LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A special prosecutor has said no charges will be filed against a Purdue University police officer who was caught on camera arresting a student in February, sparking an outcry when the student could be heard repeatedly telling the officer, “You’re choking me!”
The incident stems from an encounter between the officer and the student that occurred on Feb. 4 near Horticulture Drive. In the video, the student can be seen on the ground with the Purdue police officer on top of him. The student shouts, “You’re choking me!” during the video while the officer’s arm appears to be near or on his neck. A bystander can also be heard shouting, “Get your elbow off his neck!”
The video of the arrest went viral with hundreds of Purdue students protesting and calling for change. The police officer was placed on leave during the investigation due to both the department and the officer in question receiving death threats, according to a past statement from the Purdue University Police Department.
On Feb. 22, the Tippecanoe County Prosecutor’s Attorney recused himself from the case and Madison County Prosecutor Rodney J. Cummings was appointed to the case as special prosecutor.
Cummings released his findings on Monday, coming to the conclusion that no charges will be filed against the police officer nor the student whom the officer was detaining in the video.
Cummings stated his investigation revealed that the officer “did exactly as we expect our police officers to do” and that he intervened on behalf of a domestic dispute victim and restrained the student without injuring him until backup arrived.
“For that, (the officer) should be commended, not vilified,” Cummings said in his report.
According to Cummings’ investigation, police were called to the alleged domestic dispute near the Lynn Hall of Veterinary Medicine on the Purdue University campus on Feb. 4. A caller reportedly told dispatch that a woman had been attempting to leave in her vehicle but a man wouldn’t let her.
When the officer arrived on scene, he reportedly spoke to the male student who was standing outside a vehicle that his then-girlfriend was in. The student told the officer his girlfriend was “acting crazy.” The student had the woman’s phone and wallet, police said.
The officer reportedly told the student several times to move to the rear of the vehicle. The officer said after the student repeatedly refused he went to handcuff him. The student resisted and began to fight with the officer, according to the special investigator’s findings.
Cummings said the viral video began when the victim exited the car and began filming the officer attempting to restrain the male student on the ground.
According to the special prosecutor’s findings, the student later said in an interview that he wasn’t injured during the struggle with the officer, claiming self-defense after the officer grabbed his arm.
Cummings said in his analysis the officer had legal authority to use reasonable force in the student’s arrest due to the student refusing to comply and the officer having probable cause that he was committing a criminal offense due to arriving at a scene of an “apparent domestic dispute.”
“Regardless of whether (the student) believed the arrest was unlawful, he was not justified in using self-defense to prevent (the officer) from arresting him,” Cummings said in his report.
Cummings went on to conclude that the officer “used reasonable force” to overcome the student’s resistance and avoid a potentially dangerous situation.
“At no time did (the officer) choke (the student),” Cummings said in his report. “(The officer) placed his forearm on (the student’s) chest and briefly on the side of his neck until assisting officers arrived.”
Cummings said the reasonableness of the officer’s actions were further confirmed by the student admitting he was not injured.
“I recognize there are times when police officers fail to live up to their public trust and expectations. This, however, was not one of those occasions and the public response to this incident was therefore unfortunate,” Cummings said.
He went on to say the video released by the student “failed to depict his own behavior which necessitated police use of force.”
“He was given valid legal instruction by the officer, refused, resisted and engaged in a fight with the officer,” Cummings said. He went on, reacting to the outcry that followed by saying, “How about we just wait and see what all the evidence is before we reach a conclusion or burn the town down, it makes no sense to me.”
Cummings did admit, however, that the officer “could have spent more time attempting to de-escalate the situation” but called the situation “tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving.”
”I do think the officer went from ‘step to the rear of the car’ to bringing his handcuffs out real quickly,” Cummings said. “I think he could have spent more time trying to talk.”
Despite Cummings stating that probable cause exists for multiple criminal charges to be filed against the student, the special prosecutor has agreed to “honor the requests” of the officer, representatives of Purdue University and the wishes of the victim by declining to file charges against the student.
Cummings claimed the officer had expressed worry that the student would be kicked out of school if charges were filed and didn’t want his future career affected.
“It’s so unfortunate that there is a segment of our society is so eager to indict the police, attack the police, it doesn’t matter what the evidence says,” Cummings said.
Cummings did not speak to the student as part of his investigation, nor did he speak with the victim of the domestic dispute. Cummings said all his evidence came from body camera video of the incident and from speaking to the officer and the mother of the now ex-girlfriend.