Officer accused of using excessive force: 'I did not choke Mr. Rivers'

Officer accused of using excessive force: 'I did not choke Mr. Rivers'

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - The Wilmington Police Department officer accused of using excessive force took the stand in his own defense Monday morning.

Corporal James "Coley" Johnson is charged with simple assault and willful failure to discharge duties in the arrest of then 16-year-old Tyrell Rivers. Rivers was arrested on April 4, 2014 for trespassing, drug charges, and resisting arrest in the Jervay housing community.

Cpl. Johnson described the night Rivers was arrested to the court.

He testified he was working the "midnight" shift, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., to train a new officer.

He and the trainee, Peter Maddox, responded to a call to assist an officer looking for suspicious subjects in the Jervay housing community around midnight.

He said two officers responded before he and Maddox. One of them was already patrolling the area on foot and advised there were three people who fit the description, who he said seemed like they were evading him.

Johnson and Maddox drove to that area and saw Rivers and two others.

Johnson said from his experience in law enforcement, it seemed as though Rivers was going to run. He said he called out to him, and Rivers "took off." The other two men did not flee.

The officers attempted to tase Rivers, but Johnson said he was out of range.

He said after running around 200 yards, Rivers laid down in a yard.

"He went down on his own," Johnson stated. "It was like he went out of gas."

Johnson said Rivers became belligerent immediately, and called him a "cracker."

"He was one of the most racist individuals I've ever met in 25 years, and that's saying something," Johnson said.

Officers found one bindle of heroin in Rivers's pocket, as well as a small amount of marijuana. Johnson said Rivers told the officers they planted the drugs on him.

After placing Rivers under arrest and into a patrol car, Johnson said Rivers began kicking the door of the car.

"He was viciously, violently kicking the door trying to bust the window," Johnson said.

Johnson testified he was concerned Rivers would injure himself or damage the car if he continued kicking and said he needed to be stopped

"He wasn't a pleasant individual," Johnson said. "I didn't want to spend more time with him than I had to at the hospital,"

That's when the officer explained he used his PR-24 to jab Rivers so he would turn toward him, then utilized a pressure point technique for three to four seconds to get him under control.

He said there are several risks associated with using pressure point contact, including assault. He said he it was not a deadly use of force and was not excessive.

"If I would have said 'sir, please stop' I don't think that would have been effective," Johnson said.

According to Johnson, Rivers stopped the violent behavior momentarily, but then resumed. Officers removed him from the car to put a hobble device on his legs.

Johnson said the device restricts leg movement. When he continued to kick, Johnson said he utilized the pressure point technique again.

When the prosecution asked if he received specific, 40-hour training for that technique, he said he did not.

The State also brought up the language he used during the situation, which was described as profane.

"Unfortunately, that's part of life on the street," Johnson said. He said several times he never intended to hurt Rivers, and was trying to carry out his job duties.

Court will reconvene and closing arguments are expected to begin Friday morning.

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