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Central Oregon

DA: Redmond officer punches were proper, but arrest unlawful

Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel ruled Friday that two Redmond Police Department officers used justifiable force in an arrest at a city park last month, including one officer who twice punched the face of a suspect trying to wrest control of a Taser that had been used on him.

However, Hummel also ruled the arrest was improper, saying there was no lawful reason to arrest the suspect, as they lacked probable cause to believe he had been involved in drug sales at Sam Johnson Park that day. The two officers remain with the police force, city officials said, declining to reveal any internal disciplinary actions.

On Aug. 14, a bystander recorded officers arresting Darian Belles, 25, of Redmond at the park. The video taken by Belles’ girlfriend was put on Facebook and quickly went viral.

Hummel held a news conference to describe the sequence of events, noting that Belles was first noticed as he shouted insults and used obscene hand gestures at officers conducting a nearby traffic stop.

Hummel said Officer Bryan Holman was told who Belles was, did a police computer background check and went to talk to Belles about issuing a citation for a dog at large, and to question him about complaints of drug dealing in the park.

Holman told Belles to stand up and put his hands behind his back.

“Holman then put his hand on Belles’ shoulder. Belles stood up and told Holman to let go of him,” Hummel related.

“Holman then physically took Belles to the ground in an effort to arrest and handcuff him,” the DA said. “Officer Chris Wooten at that point jumped in to assist Officer Holman” with the struggling Belles.

Wooten told Belles he would use his Taser if Belles did not comply, Hummel said. He then used it on the man’s stomach, and Belles grabbed it. Holman also was Tased and the three men struggled for the Taser.

“During the struggle, Officer Holman punched Belles twice in the face,” allowing Wooten to regain control of the Taser and for Belles to be handcuffed.

“Our community entrusts our law enforcement officers with the privilege of deciding when and how to take away a person’s liberty by arresting them,” the DA said. “With this privilege comes the responsibility to exercise this power judiciously, respectfully and safely.”

In his review of the video recordings, the officers’ statements and the applicable statutes, Hummel said he’d determined that the officers needed to keep control of the suspect and Holman’s decision to punch Belles was not aggressive.

“Officer Holman’s decision to punch Belles twice in the face was a justified use of force to defend himself and Officer Wooten,” the DA said. “Never, under any circumstances, should an officer relinquish control of one of their weapons to a suspect.” The two officers “struggled mightily” with Belles and feared he would gain control of the Taser, he said. They had three options, in his view: Lose control of the Taser, unholster their guns or punch Belles.

“These punches perhaps looked aggressive and excessive to members of the public who were unaware of the entire story that I just shared,” Hummel said. “But considering the options available to Officer Holman, his decision to punch Mr. Belles was anything but aggressive,” Hummel said “Holman’s decision to punch Belles exhibited restraint, and was the least lethal, reasonable option available to him.”

Hummel played both officers’ body camera video during his news conference and noted that Belles has pleaded not guilty to resisting arrest, the charge pressed by the DA’s office.

He also noted that Sam Johnson Park has had a history of drug abuse and petty crimes that the city has had strong positive impact on reducing, which he hopes will continue.

But Hummel also said the officers “did not have reliable evidence” that Belles was engaged in drug activity at the time of his arrest, and that Holman’s belief there was probable cause for his arrest was “mistaken.” There was no lawful basis for the arrest, he said, as you can’t be arrested for having a dog off-leash, and unless he or she poses a danger, they cannot be ordered to stand and put hands behind their back for that charge alone.

Belles initially faced six charges, including a felony charge of assaulting a public safety officer. But he was only charged with resisting arrest and interfering with a police officer, both Class A misdemeanors, in an amended charging document filed a week after the arrest. He’s scheduled to enter a plea on Oct. 30.

“Redmond is a vibrant and multicultural hub of Central Oregon,” he said. “It deserves to be served by law enforcement officers who embrace the community they serve.”

As for Holman, Hummel said, “I’m confident that he’s learned from this, and we won’t see an action like this again. He noted how officers are trained and need to work to deescalate situations.

But as he approached the gazebo, Holman “immediately ramped it up,” Hummel said, and “made a situation that was not tense immediately tense.”

Still, the DA noted that a suspect, even in an unlawful arrest, “is not legally permitted to resist arrest.” They can file a civil lawsuit or an internal affairs complaint, later but must comply with officers’ directions at the time.

Hummel said he met twice with Redmond Police Chief Dave Tarbet and City Manager Keith Witcosky about the incident. He said he could not share publicly what actions they took regarding the officers, but that he supports them.

The DA also said he was “confident Officer Holman has learned from this incident” and will serve the city well going forward.

Witcosky said the city could not comment on any internal discipline, but told NewsChannel 21 that “we are moving forward, and Wooten and Holman are part of their team.”

Holman also was one of the officers involved in a June arrest that also was recorded and went viral, and in which Hummel also ruled the officers used appropriate force.

Witcosky and Tarbet issued this statement:

“We appreciate District Attorney Hummel’s thoughtful and deliberate analysis of the recent public safety incident at Sam Johnson Park. We are pleased the DA found Mr. Belles unlawfully resisted the arrest and that the force response was justified.

“The DA plays an important check and balance to law enforcement. We value the partnership we have with Mr. Hummel, and we accept and will learn from his conclusions.

“Our officers handle more than 24,000 calls for service each year. We learn from each one and have a culture where we recalibrate when we fall short of our high expectations.

“The Police Department prides itself on the outstanding support we receive from the community. It is well-earned, and maintaining that trust is very important to us. Our officers are committed to continuously proving worthy of that support as they work around the clock to keep the people of Redmond safe.”

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