The man at the center of a state probe into North Charleston police officers’ use of force suffered a crushed eye socket during his recent arrest, an act that his attorney said Thursday went far beyond what was needed to control the “lanky, wiry” 22-year-old.
Surgeons placed a metal plate in James Cannon’s face Monday, according to his attorney, David Aylor of Charleston.
Cannon was captured after a foot pursuit Nov. 28, when two North Charleston Police Department officers reportedly saw him rolling a joint. Some of the policemen’s blows during an ensuing scuffle, an officer wrote in his report, were accidental.
Cannon also didn’t immediately recognize his pursuers as officers because, his attorney said, he did not hear them shout “police” and were wearing polo shirts and cargo pants rather than typical patrol uniforms.
“Whether they kicked him, punched him or something in between,” Aylor said, “if they crushed his eye socket, someone was hitting him pretty ... hard.”
The State Law Enforcement Division is examining whether the officers were justified.
Cannon, who lives with his parents in Hanahan, was twice arrested after fights in high school, and he has two arrests for alcohol violations, according to SLED. In last week’s incident, he was ticketed on charges of trespassing on railroad property and resisting arrest.
Citing the open investigation, Deputy Chief Scott Deckard declined to discuss whether the policemen properly identified themselves.
Officers Abraham Montes-Altamirano, a three-year member of the city force, and Doug Armstead remain on paid leave. Armstead has served the city for nearly nine years and spent time in the military, according to police academy files released Thursday.
Both officers are members of the SPEED team, or Selective Police Enforcement to Enhance and Deter squad.
The group targets common community complaints about burglaries, speeding motorists and drugs.
Its members are known for boots-on-the-ground surveillance and intelligence-gathering in drug-dealing hot spots. The team conducts undercover stings on the sale of alcohol and tobacco to minors, prostitution and open-air drug buys.
Their efforts often entail run-ins with armed street criminals known to put up a fight.
During a traffic stop in April 2010, Armstead saw a bulge in a bicyclist’s pants that appeared to be a handgun, according to an arrest affidavit. The man ran away even as Armstead fired pepper spray at him.
The suspect threw down a pistol and ran into a home in the Accabee neighborhood, where Armstead and a backup officer found him hiding. During a struggle, the man reached for Armstead’s sidearm, but the officers eventually restrained him.
Armstead was awarded an “employee of the month” citation for his “self-control and professionalism” in handling the fleeing, armed suspect, according to a city newsletter.
Montes-Altamirano, who is Hispanic, was hired as part of Chief John Zumalt’s broader effort to bring the department’s demographics in line with the city’s and to build trust among residents.
As part of their usual attire, Montes-Altamirano and Armstead were wearing blue cargo pants and polo shirts when they reported seeing Cannon on the railroad tracks.
Their clothing played a role in why Cannon ran when the officers called for him, his attorney said, because he didn’t recognize them as the police.
Armstead wrote in his report that Cannon kicked and swung around his handcuffed arm, using the shackles as what Armstead regarded as a potentially deadly weapon.
Armstead acknowledged accidentally hitting Cannon’s eye while attempting to deliver “two strikes on his facial area.” Cannon’s head also hit the ground, and Montes-Altamirano kicked him once to stop him from getting up, the report stated.
Cannon’s nose was broken, and his shoulder was dislocated, his attorney said. He now suffers headaches, Aylor added.
“He’s extremely depressed and very downtrodden by the whole situation,” Aylor said. “He hasn’t been doing well since the incident.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede