U.S. Attorney’s Office: No charges for Lincoln Co. deputy who punched handcuffed teen outside hospital

Security guards at Atrium Health - Lincolnton sit on top of a teenager after tackling him to...
Security guards at Atrium Health - Lincolnton sit on top of a teenager after tackling him to the ground and stunning him with a taser.(Atrium Health)
Updated: Jan. 21, 2021 at 11:32 PM EST
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LINCOLNTON, N.C. (WBTV) – The U.S. Attorney’s Office has closed its investigation into the Lincoln Co. Sheriff’s Office and will not bring charges in the case of a deputy punching a teenager in the face while his hands were cuffed behind his back.

This stems from an incident on Dec. 19 2019 when Atrium security guards tackled 16-year-old Hayden Long to the ground, tazed him and sat on him. When LCSO deputies showed up, one punched Long in the face.

Sheriff Bill Beam denied it happened, even though it was on tape.

WBTV previously reported that Long and his family filed a lawsuit against Atrium, LCSO and Dep. Justin Polson, who punched him. On Friday, Polson filed a counter-suit against Long.

The incident began when Jessica Long took her 16-year-old son to the emergency room at Atrium Health – Lincolnton because she was worried he was having a mental health emergency. Instead of getting treatment, he was violently assaulted by hospital security guards and a Lincoln County sheriff’s deputy.

Long took her son to the ER just after midnight on Sunday, December 8, 2019. He had received mental health treatment in the past and she was concerned he might need help that night.

When Long and her son got to the ER, he was angry and didn’t want to be there. She was afraid he might try to run away from the car, so she asked for a security guard to help get him in the building to be seen.

Video shows the guard came out of the ER and stood there for less than a minute before he grabbed the boy, shoved him to the ground and drew his taser. Surveillance video of the incident shows the boy got back up before the guard shoved him off the sidewalk and into the grass.

“At no point did they tell him to put his hands behind his back, to stand still, they never tried to deescalate the situation. They just immediately went for full-blown physical force,” Long said.

The guard still had his taser drawn when a second security guard showed up. At that point, the first guard holstered his taser and Long and her son went back towards her car.

Long wanted to move her car but wanted the guards to help her son get into the ER to receive treatment. Instead, the video shows, when her back was turned, the second security guard grabbed him by the neck from behind and jumped on top of him, tackling him to the ground.

Once the boy was on the ground, video shows pools of blood dripping from his mouth.

He stayed on the ground for more than five minutes with both guards on top of him. The video shows the guards stunned the boy with a taser twice.

“I was in shock! I didn’t know what to do,” Long recalled. “I was just kind of helpless to do much of anything.”

The video shows her standing near her son as he lay on concrete driveway in handcuffs, with both guards on top of him and blood dripping from his mouth.

That changed when four deputies with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office showed up.

The deputies told the guards to get off the boy and he was sat up.

The boy, who had a mouth full of blood, spit as he was sat up. In response to the boy spitting blood, the video shows a deputy punching the boy in the face twice.

That deputy - who was later identified as Justin Polson - was so irate, the video shows, he ran over to Long and began yelling at her before a second deputy pulled him away and ultimately pulled him to the ground to control him.

Lincoln County Sheriff Bill Beam said Polson did nothing wrong in punching a 16-year-old boy whose hands were cuffed behind his back.

“Deputy Polson had a reaction to a felonious assault,” Beam said. “Spitting in a law enforcement officer’s face - spitting blood in a law enforcement officer’s face - is a felonious assault and he had a right to stop that assault from occurring.”

In fact, Beam denied Polson punched the boy in the face at all.

“Your deputy punched a 16-year-old with his hands handcuffed behind his back, twice. Is that an appropriate use of force?” a WBTV reporter asked Beam.

“All I saw was once and he was pushing him back away,” Beam responded.

Beam said Polson was disciplined for his behavior towards Long but his personnel record does not reflect a suspension, demotion or transfer.

In his interview with WBTV, Beam defended the job his deputies did.

“They walked into a volatile situation that we were not a part of,” Beam said. “And our job is to take and try to calm things down and found out what the situation is occurring.”

The boy was arrested on the night of the incident and charged with multiple misdemeanors and one count of felony assault on a law enforcement officer. He was kept in juvenile detention for eight days.

His charges remain pending at the insistence of the sheriff’s deputies - including Polson, who punched the boy multiple times while his hands were cuffed behind his back.

“The people that I thought were going to help, they did nothing but make it worse,” Jessica Long said. “They created a situation that should have never happened.

An executive for Atrium, Maureen Swick, defended the action of the hospital security guards.

“The actions that the officers took to keep others safe and to keep him safe were appropriate,” Swick said.

Swick oversees Atrium security as the system’s nurse executive.

“We are truly sorry for what this young man went through,” Swick said at the start of her interview with WBTV.

“Based on the events - and you saw the video - I would say they did the best that they could under the circumstances,” she said. “Given the escalation of his behavior, the fact that he was striking his mom and then he struck the officer, they – they de-escalated the situation.”

Swick’s claim that the boy struck the security guard is based on a claim made in the hospital security write-up of the incident.

“Officer Harczuk advised that before I arrived on scene the male visor had punched him in the face,” the report said.

But the video doesn’t show him strike the officer’s face, a point Swick reluctantly acknowledged later in the interview.

“So you stand by the fact that the young man actually hit the officer in the head?” a WBTV reporter asked.

“You could see him swing,” Swick responded.

“That’s not what I asked. Do you stand by the fact that the young man hit the officer in the head?”

“Yes, that’s what the officer stated,” she responded.

“I understand that, but you’ve seen the video, do you think the young man hit the officer in the head?” the reporter asked.

“From the angle I was watching the video, it would – I could not see that but that’s what the officer stated,” she responded.

Swick said the incident involving Jessica Long’s son was isolated and should not deter other people from seeking mental health treatment at Atrium facilities.

Jessica Long said she won’t turn to Atrium for help in future emergencies.

“I wanted help. I still need help for my son,” she said. “Nothing’s, still, been done.”

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