LITHONIA, Ga-- The city of Lithonia is investigating a complaint of excessive force after a teenager says he was choked while handcuffed. His story is supported by the testimony of another police officer, once named officer of the year.
The 17-year-old, identified in court documents as Isiah Lee Harvey, was one of two men arrested for a burglary on February 5, 2016. According to a Lithonia Police incident report obtained by 11Alive News, Harvey ran from police when they arrived at the burglarized home and escaped into a woodline. Police set up a perimeter and quickly found and arrested him.
What happened next is the subject of investigation.
According to Attorney Frank Smith, hired to represent Harvey, the teen was placed in the back of the Chief Roosevelt Smith's patrol car after his arrest. The chief requested Harvey turn his face so he could see scratches obtained while allegedly feeling police though the woods. According to the statement of facts filed by Smith:
When Mr. Harvey turned his head in an unsatisfactory manner, Chief Smith quickly, and without provocation, became enraged, leaned over in his seat and made punching movements at the face of Mr. Harvey before grabbing him by the lower chin/ jaw and squeezing tightly.
Capt.. Lloyd Owens was outside the patrol car. According to Harvey, he screamed for help, but Capt. Owens did not intervene. The complaint continues, saying:
Chief Smith then lunged at Mr. Harvey, grabbing him by the front of the throat, around his Adam's apple, and squeezed tightly, causing Mr. Harvey difficulty in breathing and great pain. . . Capt. Owens opened the rear driver's side door of the vehicle and held Mr. Harvey while Chief Smith continued to choke him. Mr. Harvey continued his objections to the offensive touching trying to free himself from Chief Smith's throat hold. In retaliation, Chief Smith, while still leaning over his front seat, purposefully and without justification, wrapped his hands around Mr. Harvey's wrist to the point where blood was drawn and the areas swelled. . .
Harvey said Chief Smith also threatened him with a Taser pointed at his head and "used obscene and profane" language.
The attorney's complaint mentions a witness: Sgt. A. Hatchett. Hatchett was named officer of the year in 2012, and has been with the department for five years. According to Hatchett's statement, the Chief told Harvey, "Boy, don't play with me." The statement continues:
Chief Smith became very angry and took his left hand, grabbed Mr. Harvey by his lower jaw area and started squeezing very hard inflicting pain on Mr. Harvey. Mr. Harvey started screaming and cursing at Chief Smith to let him go. Mr. Harvey finally was able to wiggle himself away from Chief Smith's grip.
Chief Smith became more enraged, pushed his body further into the back seat where Mr. Harvey was sitting. Took his left hand, grabbed Mr. Harvey by his throat pushing him back into the seat and started squeezing his throat. Mr. Harvey started yelling at his co-defendant by saying, "Hey man, you see this?" and continued cursing at the Chief to get out of the choke hold.
According to Sgt. Hatchett's statement, the chief choked Harvey for 7 to 10 seconds, and "Then, for whatever reason, Chief Smith wanted to put Mr. Harvey in the seat belt of his vehicle." The fight caused over the attempt to put him in a seat belt was unnecessary, Sgt. Hatchett said, "because I was transporting both subjects to the jail in my vehicle."
The statement ends: "What I observed last night was wrong. Chief Smith and Captain L. Owens assaulted Mr. Harvey. There was no reason at all for them to put their hands on Mr. Harvey in that manner. Their actions were unjustifiable and unethical."
"Somebody's lying. Either that Sargent is lying or the Captain and the Chief are lying and I would submit that it's the Captain and the Chief that's lying because I have talked independently with my client and statements match that of the Sargent," Attorney Frank Smith said.
The Lithonia City Council voted in a February 10th executive session 3-2 to keep Chief Smith and Capt. Owens in place pending the investigation. That investigation is being conducted by Lithonia City Administrator Eddie Moody. Moody declined 11Alive's request for an interview, telling 11Alive's Valerie Hoff he could not comment because of the pending litigation and ongoing investigation. Smith questions Moody's ability to conduct that investigation.
"The city administrator who is conducting this investigation is the one who recommended the current chief for his position. It's too close of a relationship so there needs to be someone independent who can say that they're completely unbiased, who can come in and actually conduct the investigation whether it's GBI, the District Attorney's Office, or some other agency," Smith said.
Harvey's attorney filed an Ante Litem Notice and Demand, a notice of plans to file a lawsuit. In that document, they ask for $75,000. If that settlement is not reached by March 11th, a lawsuit will be filed.