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 Jerome 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.
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.”