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Reports show weapons use among Georgia Regents University Department of Public Safety's officers

Saturday, May 31, 2014 5:18 PM
Last updated Sunday, June 1, 2014 2:06 AM
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There’s an area of town that DaShaun McCord avoids if at all possible: Georgia Regents Uni­versity. He isn’t the only one.

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Donte Stewart was hit in the face by a bullet from the gun of Martin, who fired 10 shots during the February incident at University Village. Stewart, then a freshman criminal justice major, was charged with aggravated assault on a police officer. The 19-year-old has not been indicted.   JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
Donte Stewart was hit in the face by a bullet from the gun of Martin, who fired 10 shots during the February incident at University Village. Stewart, then a freshman criminal justice major, was charged with aggravated assault on a police officer. The 19-year-old has not been indicted.
GRU Public Safety Officer Martin shoots at car driven by Keith James (body camera)
GRU Public Safety Officer Martin tases Austin Brown (Taser camera)
GRU Public Safety Officer Martin tases Frederick Gibbons (Taser camera)
GRU Public Safety Officer Martin tases Frederick Gibbons (body camera)


“Every time they see a black boy in a car they pull you over,” McCord said.

The last time he was at 15th Street and Central Avenue near the Health Sciences campus, McCord was riding with a friend who was pulled over by GRU Public Safe­ty Officer Wes­ley Martin for not having a tag light. Martin told McCord he was under arrest for an outstanding warrant from South Caro­lina.

McCord said that he knew there was no warrant and that when he didn’t put his hands on the back of Martin’s car as instructed, the officer used a stun gun on him without warning.

According to the use-of-force reports filed by Martin and Sgt. Zack Skinner, Mc­Cord ran and resisted arrest.

There was no outstanding warrant for McCord, but he was jailed on a charge of obstruction of an officer. McCord said he spent four hours in a holding cell at GRU before being taken to the county jail, where it was discovered he had bled through his shirt where the prongs of the stun gun hit him in the back.

He pleaded guilty that day without an attorney.

“I don’t even drive near (GRU) anymore,” McCord said.

McCord was one of 19 people threatened with a stun gun or actually stunned by Martin. An analysis of the department’s use-of-force reports over a three-year period from 2010 to 2013 reveals Martin used his stun gun against 13 people, more than twice as often as any other GRU officer. The officer with the next highest number of such incidents had five, and the median number was two.

VIEW DATABASE: Georgia Regents University Police Officer Use Of Force Databases and Map

Only six of GRU’s 56 officers used force against suspects more than nine times. Martin topped that list with 24 incidents. The list also included three supervisory officers.

The Augusta Chronicle began an investigation of the GRU public safety department’s use of force and arrests after the July 11, 2013, acquittal of Fredrick Gib­bons, whom Martin repeatedly stunned during a traffic stop. The investigation covers the time span when the university was called Medical College of Georgia and then Georgia Health Sciences University. Augusta State University and GHSU merged in 2013 to become GRU.

During Gibbons’ trial for felony obstruction of an officer, Martin admitted during cross-examination that he lied about his reason for stopping Gibbons on March 1, 2012, when he filled out his police report, when interviewed by the officer assigned to investigate Gib­bons’ complaint against Martin, and when he testified before the jury.

District Attorney Ashley Wright said she hasn’t had the opportunity to review Martin’s testimony. In general, she said, a perjury prosecution is difficult because you have to prove the person had the intent to mislead others and knew what he said was a lie, instead of just being mistaken about a fact.

Martin testified that he warned Gibbons about using the stun gun if he didn’t cooperate, but there was no warning heard on the video recording from Martin’s body camera, a violation of the department’s policy.

Gibbons, a small businessman with a clean record and a family, rejected a plea deal of probation and risked a possible five-year sentence and felony conviction. He did it, Gibbons said after his trial, because too many people are being abused by GRU officers. He wanted the university to investigate its public safety department.

But GRU didn’t.

Martin wasn’t disciplined over Gibbons’ arrest or for any use of force, according to personnel records obtained by The Chron­icle. Of those officers who have used force the most, none was ever disciplined, though one was told not to hit any more hospital patients in restraints, according to the personnel records.

Through a spokeswoman, Chief Bill McBride said after the Gibbons trial that the matter was closed. Repeated requests to interview McBride for this story were denied because of a pending investigation of another of Martin’s arrests in which he shot someone with a .40-caliber Glock.

Stewart and James

The shooting of Donte Stew­art on Feb. 22 wasn’t the first time Martin fired at someone with his handgun. On Nov. 2, Martin shot at Keith James during a traffic stop but didn’t wound him. On both occasions Martin reported the suspects tried to run him over. Both men were charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, a crime punishable by 20 years in prison.

James has pleaded not guilty. Stewart has not been indicted.

Stewart, who spent more than two weeks in the hospital and still suffers from numbness in his face, said he was leaving University Vil­lage when he saw Martin in a shooting stance in front of his vehicle, blocking the apartment’s entrance and exit lanes. Martin and other officers were responding to a noise complaint.

Stewart said he stopped and thought Martin was going to come to his car to speak to him. Instead, Stewart said, Martin started shooting.

“Once I got shot, I was trying to get out of there. I panicked,” Stewart said. He crashed into a tree just outside the complex. Martin and other GRU officers reported that Stewart got out of his vehicle and ran.

“I got out and started crawling,” Stewart said. He remembers watching as blood pooled on the ground below his face.

According to the physical evidence, Martin fired 10 shots at Stewart. The shot directly through the windshield hit Stewart’s face after glancing off his hand that had been on the steering wheel.

Stewart, a GRU freshman majoring in criminal justice, chose the field because his goal is to have a career as an Army officer. He got a late start on college because he joined the National Guard after graduating from the Aca­demy of Richmond Coun­ty in the college prep program. He intends to return to school.

“I’m coming back; there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “I’m coming back more mature … And I’m not going to bash the whole thing. You know there are a few bad seeds, so I’m not going to say the whole GRU police (department) or Richmond County (sheriff’s office) is bad.”

The district attorney has an open file on Stewart’s case, Wright said. It is being reviewed for possible indictment.

Policy and procedure

GRU’s use-of-force policy states that deadly force should be used only when an officer believes his life or the lives of others are in immediate danger. The stun gun can be used when other options have failed, or when a suspect is actively resisting or not complying with commands and showing willingness and ability to harm the officer or others.

In a GRU police report, Martin said he shot at Stew­art’s car because his position prevented him from moving out of harm’s way.

“Generally, the idea is if you have time to shoot, you have time to get out of the way,” said Lorie Fridell, an associate professor of criminology at the University of South Florida who researches use of force and biased policing. “That is the state of the art on policies: to get out of the way.”

Fridell said the use of stun guns is particularly tricky because departments need to detail exactly when and where they can be used.

“Policies should balance the positive aspects of Tasers against the harm and the unknown,” she said.

Fridell said there are varying degrees of resistance: passive, defensive and active. Passive resistance, she said, is generally defined as someone who is not obeying an officer but is not physically resisting. A person is using defensive resistance when physical with an officer, but in an attempt to thwart police intervention without harming the officer.

Active resistance would be physical resistance where the person is trying to harm the officer, Fridell said.

Martin testified during Gibbons’ trial that most of his stun-gun use was against unruly psychiatric patients at the hospital. Records, however, revealed that only four of 19 incidents were against hospital patients.

Most of Martin’s stun-gun incidents began with traffic stops off campus. The working jurisdiction of GRU public safety officers is generally within 1,000 feet of university property, said Christen Carter, Georgia Regents’ director of media relations. The officers also are sworn deputies of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, however, and can write citations, make arrests and enforce county ordinances outside of their working jurisdiction, she said.

Richmond County sheriff’s Sgt. Shane McDaniel said GRU officers tend to stick close to the university. However, with campuses stretching from Wrightsboro Road to Walton Way to Reynolds Street, GRU officers have authority to conduct stops when they spot infractions while traveling from one campus to another. At that point, McDaniel said, the officers can issue a citation or allow the sheriff’s office to take over.

One such traffic stop off campus grounds involving Mar­tin occurred Feb. 23, 2012.

Martin said he pursued Charles Bostic that night after clocking him at 67 mph on Wrightsboro Road. Martin reported that Bostic wouldn’t stop for blue lights and siren, and a chase ensued through the Hill area until Bostic crashed the stolen vehicle he was driving on Central Ave­nue and, according to Martin, tried to escape on foot until Martin stunned him twice.

Bostic could have faced serious prison time for the slew of charges compounded with his criminal history, but charges were reduced and the prosecutor recommended a two-year sentence.

In the incident with James on Nov. 2, Martin said he spotted the 2006 Volkswagen Passat traveling at twice the speed limit on Wrightsboro Road, but the video shows the officer never topped 45 mph in the pursuit and reached the stopped car at the Walton Way intersection.

Martin doesn’t explain in the report why he needed to pull his weapon to write a speeding ticket. He wrote that the driver refused to turn off his vehicle and ran over his foot in an attempt to hit him before Martin started shooting. The video shows Mar­tin moving toward the vehicle. He is near the driver’s door when the shooting begins.

A question of discrimination

A video recorded another incident involving Martin, one that eventually resulted in a jury’s acquitting the man he stunned.

Austin Brown was with others taking a friend to the emergency room on Sept. 9, 2011. In Martin’s report, he contends he was confronted by a hostile crowd of black men after telling them they couldn’t enter through the ambulance bay.

Martin said his back was to a wall when Brown, whom he charged with obstruction of an officer, and others moved threateningly toward him. According to the recording from the stun gun, Martin shot Brown twice.

“You gonna act right now? I’m asking you a question,” Martin said after the second firing, which he later described as a “ride.”

Brown said he felt Martin was taunting him. He refused a plea offer and stood trial, where a jury acquitted him.

Brown is black, as are Gib­bons, Bostic and McCord. According to the department’s records, GRU officers used force against 111 known blacks and 36 known whites. Mar­tin used force against 18 known blacks and four whites.

Fridell said a disparity between force used against blacks versus whites is fairly consistent throughout the country.

“Police use of force against minorities could reflect the disproportionate involvement of minorities in crime and in situations where they resist the police,” she said. “The stats you have don’t tell you whether the use of force is based on differential behavior on the part of those groups or police bias. It could be some combination. But, as a social scientist, I can tell you it’s very difficult to parse the potential causes of disparity out.”

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Little Lamb
48009
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Little Lamb 06/01/14 - 08:06 am
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1
State Government

gargoyle asked, then answered:

Do they answer to Sheriff Roundtree? If no then they are a private security force.

The campus police officers do not answer to Sheriff Roundtree. Instead they answer to Grooo Police Chief Bill McBride. Bill McBride is a state government employee. Therefore, the Grooo police force is a government agency.

Riverman1
90742
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Riverman1 06/01/14 - 08:14 am
5
1
Azziz's Accident?

I wonder which department investigated Azziz's accident?

Grandpa Jones
1104
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Grandpa Jones 06/01/14 - 08:51 am
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0
myfather15
55844
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myfather15 06/01/14 - 08:59 am
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Riverman1

"Myfather, I'll guess you deal with lots more tougher characters than Martin. Does the number of times he used his taser surprise you?"

ABSOLUTELY!! I said this in the article where it was reported Martin shot the teen last year!! I think in that article, it reported Martin had the taser for just less than two years and had actually deployed it on people 24 times!! That is absolutely incredicle to me!! That is more than two per month!! I've had a taser for around 6 years and I've shot THREE PEOPLE, total!! I don't know of ANY officer or deputy whose shot that many people!! And obviously, no one on his department has shot that many people either. Something (I really don't know what exactly) is terribly wrong here, with Martin!!

Now, I've pulled the taser and threatened to use it numerous times; which resulted in the suspect's decision to not resist!! That's the most wonderful thing about taser's; is that they usually work, just with the threat and prevent us from having to fight as often!! Taser's are no different than any other tool used in a profession; when they're used properly, by a professional, honorable officer; they are wonderful. In the hands of a hot head, not so much!! A surgical knife in the hands of a two-bit surgeon, is a scary thing; and there are plenty of them who are being constantly sued. A hammer in the hands of a professional carpenter is a wonderful thing and many beautiful houses will be built. A hammer in the hands of a two-bit drunk carpenter, not so much!! Your house will probably be uneven, half put together and eventually fall!!

The truth is, the way individual officer's deal with and talk to people, has enormous effect on how many physical altercations they encounter. If we get out of the car with an attitude, we will usually get that attitude right back towards us!! If we get out and are polite and courteous, we usually get it back towards us.

Are there those who no matter how polite you are, you will get verbal and physical resistence? Of course!! But we can cut that number WAY DOWN, by our demeanor!! There is a little something they teach us called "Verbal Judo" which actually works!! In my OPINION, Mr. Martin doesn't need a job in LE, but if they're going to retain him, I would definately have him in the verbal judo class, immediately!!

Now, an officer is NEVER to become complacent of the possibility of danger around him, but you don't have to be complacent to be polite and use verbal judo!!

myfather15
55844
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myfather15 06/01/14 - 09:17 am
5
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I've been in law enforcement

I've been in law enforcement for almost 18 years. I've been very proactive, in traffic enforcement, narcotics investigation, residential patrol and just about every aspect of law enforcement. During that time, I've had to shoot at exactly ZERO people, and thank God for it. Now, I've actually had several situations where my weapon was drawn and certainly would have been justified in shooting; but I and my fellow deputies were not quick to pull the trigger and each incident ended well. I also realize I'm VERY lucky to be able to say this; and I certainly don't take it for granted. Each day I put on the uniform, this statistic could change in a blink of an eye.

I've also been involved with and know deputies who have shot at suspects; and every situation I've seen this, it was justified and AOJ was present!! AOJ is ability, opportunity and jeopardy and all three must be present for a LE officer to shoot or use deadly force against a suspect. Does the suspect have the ability to cause serious bodily harm or death? Does the suspect have the opportunity to cause serious bodily harm or death? Are people (officer or citizens) in jeopardy of being seriously injured or killed? Again, all three must be present before deadly force can be used.

I can not speak for ALL deputies or officers, but I know I never want to take another human beings life. I also feel confident the vast majority of us never want to either. The overwhelming majority of LE officers are dang good people; who just want to serve and do the job!!

But sometimes there are some who are very questionable!! It does appear that some have the "Big man with a badge" syndrome, and want to assert their "authority" on others. The only thing we can hope is that they don't last in this profession and many don't.

corgimom
36810
Points
corgimom 06/01/14 - 10:29 am
3
4
Riverman, people that are

Riverman, people that are psychotic aren't "unruly". If you have ever been attacked by someone having a psychotic break- and I have- you will know the difference.

They are literally homicidal maniacs, and the people dealing with them are in danger of losing their life or being severely injured. They have to be subdued so that they can be safely injected with medication to sedate them and bring them out of their psychosis. Tasing them is the safest way for all involved.

corgimom
36810
Points
corgimom 06/01/14 - 10:32 am
1
5
myfather, I bet that if you

myfather, I bet that if you had to deal with the scum that hangs out around MCG, you'd use your taser a lot more than 3 times in 6 years.

I bet that all the officers that deal with Cherry Tree Crossing have used their tasers more than 3 times in 6 years.

It's downright dangerous there, especially at night.

corgimom
36810
Points
corgimom 06/01/14 - 10:34 am
0
8
"Now, I've pulled the taser

"Now, I've pulled the taser and threatened to use it numerous times; which resulted in the suspect's decision to not resist!!"

And maybe that officer deals with people who decide differently.

SOMEBODY has to be #1 in taser usage, and it doesn't necessarily mean that they have a problem.

Riverman1
90742
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Riverman1 06/01/14 - 11:09 am
4
1
Geez, I wonder what they did

Geez, I wonder what they did with psychiatric patients before tasers?

Riverman1
90742
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Riverman1 06/01/14 - 11:10 am
5
1
@MyFather

MyFather, thanks. You always give us such good, boots on the ground info. If I'm arrested I hope it's you doing it. Heh.

kiwiinamerica
963
Points
kiwiinamerica 06/01/14 - 11:15 am
0
0
This guy Martin.....
Unpublished

.....sounds like a potty-mouthed Barney Fife.

Lee Benedict
1649
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Lee Benedict 06/01/14 - 11:43 am
4
1
I am perhaps, law enforcement's

most fervent supporter. That said, many severe issues, TO INCLUDE PUBLIC SAFETY HAZARDS, exist at MCG/GRU. A good chunk of which became more and more evident since General Azziz took the throne. Since it IS an election year, perhaps Nathan Deal will finally decide to act. And then we have the Mayor-elect who appears to have a spine and who will be expected to address and confront this.

Free at last 2015
120
Points
Free at last 2015 06/01/14 - 11:51 am
0
3
Looking Back on 'Bloody Sunday' in Selma

It began on March 7, 1965, when Alabama state troopers routed peaceful demonstrators on the Edmund Pettys Bridge in Selma, which was dedicated as a national landmark. The police assault that engulfed the nonviolent, overwhelmingly black cadre of marchers helped inspire a national outcry against police brutality, institutional racism and segregation. Leading up to the march, 26- year- old activist Jimmie Lee Jackson had been shot as he tried to shield his mother from a police beating after police and state troopers broke up an earlier voting - rights march. The Selma campaign made Alabama - the citadel of Dixie - ground zero in the grassroots struggle to pressure the federal government into passing voting - rights.

gargoyle
19583
Points
gargoyle 06/01/14 - 11:52 am
1
1
" Bill McBride is a state

" Bill McBride is a state government employee. Therefore, the Grooo police force is a government agency." LL
This government agency has powers off Government property in the city of Augusta one look at the map provided by the article shows they are wide ranging far from GRU property. What they have done is not unlike the DNR or IRS setting up a road patrol .

Little Lamb
48009
Points
Little Lamb 06/01/14 - 12:43 pm
2
1
Off Government Property

Thanks for responding, gargoyle. The trouble is that once law enforcement powers have been bestowed on a deputy, that deputy can exercise those powers almost anywhere. Fortunately, most of them shy away from horning in in a jurisdiction outside their normal territory, but they don't have to.

It is amazing where you find Grooo facilities across Richmond County and even outside Richmond. I stumbled across a Grooo facility on Gracewood property (now called East Central Georgia Regional). So, if a Grooo cop was traveling from the downtown medical district out to Gracewood and stumbled upon a brawl in a parking lot, should he drive on by or try and stop the brawl? There is no one single right answer.

I agree with you, gargoyle, that Bill McBride should rein in his police officers and tell them to stick to on-campus issues and not enforce laws off Grooo property. McBride's officers can call RCSO just as easily as we can.

gargoyle
19583
Points
gargoyle 06/01/14 - 02:09 pm
2
1
Way back in history the

Way back in history the facility at Gracewood was one the buildings that I was responsible to maintain. Sticking to on campus issues would be a good step if they want to regain credibility . Mr. McBride can do allot of good if his force concentrated on what they should do instead of what they can do.

The Mick
827
Points
The Mick 06/01/14 - 02:26 pm
2
1
Folks remember one bad apple

Folks remember one bad apple doesn't spoil the bunch. But the administration is responsible for all of their apples.

Sweet son
11095
Points
Sweet son 06/01/14 - 02:44 pm
2
1
Riverman is right!

myfather15 sounds like a good cop!! Martin's use of taser more often than others is in his lack of personal skills. It seems like in his temperament that he is prone to be aggressive and that is something not wanted or seen in a good cop.

I will have to say that psychiatric patients or those on street drugs have amazing strength and are often hard to manage. If Martin would let other officers on scene handle patients the outcomes would probably be different. But don't let staff or other patients be harmed. Use the taser or whatever other means to subdue them.

crossyourarms
218
Points
crossyourarms 06/02/14 - 10:12 am
0
0
Sounds like Martin is just a

Sounds like Martin is just a plain old fashioned bully who gets off on being in authority. Get rid of him. Let him work for Sizemore Security.

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