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YOUNGSTOWN Report: Patrolman acted properly



Published: Wed, August 15, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The police chief said the conduct alleged didn't jibe with what he knows about the officer's demeanor.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Patrolman Michael Walker acted professionally and went to great lengths to avoid a confrontation with a 72-year-old man who became combative during the arrest of his wife, an internal affairs report shows.

Videotaped interviews with eyewitnesses to the July 13 episode reveal that Booker Mitchell of Shehy Street arrived on North Garland Avenue while Walker was conducting an accident investigation. Walker had arrested Mitchell's wife, Mattie Mitchell, and charged her with DUI.

Booker Mitchell's family has said that he suffered a stroke the day after his encounter with Walker. Mitchell slipped into a coma and remains hospitalized.

Although Mattie Mitchell later filed a complaint with the police department's Internal Affairs Division contending that she saw Walker purposefully treat her husband roughly, witnesses dispute that, Capt. Martin F. Kane, IAD commander, said today.

"Mattie Mitchell couldn't have seen what she says she saw -- she was already under arrest and in Walker's cruiser," Kane said, quoting witness accounts. "She had no vantage point from there."

Booker Mitchell, witnesses said, arrived at the accident scene and began yelling at his wife about the damage to his car. He then confronted Walker and got upset when the officer said the car would be towed.

In a report to Police Chief Richard Lewis, Kane said Mitchell "was very loud, profane and confrontational to Walker and was told to calm down a number of times."

What happened next: Walker stepped away from Mitchell at least twice in an attempt to defuse the situation. The officer then felt he had no choice but to arrest Mitchell when the man began walking toward his car, saying he would take it.

Walker grabbed Mitchell by the shoulder from behind, Mitchell swung his arm and stepped back into the officer and the officer tried to get Mitchell under control, the IAD report says. The struggle caused both of them to fall to the ground.

Mitchell continued to struggle and Walker used pepper spray and then handcuffed the man, Kane said in his report.

Walker's report of July 13 shows that he arrested Mitchell on charges of obstructing official business, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

Mitchell was taken to the county jail for booking and released later that evening, at which time his relatives summoned an ambulance.

Detective Sgt. Ron Rodway, who investigated the case with IAD, said today the charges were not filed against Mitchell by the city prosecutor's office. He said he has discussed the case with City Prosecutor Dionne Almasy and Law Director Robert E. Bush Jr.

"It's in their hands now," Rodway said. "Our investigation is complete."

Kane concluded that Walker acted within the scope of his duties and violated no rules or regulations.

Lewis said the investigation based on Mattie Mitchell's complaint was extensive. He reiterated that all the eyewitnesses said Walker went to great lengths to avoid a confrontation.

Booker Mitchell's relatives have alleged that Walker beat the older man without provocation.

The witnesses' description of Walker, Lewis said, is consistent with what he knows firsthand about the officer's overall demeanor. Lewis described Walker as soft-spoken.

Walker, 45, and a 15-year veteran of the department, could not be reached.

NAACP probe: Willie Oliver, president of the local NAACP chapter, has shown an interest in the case. He said today that he sees nothing wrong with the IAD report but would like to view the videotaped statements and speak to Lewis and Kane.

Oliver said he spoke to Walker and understands that Booker Mitchell's language and insistence on taking the car likely led to the confrontation, although he still has questions about the amount of force used.

Oliver said his focus now is on what happened to Booker Mitchell at the jail.

"I have greater concern about what happened after the 1:26 p.m. arrest -- he wasn't booked until 4 and the sheriff's reports indicate he showed signs of trauma and pain," Oliver said.

"I couldn't understand why they didn't take him to medical. I understand they found him on the floor once and his stepdaughter said when they bailed him out, he needed two deputies to almost carry him out."

meade@vindy.com




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