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Prineville chief defends officers’ actions in park dispute


Prineville’s Ochoco Creek Park was quiet Monday , but late Friday afternoon, a fight there drew police and dozens of angry onlookers, and what happened still has many people talking.

One of the young adults on hand was among those who caught the scene on their camera phone. A group of about 30 young adults was there watching, yelling and videotaping as three officers surrounded a 16-year-old boy they had on the ground.

“You gonna Tase us now? Pepper spray or what?” one onlooker shouted at police while others made similar remarks, some using obscenities.

Officers were called to the park around 5:30 p.m. on a report of a fight in progress. During the altercation police Tasered 16-year-old Mac’swell Ozenna.

“Yeah, that one, and they were also Tasing me here,” Ozenna said Monday, showing marks on his shoulder.

Ozenna said he did not deserve it.

“Police officers coming up, and I literally had my hands open, and they literally shot me (with a Taser),” Ozenna said.

The videos shot by others begins after Ozenna is on the ground.. NewsChannel 21 requested the police dash-cam video of the entire incident, but the Crook County district attorney denied it because of the open investigation.

Teens on the other side of the scuffle tell a different tale.

“They asked him, they told him — and then they made him,” Kalia Talsma said. “He spits at the cop and he says, ‘No, f— you!’ and ‘I can do whatever I want.'”

Ozenna’s supporters claimed police brutality and protested Saturday in front of the police department. Again, there were obscenities and some objectionable language on signs.

Prineville’s interim police chief had a message Monday for those involved in the incident.

“They need to grow up, and they need to get a life,” Les Stiles said.

Stiles said officers often have only a matter of seconds to read a situation, and that Sgt. Larry Seymour did the right thing by using his Taser.

“In reviewing the tapes, they were restrained as they could be,” Stiles said.

Other community members say there’s a bigger problem. Many families avoid the park because of young adults who they say are abusing the public space.

“I’ve had multiple — you know, at leas a half a dozen arguments with kids,” said Christina Powers, a mother of three. “They cuss at me ,you know. They’re very rude They’re disrespectful.”.

It’s a problem police and this mother say has gotten worse in recent years.

Now, many who are in support of Prineville police plan a demonstration of their own, next Saturday at 11 a.m. at Pioneer Park.

Here’s our original story on the incident, posted Sunday:

Prineville police called to a possible fight at a park Friday evening where they detained, Tasered and arrested a 16-year-old juvenile, sparking intense reaction from onlookers and a protest Saturday by teens and young adults alleging police acted improperly.

Police distributed a news release on the incident Sunday – apparently delayed two days by city technical issues – and said more related information might be released Monday.

Capt. Dale Cummins, the police department’s operations commander, said officers responded around 5:30 p.m. Friday to a call of a possible fight in progress in the area of the park.

They arrived to find two males in an apparent dispute, Cummins said. When approached, one of the males kept escalating the dispute by taunting and challenging an adult male bystander “who was attempting to defuse the situation,” Cummins said in the news release.

By this point, there were about 30 young adults and juveniles in the area, several of whom began to yell at and taunt the officers, some with obscenities, according to a video posted on Facebook and distributed widely over the weekend.

Cummins said the 16-year-old juvenile who was taunting and challenging the adult bystander spun around, and at first appeared to be complying with the commands of Sgt. Larry Seymour.

As Officer James Young tried to grab one of the teen’s arms, the youth resisted arrest and Seymour used his Taser, Cummins said. But the teen quickly removed the probes, rendering the Taser inoperable.

As the teen was removing the probes, Seymour and Young “took the suspect to the ground,” Cummins wrote in the news release. “There was additional fighting and resistance on the ground, and the suspect was subsequently handcuffed and taken into custody.”

Seymour “then performed crowd control tactics when a number of people started to advance on the officers,” Cummins wrote, adding that the sergeant “attempted to defuse the crowd and one person was temporarily detained, questioned and released.”

The “crowd control tactics” is an apparent reference to a point seen on the video where the sergeant – standing beside two other officers holding the teen on the ground – advised the crowd to stay back and acknowledged he was prepared to use pepper spray, if necessary.

“Stay back or you’re going to jail,” an officer is heard saying.

“You gonna pepper spray us now?” one onlooker says, more than once.

Along with the three Prineville police officers, two Crook County sheriff’s deputies also arrived on scene “and helped defuse the situation,” Cummins said.

The 16-year-old was taken to Pioneer Memorial Hospital to be evaluated and observed for the Taser use, then released back into police custody. He was taken to the police department and cited and released to his guardian’s custody, following county juvenile authorities’ directions.

The juvenile male, whose name was not released by police, faces three charges: one count each of second-degree disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and interfering with a police officer.

Seymour also was treated at the Prineville hospital for injury to his left thumb. He was treated and released and is expected to resume full-duty status.

A roughly 90-second video shared widely on Facebook begins with the teen on the ground and three officers on or at his side, and there are several screams, shouts and taunts, some obscene.

Several people who were on scene contacted NewsChannel 21 Saturday, accusing Prineville police of “brutality” and advising of an ongoing protest. They said the teen who was Tasered was “tackled … for no reason” and hadn’t done anything to warrant officers’ treatment. There also were claims the teen suffered fractured ribs.

Another video, taken during Saturday’s protest, showed a line of roughly 30 teens and young adults lining the street in front of the police department (by the county courthouse), holding up signs protesting police treatment of the youth. The teen involved in the incident also apparently was on hand for the protest and claimed on camera he didn’t hit anyone.

“It is not right,” he said.

Some signs said, “We should not fear our police.”

Some witnesses and others commented on Facebook or by e-mail that police acted properly in the volatile situation and said the youths showed improper behavior. Some complained that some of the young people lining the street in protest also were swearing or holding signs with obscene comments.

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