Antwen Ball, 17, said an officer with the Mobile Police Department tackled him and slammed his head into the ground before taking him into custody on Joe Cain Day this year.
Ball told members of the Mobile City Council during its regular meeting on Tuesday he believes the officer in question used excessive force when the teenager simply asked another officer why a fellow parade attendee was being arrested. He was later charged with disorderly conduct, but told councilors it was the officer who acted disorderly.
Ball said while he was talking with one officer, another arrived and asked him if there was a problem. He said “no,” and proceeded to leave the area. That’s when Ball said he was tackled.
For Ball’s mother, Mobile native Glenda Wright, the incident highlights an ongoing problem with racism within the city and its police force.
“It’s not right what’s occurring in the city,” Wright said. “ … There’s racial profiling in the city.”
Wright told councilors her son had worked as an intern with a police department on the West Coast and wasn’t the type of person to get in an altercation with law enforcement.
“He’s never been in any altercation,” Wright said. “He was raised to be a decent citizen. It’s ridiculous that he has to fight for for his freedom against those who abused him.”
Ball said after interning with police he had begun to think about becoming an officer, but has decided against it because of the incident.
MPD Chief Lawrence Battiste told councilors that Ball’s complaint was investigated. In all, 12 police officers and one firefighter were interviewed. After the interviews were conducted, Battiste said it was found the officer used proper conduct. The family didn’t pursue the complaint further, Battiste said.
The original Joe Cain Day call referenced subjects tossing Mardi Gras throws back at floats, Battiste told councilors. He said after the meeting that the narrative Ball told was not consistent with what the MPD’s investigation found.
Councilors immediately began asking about footage from the body cameras worn by the two officers involved in the altercation. Battiste said there was no body camera footage because both officers forgot to turn them on. He said MPD was able to look at camera footage from nearby businesses.
In March 2015, the council approved spending more than $480,000 to equip all MPD patrol officers with body cameras from TASER International. The cameras automatically record when a cruiser’s blue lights are activated, but in situations when an officer is away from a vehicle they have to activate the cameras manually.
Councilman Fred Richardson said the council may have to look at possibly changing the policy in the future. He said using body cameras correctly is the only way to validate a complaint of excessive force.
“We need to review the policy on body cameras,” Richardson said. “If there isn’t an adequate policy, we need to create a policy.”
Following the meeting, Battiste said officers will on occasion forget to turn the cameras on in the heat of the moment. The department looks at trends for each officer and what percentage of the time they forget to determine if disciplinary action is necessary.
On the one year anniversary of MPD officer Harold Hurst’s use of deadly force on 19-year-old Michael Moore, Mobile resident Albert Terry said racial profiling and excessive force by the department is still a problem.
Terry told councilors he witnessed a case of racial profiling in April while at Langan Park at a birthday party for a 1-year-old. He said two MPD officers searching for a black male in a red vehicle immediately pulled their guns out on the scene.
Battiste said the officers in question in that case had received a call that the subject in a red car was seen putting a silencer on a gun.
Despite the complaints, overall Incidents of use of force are down this year by roughly 50 percent, Battiste said.
Councilman C.J. Small asked for a Public Safety Committee meeting to discuss some of these issues further, as well as issues involving the city’s police advisory council.