatal technique is not approved by the Muskogee Police Department for any application. Also not approved is using a hand to choke a suspect.
The police department reported that if he had possessed the proper training, it found Beach would have been justified in using an approved restraint technique because its review of the video showed that Neel was about to head-butt him and that his reaction was not in response to the suspect calling him a “punk-ass bitch.”
“When a suspect is handcuffed,” the official statement reads, “his ability to inflict an assault on an officer is reduced, but is not eliminated. Lt. Beach, during the course of the incident, believed the suspect, acting with such intense anger, was going to strike Lt. Beach with his head.”
The statement goes on to reiterate that the techniques Beach used were not authorized by the department and “corrective action has been taken.”
Police department policy requires the police to get immediate medical attention for suspects against whom the correct vascular restraint method is used and to inform the medical personnel that a neck restraint was used. However, in this case, not only did they not get immediate medical attention for Neel, but when EMTs finally arrived to the holding area at the jail, they were only informed that Neel had a laceration on his head, and not that he was choked by an officer.
In addition, jail personnel are supposed to be informed of the usage of the technique, but they also were not.
The department also stated that leaning on the suspect’s neck with a knee is not an approved means of restraint. The department said it is implementing a “mandatory refresher” on new methods that do not utilize the unapproved technique.
Neal was convicted in 2006 of possession of controlled dangerous substance and possession of CDS in jail, for which he received a 3-year deferred sentence. In 2010, he was convicted of misdemeanor disturbing the peace for fighting in Coweta and using “language to evoke.” In the March 17 case, he has been charged with misdemeanor domestic abuse, misdemeanor assault on a police officer and misdemeanor resisting an officer. Police say they reached out to him about his request to file a brutality complaint against Beach, but they have been unable to reach him. A warrant has been issued for his arrest.
The Police Department’s responses to MuskogeeNOW’s questions on the incident can be read here. Note: the questions are the police department’s paraphrase of the questions, not as exactly asked by MuskogeeNOW, which appear below:
UPDATE 6/29: The police department said Beach’s discipline, though they still can’t specify what that entailed, was on May 12. Beach has had no complaints of excessive force in the past 30 years, according to police spokesperson Lynn Hamlin.