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The DeKoven Center in the background of a fall scene.

Excessive Force Case
Jury finds Racine Police officer not guilty in excessive force case

RACINE — After a four-day trial, a jury Friday found Brinelle Nabors not guilty of using excessive force against a Park High School student in 2015.

Nabors, 38, faced charges of felony misconduct in public office and misdemeanor counts of battery and disorderly conduct. He was found not guilty on each of the counts.

Following the verdict, family and friends of Nabors stood outside the courtroom they had sat in the past four days, hugging each other and weeping. Racine Police officers, who during the trial visited the courtroom regularly, also reacted, shaking hands and expressing relief.

Nabors and his father, Maurice Nabors, a retired Racine police officer, left the courtroom smiling.

Both refused to comment following the verdict. As a juror walked past, Maurice said “thank you, brother.”

Special prosecutor James Kraus also refused to comment on the verdict.

Nabors’ attorney, Patrick Cafferty, who was assisted by attorney Jillian Scheidegger during the trial, praised the jury.

“This jury worked really hard and did their job, and they should be commended for doing their job,” Cafferty said.

The trial looked at the incidents that occurred on Nov. 20, 2015. Witnesses during the trial included the alleged victim and Nabors, as well as other Racine Police officers and an expert on the use of force that the defense team brought in.

Nabors, who was working as an off-duty security officer, was told that a 14-year-old student, Conrad Cottingham Jr., had brought “lean” — a mixture typically containing codeine-based cough syrup, soda, candy and sometimes alcohol — to school.

When Cottingham was confronted, Nabors reportedly forced him down onto the lunchroom floor and handcuffed him. As Cottingham, Nabors and Officer James King headed to the principal’s office, Nabors allegedly struck the student in the face and pushed him against a locker, according to the criminal complaint.

Nabors said that Cottingham was showing signs of resistance, which prompted Nabors’ response.

A ‘bad day’ at work

During closing arguments, Kraus, a prosecutor with the Kenosha District Attorney’s Office brought in to avoid any conflict of interest for Racine County prosecutors, said that Nabors made a bad decision that day with Cottingham, stating that Nabors hit the student for “no real reason.”

“Just because someone has a bad day at a certain job doesn’t mean they should be held to any greater or lesser standard than any citizen that walks in here,” Kraus said.

Kraus said there was no reasonable basis for the strike and that Nabors made a mistake that day against Cottingham, who is now 17.

“He (Nabors) struck him (Cottingham), he put him into some lockers, he realized he made a mistake and had to take actions to make it seem as though he was justified in what he did, and that’s not OK, and he needs to be held responsible for it, just as anyone else would when they do a criminal act and they make a mistake,” Kraus said.

Kraus brought attention to a video of the incident, which he said showed that the testimony of Nabors and King, the officer who assisted Nabors, was not consistent with what was shown in the video footage.

“If they wanted to come up with a better explanation for why the strike happened, they should have checked the video,” Kraus said.

Kraus took issue with the expert witness Robert Willis, stating that although Willis faulted the video from the incident as lacking sophistication, he still was able to break the video down frame by frame and present evidence that supported the officers.

He also noted that Willis was paid to testify by the Racine Police Department and the defense team, and therefore his testimony reflected that.

“I am sure you are all familiar with what is good for the goose is good for the gander. In Mr. Willis’ world, it is all for the goose, because whatever is missed is good for the officers, and what it shows is good for the officers,” Kraus said.

Defense closes

Cafferty criticized the state for not providing burden of proof in the case.

“The government is required to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, their theory of prosecution. Their theory as to why Officer Nabors should be found guilty of these three things,” Cafferty said. “What the state has spent its entire time doing is attempting to poke holes in the evidence that has been presented by the defense.”

Cafferty said the only way the jurors could find Nabors is guilty is to believe that the state’s main witness, Cottingham, was telling the truth.

He also went through the student’s version of events, calling his testimony false. “From start to finish, everything that (Cottingham) says is contradicted by other people, by physical evidence and by the video,” Cafferty said.

Cafferty also said his own client’s testimony was consistent from the time of the events and complimented Nabors’ character. “Brinelle Nabors is a decent guy,” Cafferty said.

Cafferty also took issue with Kraus’ criticism of the expert witness’ conclusion, and the state’s lack of an expert witness of its own.

“If I understand the state’s theory, this (Willis’ testimony and report) is bought and paid for, so it should not be listened to. It should be discarded,” Cafferty said.

“The reality is, the prosecutor asked all kinds of questions like ‘Hey, aren’t there other experts out there who maybe could provide a different opinion?’ Well, maybe. They didn’t call one, and it is their burden of proof. So don’t get up here now and say maybe someone could have said something different. If someone was gonna say something different, bring them in here and let me cross-examine them.”

Caitlin Sievers / CAITLIN SIEVERS 

Gilmore Fine Arts kindergarten students perform a choreographed dance to an African lullaby "Nyandolo," by Ayub Ogada, during a show for their parents  Friday at the school, 2330 Northwestern Ave. During the five-song performance, students showed the skills they learned from teachers Lynn Orlando and Rebecca Arndt during the first semester of this school year. In addition to choreographed dances, students also showed off some moves they made up themselves. Visit The Journal Times YouTube channel to watch a video about the performance. 

Thursday shooting
Police identify victim in Thursday fatal shooting

RACINE — Police have identified the 36-year-old man who was shot and killed Thursday morning near the 1900 block of Hickory Grove Avenue, just off DeKoven Avenue.

The victim was identified as Sylvester D. Johnson, who lived in the Racine area, although it’s unclear where exactly he was living at the time of his death. According to online court records, Johnson’s last listed address was 521 6th St., the HOPES Center of Racine, which provides assistance to people who are homeless.

Johnson often spent time at the Hospitality Center, 614 Main St., next to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, where he was able to enjoy camaraderie and a warm place to spend time.

Lika Phipps, a volunteer at the Hospitality Center, said Johnson always dressed nicely when she saw him, either in a suit or a nice pair of jeans and button-down shirt.

Phipps did not know where Johnson lived or stayed at night, but she said “he was a fun person to talk to.”

Johnson would talk about issues that affected the low-income community and he wanted to make a difference, Phipps said.

“I’m sorry he isn’t going to get the chance to do that,” Phipps said.

Phipps said she knew Johnson had struggles in his life, but it’s not something he openly talked to her about. And she didn’t pry, respecting the Hospitality Center as a “judgment-free zone.”

Johnson had a pending court case for disorderly conduct and bail jumping, as well as a case involving criminal damage to property, and he was due back in court next week for a plea and sentencing hearing.

As of Friday afternoon, police said no one was in custody yet for the incident, which they are calling a homicide.

The police received the shots-fired call at about 4:32 a.m. Thursday and found the victim in an alley suffering from gunshot wounds.

The investigation is ongoing. Any witnesses, or citizens with information, are urged to call the Racine Police Department Investigations Unit at 262-635-7756 or contact Crime Stoppers anonymously at 262- 636-9330.


A man later identified as Sylvester D. Johnson was shot and killed early Thursday morning in this alley between Hickory Grove and Case avenues.

Pete Wicklund /   



Racine Police to reinstate Officer Nabors after he's found not guilty


RACINE — Racine Police Officer Brinelle Nabors is poised to return to active duty after more than three years on administrative leave after he was found not guilty of using excessive force against a Park High School student on Nov. 20, 2015.

Nabors was found not guilty Friday after a four-day jury trial, and the Racine Police Department issued a news release early Friday evening which stated that Nabors will be reinstated, pending the completion of mandatory training and courses he missed while on leave.

“With the close of the administrative component of this matter, the members of the Racine Police Department look forward to the return, reinstatement and restoration of Officer Nabors,” the news release stated.

Reacting to the not-guilty verdict, Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association — the largest police union in the state, and which represents Racine’s police officers, said that “the (Racine Police) officers are relieved. They feel that this was the right result.”

Palmer wanted to make it known that the length of Nabors’ administrative leave (approximately 1,130 days) was not what Nabors desired.

“The amount of time Nabors was on leave was not of his own making. This case took an extraordinarily long time to get to trial,” Palmer said.

A number of factors played into the length of Nabors’ administrative leave.

First, there was a civil case filed by the alleged victim’s family in November 2016.

It didn’t end until July 2017, when the family settled for $400,000 — $225,000 was paid by the city with the rest paid by the city’s insurer, Cities and Villages Mutual Insurance Co.

After waiting for the civil trial to end, criminal charges weren’t filed against Nabors until May 9, 2018, more than about 2½ years after the incident.

The case was delayed further, Palmer said, by an overburdened legal system. The attorney representing the state also had to be brought in from outside Racine County to prevent conflict of interest. Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney James Steven Kraus led the prosecution.

“It reflects, perhaps, a shortcoming in our criminal justice system. Our district attorneys are tremendously overworked,” Palmer said.

Chief’s comments

Speaking about the length of time Nabors was on leave, Racine Police Chief Art Howell said Friday in an emailed statement, “Per established protocol and consistent with best practices established by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, it was procedurally appropriate to wait until the conclusion of criminal proceedings prior to revealing, or otherwise taking action on the internal component of this investigation.

“Had grounds for termination or other serious disciplinary action been established through the internal investigative process, formal charges would have been advanced to the PFC (Police and Fire Commission). No such grounds were identified through the investigative process; therefore, no formal complaint or referral will be advanced to the PFC,” Howell said.

However, Howell added that similar to promotions and general disciplinary actions, the use-of-force report and other documentation in connection with the investigation will be forwarded to the PFC for review and final disposition.

Additional training

Per a consultant’s recommendation, all Racine Police officers have received “updated training on subject control techniques” since the 2015 incident at Park, Friday’s news release stated.

“The objective of this training was to promote greater officer safety habits while maintaining effective subject management and control. All officers received updated arrest and defense tactics and subject control training as recommended,” according to the release.

A use-of-force expert who testified during the Nabors’ trial said that “the force used to maintain control of the subject throughout this encounter were determined to be ‘objectively reasonable’ under the given circumstances,” according to police.

“With the close of the administrative component of this matter, the members of the Racine Police Department look forward to the return, reinstatement and restoration of Officer Nabors.” Racine Police news release

“With the close of the administrative component of this matter, the members of the Racine Police Department look forward to the return, reinstatement and restoration of Officer Nabors.” Racine Police news release

Caitlin Sievers / Submitted