RACINE — The jury trial of Brinelle Nabors — the Racine Police officer accused of using excessive force against a Park High School student in 2015 — is set to begin Tuesday.
In the more than three years since the incident, Nabors has been on paid administrative leave. The Racine Police and Fire Commission could have held a hearing deciding Nabors’ fate years ago, but it allowed him to remain on paid leave.
The reason for this, Police Chief Art Howell said in June, was to prevent separate investigations from overlapping — a recommendation by the U.S. Department of Justice.
In a separate case, a Kenosha Police sergeant, Gregory Munnelly, was charged with his first OWI causing injury after he reportedly crashed into the back of a car while drunk in 2017.
According to Kenosha Police, Munnelly worked as a patrol sergeant up until he was sentenced to 40 days in prison on Wednesday.
After he was sentenced, Kenosha Police Chief Daniel Miskinis released a statement confirming Munnelly was placed on administrative leave. He also said he was seeking Munnelly’s termination, which is scheduled to be decided by the Kenosha Police and Fire Commission on Jan. 15 — 13 days after being placed on leave.
Less than a month after the Park High School incident, the family of the student involved in the incident filed a formal complaint against Nabors. This complaint developed into a lawsuit.
While the civil lawsuit was being decided, the criminal case could not proceed. Because the criminal case could not proceed, the Racine Police and Fire Commission postponed its decision regarding Nabors.
The City of Racine settled for $400,000 with the student in the summer of 2017. Almost a year later — 2½ years after the incident — Nabors was criminally charged.
“The length of time this has taken criminally is a bit extraordinary,” said Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association.
Once the situation reached the criminal phase and a jury trial was set, the case has faced a number of adjournments.
Charges were officially filed on May 10. A jury trial date was set for Aug. 28; but on July 3 James Kraus, the case’s special prosecutor from Kenosha County, requested an adjournment due to another case he was handling in Kenosha.
The trial was then moved to Oct. 16. On Oct. 11, the trial was postponed again, as witnesses were unavailable on the trial date.
Nabors’ trial is set to begin on Jan. 8 and conclude on Jan. 10, pending any last-minute adjournments.
Nabors, working off-duty at Park High School, reported taking a 14-year-old student into custody for bringing drugs to school on Nov. 20, 2015.
Nabors said he observed the student with “lean,” a mixture typically containing codeine-based cough syrup, soda, candy and sometimes alcohol. The student and his family said the drink actually was juice.
Nabors handcuffed the student but later allegedly hit him in that face and held him against a locker, according to the criminal complaint. Nabors said the student was showing signs of resistance, which prompted Nabors’ response, although other law enforcement officers disagree.
Another Racine police officer who witnessed the incident was interviewed by the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation. That officer reportedly said the student had not shown “any physically threatening body language.”
The Kenosha County District Attorney’s Office reviewed video surveillance footage of the incident and concluded Nabors had acted in “an excess of the lawful authority of a law enforcement officer.”
The student claimed multiple injuries resulting from the encounter, mostly to his head and face.
Other officers on leave
Nabors is one of at least four Racine Police Department officers on paid administrative leave.
Sgt. Terrence “Terry” Jones has been on leave since Jan. 3, 2017. Police have not provided information as to why Jones is on leave, although Jones has not been charged with a crime.
Combined, Nabors and Jones have been paid more than $300,000 while on paid leave.
Howell said that the matter involving Jones will be completed by the end of the week.
Sgt. Samuel Stulo is on administrative leave after an alleged hit-and-run OWI crash on Dec. 17. Stulo refused to submit to a blood draw testing him for alcohol until a warrant was issued.
The Sheriff’s Office, who initially investigated the incident, said results could take six to eight weeks; however, the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene said results could come back in as little as two weeks.
Additionally, an unnamed Racine police officer was placed on leave Dec. 21 after firing his gun at a vehicle that a suspect, later identified as 20-year-old Hunter Hanson, reportedly drove at the officer.
Howell said: “As a matter of department policy, officers involved in critical incidents are required to undergo a series of administrative steps prior to being released to full duty. Such administrative policies are in place locally, statewide and nationally.
“The series of administrative steps that are taken begin immediately after the occurrence of critical incidents, and the process ends when officers are medically, physically and administratively cleared to return to duty.”