RACINE — Brinelle Nabors, the Racine police officer accused of using excessive force against a Park High School student in 2015 during an arrest, pleaded not guilty in court Wednesday.
Nabors, who is still currently employed with the Racine Police Department, is charged with a felony count of misconduct in public office and misdemeanor counts of battery and disorderly conduct.
During the arraignment, what constitutes excessive force and the rights of an officer making an arrest were discussed.
Before charges were filed, Racine Police Chief Art Howell said he was awaiting the Kenosha District Attorney’s Office’s decision on whether or not to file charges before deciding Nabors’ employment status.
“If the officer is criminally charged, he becomes ineligible to serve as an officer, so in this case, the decision of the Kenosha DA is in play,” Howell said in an email.
“If criminal charges were not advanced, I would weigh the outcome of the criminal review with the information learned from the police use of force expert to decide if the use of force was justifiable under the circumstances.”
After Nabors made his initial appearance in court on May 10, Howell said in an email, “We just received, and are in the process of reviewing, the charging documents associated with this case. This information will be shared with the PFC (Police and Fire Commission) and the city attorney, after which, next steps will be determined.”
However, Wednesday evening, Howell stated, “Along with the City Attorney’s Office, the Racine Police Association (RPA) and the Wisconsin Professional Police Association (WPPA), I am closely monitoring the due process proceedings that are currently underway. The information revealed during such proceedings will influence the decision-making process moving forward.
“In the event punitive action from my office is deemed appropriate, such action may be appealed to the Police and Fire Commission for review and final disposition.”
The Police Department’s policy on administrative leave states, “An order of administrative leave with pay may be imposed by the chief of police pending an outcome of an investigation/review, pending a hearing by the Police and Fire Commission, an officer involved shooting or any other situation requiring leave from the department as deemed necessary by the chief of police.”
Defense attorney Patrick Cafferty, who is representing Nabors and sits on the Racine Police and Fire Commission, said the two positions are not conflicting because nothing is currently pending before the commission involving Nabors. Cafferty said Wednesday that should any issue arise on the commission regarding Nabors, he would recuse himself.
During Nabors’ arraignment, the definition of excessive force was discussed. According to Wisconsin jury instructions, the use of force by a peace officer is allowed if:
- The defendant believed it was necessary to use force to make an arrest; and
- The defendant believed the amount of force used was necessary to secure and detain the person arrested, to overcome any resistance, to prevent escape, or to protect the defendant from bodily harm; and
- The defendant’s beliefs were reasonable.
The instruction goes on to state that “a belief may be reasonable even though mistaken,” and that to determine whether the defendant’s beliefs were reasonable, is what an “ordinary, prudent and reasonable intelligent officer would have believed in the defendant’s position.”
“Police officers have the right to use force to effectuate arrests,” Cafferty said.
According to the criminal complaint, Nabors reported that he and another RPD officer were attempting to arrest a 14-year-old student on Nov. 20, 2015, who they believed had a bottle containing a mixture of drugs and juice or alcohol.
Nabors claimed the student was “actively resisting,” making threats, pulling away and swinging his head as if to strike Nabors.
Another Racine police officer disputed Nabor’s account, stating that the student did not exhibit “any physically threatening body language” as he walked toward Nabors. The witnessing officer also reported seeing Nabors punch the student in the face with a closed fist.
The student denied threatening Nabors and claimed to have injuries to his jaw, the back of his head, chin, back, neck and left ear from the incident.
An investigator also testified during the court proceedings, stating that the involved student admitted to moving his arms to pull his pants up during the arrest.
“Today’s testimony supports Nabor’s claim that he felt resistive tension from (the student),” Cafferty said.
Earlier this month, Racine Mayor Cory Mason announced he was launching a review of the city’s Police Department to study its “cultural climate” after a survey on officers’ morale raised concerns of racial and gender bias.
The letter that prompted the study was signed by 10 department members of various ranks — including Nabors, one of three members currently on paid administrative leave. During the approximately 2½ years that Nabors has been on paid leave, he has reportedly received $160,985.88 from the city. During that time he received four pay raises.
A status hearing for Nabors’ case is set for June 8 at the Law Enforcement Center, 717 Wisconsin Ave.