WPD officer's use-of-force trial resumes

WPD officer's use-of-force trial resumes

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - The bench trial for a Wilmington police officer accused of using excessive force during an arrest in 2014 resumed Wednesday morning.

Corporal James Johnson is accused of choking Tyrell River, then 16, during an arrest on April 4, 2014. A New Hanover County grand jury indicted Johnson for misdemeanor charges of assault and failure to discharge duties.

Rivers testimony continues

Rivers, who had three bindles of heroin, some marijuana and drug paraphernalia on his person at the time of his arrest, continued his testimony on Wednesday morning.

The defense asked Rivers if he told Barrett Temple, who is prosecuting the case for the District Attorney's Office, during a meeting that he had smoked marijuana or taken Xanax the day of his arrest.

"No, I told her that I was going to later that day," Rivers said.

He also testified that he wasn't on medication on either Tuesday or Wednesday as the trial began.

The defense later asked Rivers what he meant when he testified earlier that, "this stuff happens all the time."

"I mean coming into our neighborhood and roughing us up," Rivers said. "Not treating us like they would treat you if they stopped you."

When asked if officers are just doing their jobs when investigating gang members, Rivers replied, "you're saying just because I'm a gang member, they can mess with me any time they want."

The defense then asked about the drugs in his possession at the time of his arrest.

"How about all those times I didn't have them and they did it," Rivers replied.

Testimony of SBI agent

Special Agent Raymond Reeves of the SBI testified about his interviews with Rivers and Johnson during the investigation of the case.

Reeves testified that during his interview that Johnson talked about how he used a defensive tactic on Rivers. He also stated that Johnson never said he felted threatened by Rivers and was not assaulted by him.

Reeves also testified that he interviewed Rivers before showing him video from the police cruiser that reportedly showed Johnson attempting to subdue Rivers during the arrest and asking him, "Do you want to die in my backseat tonight?"

In his interview with Reeves, Rivers told the agent that he smoked marijuana the night of the arrest and that the two-month span between the arrest and the interview made it difficult to remember some of the details of the night.

Reeves said that Rivers' recollection seemed spotty at times but as the interview continued he'd remember details.

When asked by the defense if he had looked into Rivers' criminal history before the interview, Reeves stated he had not since Rivers was considered the victim in the investigation.

Much of Wednesday afternoon's court proceedings centered on the credibility of an expert witness and his opinion based on the sole observance of car cam video, taken the night of Tyrell Rivers' arrest.

The prosecution had enlisted expert testimony from Officer James Combs, of Fayetteville, NC.  Combs had more than 15 years experience at the NC Justice Academy.

The defense claimed Combs' opinion in the case was tainted by the fact he was never given any incident report, or background information, leading up the arrest of Rivers. The only information on which Combs was making an opinion was based solely on observing car cam video, taken the night of the arrest.

"Were you comfortable rendering an opinion without knowing the totality of the accusations?" asked attorney J. Michael McGuiness.

"I felt fairly comfortable based on what's taught," Combs responded.

The judge agreed, and Combs' testimony could stand.

During questioning by the prosecuting attorney's office, Combs said he felt there was an unreasonable use of the baton, with the person in back of the car (Rivers) and that Johnson appeared to have Rivers, at one point, by the throat.

The defense will cross examine Combs Thursday morning at 9:30.

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