Charlotte, NC — A man, who would later be proven innocent, had officers pile on top of him, hold a gun to his head, beat him into the earth, taser him, and threaten to kill him. All of it was captured on video. The chief of police even called the incident “indefensible” at the time. Now, however, the taxpayers are going to be held liable—not the police.
The unarmed suspect’s only ‘crime’ was running away from police. In response to a man running, four officers were caught on camera punching, elbowing, and threatening to shoot the unarmed man, James Yarborough, in the head.
After the original video broke, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Chief Kerr Putney defended most of then-Charlotte Mecklenburg police Officer Jon Dunham’s actions, as well as the actions of the other officers. However, in regard to the gun to the head, Putney said, “I’m not going to defend the indefensible.”
According to the police report, the incident happened on March 26, 2016, when police stopped a car they suspected was involved in a string of larcenies. Yarborough was a passenger in that car.
Yarborough, who has been arrested in the past for unlawful possession of a firearm, explained that the driver of the car was trying to sell him a gun — a gun he did not want. He says he ran because he didn’t want cops to accuse him of possessing this gun which would have certainly ended up with Yarborough in jail.
After he was nearly killed and severely beaten, however, Yarborough notes that it was a poor decision to flee.
“The only thing I did wrong that day was run. That is the only thing I did wrong that day,” Yarborough told WBTV. “I regret running.”
However, because he ran, police chased him. And, when they caught him, they were less than accommodating, as videos from two body cameras show.
The first body camera shows the stop and then a several-minutes-long chase until Yarborough is brought down by officers.
The second body camera, worn by one of the officers on top of Yarborough, shows a cop hold his service pistol to Yarborough, who is unarmed and under several cops.
“Don’t fucking resist,” one officer says to Yarborough just before a pistol is held to his head.
Once the gun is pressed to Yarborough’s head, an officer is heard saying “I will kill you, you understand? Give me your hand, now!”
As WBTV reports, Yarborough said he thought, in that moment, he may die.
“That moment felt like—it felt like it might have been my last day,” Yarborough said.
Yarborough was apparently having a hard time getting his arms behind him with 600 pounds of cop on top of him, and can be heard telling cops he is not resisting.
“Light him up, he don’t want to do it,” a cop can be heard saying of Yarborough being unable to put his hands behind his back.
Seconds later, we hear a Taser.
“I knew it was over. I just knew it was over,” Yarborough said of that moment as he watched the video with a WBTV reporter.
As four cops held him down, Yarborough is laying on the ground, clearly not resisting. However, the elbows and fists continue to drop on his head. For four and a half minutes, the officers continue to beat Yarborough before putting him into handcuffs.
As WBTV pointed out, video and audio captured by an officer’s body camera show him telling the four officers on top of Yarborough to get off of him so he can put his hands behind his back.
One cop, who is standing up, even acknowledges this.
“Guys, Dunham, you have to come up so he can get it back there,” the officer standing over the group says. “He’s not going anywhere.”
Clearly, these cops were acting as if Yarborough was resisting so they could dole out their brutality.
As soon as the officers stop beating him and get off him, he puts his arms behind his back and the situation is over.
After the video was published last year, WBTV obtained a copy of the CMPD reports which named the officers involved in the assault. The report also exposes the cop who assaulted Yarborough with his pistol for lying.
The reports identify Officer Jon Dunham as the officer who pressed his pistol to Yarborough’s head and threatened to kill him.
But Dunham’s report provides a different recounting of his actions at the beginning of the struggle with Yarborough.
“At this point I observed him shove his hand towards his waistband. He was completely uncooperative’ I believed he was reaching for a gun in an attempt to seriously hurt me or Officer Michaels; knowing that suspects are known to frequently place guns in the front if (sic) their waistbands, I drew my pistol and threatened to shoot him,” Dunham wrote.
Dunham’s narrative made no mention of the gun pressed to Yarborough’s temple nor his threat to “kill” Yarborough.
Aside from failing to mention the fact that he threatened to kill the unarmed man, Dunham’s description of Yarborough reaching for his waistband was also exposed as a lie. The video clearly shows Yarborough’s arms extended out in front of him.
“(I have) many disturbing impressions,” Charlotte attorney Jake Sussman said to WBTV immediately after watching the videos. “You’ve got three to four fully grown men driving this person into the earth, beating on him with elbows and fists, sticking a gun against his temple and threatening to kill him.”
“I think if you show that to 12 people on the street, they would certainly think that there was a problem. There certainly seems like that was an unreasonable use of force,” Sussman said.
However, the CMPD disagrees. During their ‘investigation’ into the incident, they found no wrongdoing on the part of the officers. Apparently, holding your pistol to the head of an unarmed and surrendering man while threatening to kill him is in accord with department policy.
“When you look completely at the totality of the circumstances, you have to ask yourself ‘was that reasonable in that situation?’ and, based on everything, it was reasonable,” CMPD Major Stella Patterson said of the incident.
A year after they exonerated Dunham, the CMPD took up the case again and found that he had engaged in conduct “unbecoming of an officer.”
Highlighting just how egregious this case was, according to the Charlotte Observer, in September — and for the first time in its 20-year history — the city’s Citizens Review Board ruled against CMPD on its handling of a complaint against officers. On a 7-1 vote, the board found that Putney “had clearly erred” by not disciplining Dunham.
As for Yarborough, he was arrested and charged with misdemeanor resisting a public officer, assault on an officer inflicting serious injury and felony felon in possession of a firearm. However, after realizing that they clearly lacked evidence of any of these crimes, all three charges were dropped and Yarborough was released.
To make matters worse, Yarborough has attempted to report the officers multiple times but has been turned away every time. Now, the taxpayers will be held responsible.
“That’s a heck of a beating, man. You know, that’s a real life beating,” he said. “Even now I sweat in my sleep. I wake up looking out the window because I’m like ‘they’re coming to get me again.’”
Body camera 1: The Chase and the officer standing over the other cops as they beat Yarborough.
Body camera 2: The struggle on the ground and the pistol to Yarborough’s head.