Chief W. H. “Skip” Holbrook’s Statement Regarding Assembly Street Arrest in Columbia

Columbia, SC (STL.News) “There have been a number of inquiries concerning a recently published photograph and video depicting Columbia Police Department tactical officers arresting an individual during a period of civil unrest on Saturday, May 30, 2020.  Both the photograph and various videos capture the arrest and the hostile environment in which the officers were working at the time of the incident.  The photograph shows one officer with his knee on the neck of the suspect.

The two most prevailing questions about the incident have been: (1) Were the officer’s actions a violation of policy? (2) What is the status of the officer?

It is the policy of the Columbia Police Department (CPD) that officers will use only the minimum amount of force necessary to accomplish lawful objectives.  In this case, the lawful objective was to arrest someone who was violating the emergency curfew during a period of unprecedented civil unrest, using the least amount of force necessary.  Less-than-lethal force is described as force that carries the minimal likelihood of causing serious physical injury or death.  Weaponless force is described as using empty-hand control techniques while securing a subject.  Consistent with our policy, the officers in this incident were using minimal proportional force by using hand control and handcuffing techniques to arrest an actively resisting, non-compliant suspect who was in violation of the emergency curfew.

During the arrest, the suspect was placed on the ground in order to safely control his movements while officers secured his hands with flex cuffs (disposable plastic zip tie hand restraints).  Officers are trained to place their knee on the shoulder blade area of a non-compliant suspect during a prone handcuffing procedure, just as in this case.

However, in this incident, the officer’s knee momentarily moved from the shoulder blade area to the neck.  The officer quickly realized the improper placement of his knee and adjusted accordingly, as other officers worked to control and secure the suspect.  As soon as the flex cuffs were properly secured on the suspect, he was assisted to his feet and handed off to an arrest team.  The entire incident lasted less than 60 seconds.

The officer did not violate CPD policy and remains on duty.  The officer’s knee unintentionally shifted during the handcuffing of the suspect while in a prone position.  Although very brief, it was an incorrect position which was quickly corrected.  The CPD Training Unit Commander has since counseled the officer regarding his knee placement during the incident.  The officer has also received refresher training for prone position handcuffing by a Columbia Police Department instructor certified by the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy.  Additionally, all officers have been reminded of their duty to intervene in situations in which another officer’s actions may be improper or unsafe.

As I have previously said, I believe all success we achieve in law enforcement – past, present, and future – is predicated on building relationships and trust with our citizens.  Of course, there is always room for improvement, and we must continue to work together to make those improvements.  When setbacks occur and mistakes are made, we must be willing to acknowledge them, fix them, learn from them and continue to move forward together – that’s what professional 21st Century Policing looks like and that is how we police in Columbia.”