Branson, MO — A Missouri man is fighting for his freedom this month in a trial after being charged with assault for breaking a police officer's hand — with his face. An Ozark cop repeatedly punched the man in the face, leading to the officer breaking his hand, and now this man faces 15 years behind bars as a result.
On the night of December 14, 2019, Matthew Calhoun was driving down the road and had harmed no one when Ozark Police Department Officer Trevor Spencer claimed he saw him speeding. Spencer never actually confirmed Calhoun was speeding and he admitted in court that he had no radar to confirm the allegations. Nevertheless, he started following Calhoun.
In what amounted to little more than a fishing expedition based solely on a whim, Spencer then began following Calhoun. When Spencer ran Calhoun's license plate, he found that Calhoun allegedly violated the terms of his probation for drug possession and moved to kidnap the man.
Spencer followed Calhoun as he pulled off the highway and parked in a convenience store before going inside. When Calhoun came out of the store, Spencer was there to strike. The officer turned on his emergency lights and blocked Calhoun's car in the spot.
According to Spencer, he then proceeded to take Calhoun into custody and a physical struggle ensued. Exactly how that struggle unfolded or who initiated it remains unclear and is a situation of the cop's word versus the suspect's word. One thing is perfectly clear however, and that is the fact that the only injury reported by Spencer was the broken hand — from repeatedly punching Calhoun in the face.
Spencer claimed Calhoun took a fighting stance during this alleged struggle and he reacted accordingly — a claim frequently made by many officers to justify an unprovoked attack on an otherwise entirely innocent person. At this point, Spencer claims Calhoun made a fist, so the officer had no other choice but to begin repeatedly punching him in the face. As Calhoun tried to get out of the way of the cop's fists, Spencer tasered him and then placed him under arrest.
During the melee the officer unleashed on Calhoun's face, Spencer broke his hand.
After breaking his hand on Calhoun's face, police charged Calhoun with a felony resisting arrest charge along with the assault charge, which carried a sentence nearly twice as long as the assault charge alone. However, Judge Douglas Bacon chose to move the assault charge on to trial court, dismissing the resisting charge because it was unclear if Spencer was ever trying to arrest Calhoun.
Calhoun's defense attorney Stacie Bilyeu called it ridiculous to charge her client with using his face to cause "serious physical injury" to an officer's fist.
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"Are we supposed to feel sorry for Officer Spencer because he broke his hand on my client's face?" Bilyeu asked the court in a rhetorical question.
Janette Bleau, assistant Christian County prosecutor, disagreed and said Calhoun's actions that night put the officer at risk.
But was Spencer ever at risk and did he even tell Calhoun he was under arrest? These questions are now surfacing at the trial, poking major holes in the prosecution's case.
As the Springfield New-Leader reports:
Bilyeu argued the state could not prove Spencer ever told Calhoun he was under arrest, which resulted in Judge Bacon dismissing the felony resisting arrest charge that Calhoun had been facing.
Bilyeu also called into question whether Spencer had probable cause to stop Calhoun in the first place since it would have been difficult to positively identify Calhoun as the driver of the car after seeing the vehicle pass by on the highway and then seeing Calhoun walk into the convenience store from about 50 feet away.
What's more, if the above criteria are true, then Spencer had no justification for punching Calhoun in the face to begin with and the entire case should be thrown out.
The idea that a cop can charge a man with crimes that could put him in jail for the rest of his life because that cop broke his fist on the man's face over a questionable stop is shocking. It also speaks to the two-sided nature of the justice system in the land of the free.
To show this disparity within the justice system, we can compare this case to the case of officer Ravi Singh. Arlington police officer Singh was charged on Wednesday with criminally negligent homicide for killing Maggie Brooks, 30, the daughter of an Arlington fire captain.
Brooks did not break her fist on Singh's face. She was asleep and was entirely innocent when Singh attempted to kill her dog and shot her instead. As Calhoun faces 15 years in a cage for the damage his face caused to the officer's fist, Singh faces a maximum of 2 years for ending Brooks' life. And we still have the audacity to call this the land of the free.