FBI, police investigate booking of Kent resident

Leslie Arntz and Morgan Day

The Cleveland chapter of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network is prepared to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice concerning Kent police conduct during the May 17 booking of a 24-year-old man.

After reviewing surveillance video of the incident, Richard Jones, president of the Cleveland chapter, said the Kent Police Department acted unprofessionally when booking Sly E. Parham, of Kent.

Jones said he called City Manager Dave Ruller and Safety Director William Lillich Nov. 5 to find out if the incident was being investigated, but the calls were not returned. The organization will file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice Friday if the two officials do not respond.

Ruller and Lillich said they did not receive any calls from Jones; however, the police department has looked into the matter.

“The incident was reviewed shortly after it took place by the police, as well as an outside agency,” Lillich said. “Since it has surfaced again, it has been re-reviewed in closer detail.”

Ruller said he is aware of Jones’ concerns and said both the city and the FBI are reviewing the matter.

On the record

According to police incident reports, Parham, who was arrested for menacing by stalking, was ordered several times to remove his property from his pockets. After insisting the police empty his pockets for him, officers ordered Parham to place his hands on the wall. He initially complied, and then pulled away. Officer Tim Cole observed he was still resisting, so he used a Taser on Parham’s upper back. Parham dropped to the floor, and officers held him there until he became compliant.

At that point, in the video, an officer yells at Parham, asking him, “Do you understand who runs this place? It’s not you, is it?” Parham finally answers, “You.”

“You, sir,” the officer yells back.

Jones said he is not happy about the Taser use, but he realizes what warrants Taser use can be “a murky situation.” Rather, his main issue with the police officers’ conduct is how they verbally treated Parham.

“I know what hazing is, and that was, in fact, hazing,” Jones said. “They didn’t have to take it any further than where it was, and they need to respond to that.”

Jones posted the video at freechrismiller.com and YouTube on Nov. 5 and contacted different news outlets. He said since posting the video, he has received considerable response from those who have watched it.

“I’ve received 73 calls in Portage County saying, ‘Hey, too many times when we leave the Kent jail, we leave the Kent jail in a degraded state,'” he said.

Jones said it’s necessary for people, especially blacks, to comply completely with police orders, no matter what their feelings are at the time.

“When you’re confronted with law enforcement, you treat them as if they’re the Queen Mary or Jesus’ third son and deal with it later,” Jones said.

Jones said Parham’s mother requested a copy of the surveillance video from that day and brought it to his attention after she encountered housing problems stemming from her son’s police record.

According to Portage County court records, Parham’s criminal record began in 2002 with obstructing official business, disorderly conduct and failure to comply. He has two assault charges and several for disorderly conduct. The surveillance video shows the booking of his most recent arrest for menacing by stalking, a felony. Charges were dismissed May 25 at the preliminary hearing.

Continuing challenges

Lillich said police are often surprised by some responses to their actions.

“One of the worst things that creates problems with cops is when you deal with someone and you don’t know what to expect from the other side.”

He said although the majority of young Kent residents are sensible and have reasonable self-control, a segment of the population is increasingly indignant toward police.

“There are many more people inclined to be challenging of authority,” he said. “They’re resistant to any suggestion to change behavior. I don’t know why this is.”

Another issue contributing to tension between police and young residents, Lillich said, is the cyclical nature of students. Twenty-five percent of Kent State students will be gone in May, and a greater number of incoming freshmen will replace them. Police have to work to build new relationships in a constantly shifting community.

The Kent Police Department was staffed by 44 officers a few years ago, but is down to 40. However, two are new and two are on long-term medical leave. These factors, combined with the increase in service calls, creates a strain on the department.

In Kent’s proposed 2008 city budget, a priority is to fill the vacant officer positions – $150,00 has been requested. In the past, the city has kept those positions vacant to cut costs in a budget facing a $2 million deficit.

Plan of action

The Cleveland chapter of the National Action Network will travel Friday to Washington, D.C., where members will participate in the March on Hate Crimes. While the group is there, Jones said he will file a complaint at the U.S. Department of Justice.

An agent with the Cleveland division of the FBI said there is an open preliminary inquiry into the incident.

“Basically, what we do is if we receive a complaint on a situation, we’ll do an initial fact finding,” special agent Scott Wilson said. “It’s not a full-blown investigation.”

Wilson could not say who requested the inquiry.

If the initial information gathered warrants further investigation, it will be sent to the justice department. Wilson said the FBI is looking into whether there was excessive force used in the incident, which falls under the FBI’s civil rights investigative program.

“I’m not going to be so smug as to say … that it doesn’t worry us,” Lillich said. “It does worry us because it conveys the wrong image of the Kent police.”

He said there was sufficient resistance from Parham to warrant the level of force used.

“We feel that there was nothing unlawful done,” Lillich said. “I know the chief (James Peach) felt that there was some behaviors demonstrated during that incident that were less than satisfactory, and he has taken some action in that regard.”

Contact public affairs reporters Leslie Arntz at [email protected] and Morgan Day at [email protected]