SLED to review officers use of force in North Charleston arrest
After chasing him down the railroad tracks, two North Charleston police officers grappled with the man they thought had been rolling a joint.
The suspect had emerged from the woods during the foot pursuit and, with fists flying, charged after one of the patrolmen.
They engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Kicks and punches were exchanged.
The officers used special techniques to subdue the 160-pound man, who fought to free himself. They snapped handcuffs around his left wrist.
But when the suspect started flailing his handcuffed arm, at least one of the officers started fearing for his life. The handcuffs, the officer later wrote, were a possible deadly weapon.
That’s the account that the officers gave in their report about the arrest Wednesday afternoon of 22-year-old James Anthony Cannon, who was hospitalized after the scuffle with several facial fractures, a broken nose, an injured eye and a dislocated shoulder.
But police supervisors raised concern about the seriousness of Cannon’s injuries, and North Charleston Police Chief John Zumalt has asked for an external review to determine whether the officers’ use of force was justified.
Officers Abraham Montes and Doug Armstead will be on administrative duty until the State Law Enforcement Division’s investigation is complete, the chief said. Zumalt declined to comment further.
Cannon’s attorney, David Aylor of Charleston, said his client is a “wiry guy” who lives with his parents and did nothing wrong.
Cannon, a resident of North Murray Drive in Hanahan, has twice been arrested on alcohol charges and twice for fighting, according to his SLED rap sheet.
He now faces charges of trespassing on railroad property and resisting arrest. But Aylor said he wondered why his client had not been charged with assaulting the police if the officers’ story were true.
Aylor added the police department already has apologized to Cannon’s family.
“He didn’t know who was yelling at him, so he ran because he was scared,” Aylor said. “They said he was rolling a joint, but nobody found any marijuana.”
The incident was the second this year in which a North Charleston police officer’s tactics have come under public scrutiny.
Officer Kenneth Ford was fired in July after investigators said he took a man to a dark location, roughed him up and destroyed his personal property. The victim’s family said the encounter stemmed from a case of mistaken identity.
Ed Bryant, president of the North Charleston chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he was looking into the recent case, which involves a black suspect.
“Naturally, it concerns us,” Bryant said. “But we’re still trying to understand the full story.”
Montes wrote in an incident report that he and Armstead spotted Cannon “rolling what appeared to be a marijuana cigarette” on the railroad tracks near Remount Road and Dakota Street.
Around 3:10 p.m., when the officers tried to get Cannon’s attention, he started running.
Despite pleas for the suspect to get on the ground, Montes said Cannon charged at him and took a swing at his face near the railroad tracks at Palm Street.
Montes stated that he ducked the punch, then conducted a takedown maneuver that caused Cannon’s head to hit the ground.
But Cannon “continued to resist arrest” by “moving and kicking” and getting up, Montes wrote. Cannon kicked Montes twice in the shin, the officer wrote.
Armstead joined the struggle and grabbed the man, causing them both to fall. But the suspect kept “swinging and punching,” the report states. Armstead wrestled with Cannon and clinched handcuffs only on his left wrist.
“I was in fear for my safety ... from getting any life-threatening injuries from the handcuffs,” Montes said.
Cannon was on the ground, and Montes kicked him once in an attempt to prevent him from getting up, the officer wrote.
But when Cannon tried to hit Armstead with the handcuffs, Montes stated, the officer tried to “deliver two strikes on (Cannon’s) facial area” and “inadvertently struck the suspect in the left eye.”
With a backup officer’s help, the police finally controlled the suspect.
Cannon smelled of alcohol and told police that he had been smoking marijuana and “did not want to go to jail,” the report states.
Cannon was treated at Roper St. Francis Hospital’s Northwoods facility.
He was not sent to jail, but Cannon has been there before.
The Hanahan Police Department arrested Cannon twice on a charge of disorderly conduct.
In January 2008, what started as “horse play” between Cannon and a fellow student at Hanahan High School turned into a fight outside the school cafeteria. Cannon punched the student in the head and face, a report stated. Both were arrested.
Then in January 2009, Cannon said three people jumped him outside the high school. He was punched and kicked as a crowd of students gathered and watched Cannon fight back.
After police dispersed the crowd, a report states, Cannon screamed profanities. When an officer tried to handcuff him, Cannon pulled away, and the police forced him against a fence to subdue him, according to the report.
His past two run-ins with the North Charleston police resulted from the same alleged act: walking with bottles of beer.
The first came in February 2011 when an officer saw a “huge bulge” near his waistband as he walked down the middle of Pilgrim Avenue. A frisk of Cannon revealed two bottles of Miller High Life and a plastic bag with 0.1 grams of marijuana, according to an incident report.
Then in April, a patrol officer saw him drinking from a bottle of Miller High Life while walking down Remount Road. He was arrested on a charge of drinking in public.
None of those encounters involved the same officers in last week’s incident.