The Anderson Board of Public Safety’s recent decision in the case of Officer Brandon Reynolds illuminates the wide gulf between the accepted behavior of local police and the interests of the community.
The board ruled that Reynolds, who had been caught on video pulling a much smaller man to the pavement with an aggressive chokehold and then pinning the man to the ground with his knee, did not violate the Anderson Police Department’s code of conduct and was not guilty of improper use of force in the June 13 arrest.
Reynolds had been suspended without pay during an internal investigation of his conduct. The probe culminated in a recommendation from APD Chief Jake Brown that Reynolds should be fired.
But the three-person safety board disagreed — or at least one of them disagreed.
Board member Sam Dixon didn’t attend the special meeting to vote on Reynolds’ case via Zoom on Monday.
That left only Mike McKinley, a former Anderson fire chief, and Nicale Rector, a local attorney, to decide Reynolds’ fate.
Rector held that Reynolds had violated a state statute pertaining to conduct injurious to the public and conduct unbecoming a police officer. But McKinley disagreed. By the board’s rules, Reynolds was thereby exonerated and can return to duty.
The process was far less than ideal to arrive at such an important ruling at a time when local police departments and those around the country are being asked to ban chokeholds and other dangerous maneuvers that threaten the lives of suspects.
Reynolds’ case was especially egregious. The arrest of suspect Spencer Nice came just 50 hours after the APD had announced a new ban on chokeholds.
The local Fraternal Order of Police argued that Reynolds did not use an actual chokehold, a position that defies common sense. In the video, shot by Nice’s girlfriend, Reynolds wraps his arm around Nice’s throat and jerks him backward and onto the pavement.
Nice, meanwhile, offers no resistance.
Reynolds explained in a probable cause affidavit that he believed Nice had a knife in his pocket. As it turns out, the pocket contained a Sawzall blade Nice had been using to cut into a car door earlier in the day.
It’s difficult to believe that anyone could watch the video and not surmise that Reynolds had used a banned chokehold, that he had used improper force and that he had subjected Nice to possible injury.
But now, Officer Reynolds has firm grounds to pursue back pay from his suspension, despite a judge’s earlier ruling that the city wasn’t compelled to pay it.
More distressingly, the public is left believing that the new rule banning chokeholds can be openly violated. It adds to the impression that local police can mistreat suspects and get away with it.