Local News

December 17, 2013

Complaint filed over basketball game arrests alleges excessive force

The Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office is investigating how two of its officers handled an incident in which two fans were arrested for disorderly conduct after a disturbance at a boys varsity basketball game at Coahulla Creek High School Friday against North Murray.

Maj. John Gibson said a supervisor not involved in the incident will review the evidence and interview the officers involved and other witnesses willing to come forward since a parent who witnessed what happened filed a formal complaint alleging officers Brian Dyer and Lee Teems used excessive force to arrest the two North Murray students.

Jeremiah McCall Panter, 18, 870 Norton Bridge Road, Chatsworth, was charged Friday by the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office with disorderly conduct. Johnathan Lee Tanner Cockburn, 18, 1890 Richard Bennett Road, Crandall, was also charged with disorderly conduct.

Both face a misdemeanor charge and are out of jail on bond.

According to an incident report, Dyer saw Panter “run out onto the court and flex his muscles” while wearing a striped bodysuit. A game official asked the officer to escort him from the premises, and Panter was arrested after he resisted being escorted out and began cursing, according to an incident report.

Panter didn’t return several calls seeking comment.

Andrew Payne, who is the parent of a North Murray student, filed the formal complaint. He said it didn’t appear to him from the stands that Panter ran onto the court, but if he did so it wasn’t very far. He said he couldn’t tell whether Panter had pulled away from the officer, but he didn’t appear violent in any way. Payne said at least one of the officers handled Panter roughly. He declined to go on the record with details Tuesday because he hopes to first locate a video of the incident to prove his belief.

Coahulla Creek Principal Stanley Stewart said the hard drive for the surveillance camera that would have shown what happened crashed on Tuesday, Dec. 10, but the school is looking into whether a videotape of the game might have captured the ruckus. Stewart said he didn’t see the commotion until Panter was already on the floor in the locker room hallway after an officer took him there. Gibson said investigators currently don’t have any video footage.

When Panter was being forcibly escorted out, Cockburn began using profanity to protest what was happening and in the officers’ opinion seemed to be inciting a crowd of 20 to 25 people who were following the action to become upset and potentially create a dangerous situation, Gibson said.

Payne said that from his vantage point — including following Panter out into the hallway — neither Panter nor Cockburn did anything worthy of being arrested.

“I just hate this for these two students because now it’s on their record and they didn’t do anything,” he said.

Cockburn said he was standing next to Panter when Panter ran a couple of feet onto the court, stopped himself and then turned back around. Cockburn said he didn’t see it happen, but he understands from talking to others nearby that Panter went out after a Coahulla Creek student came over and started yelling and cursing at them.

Cockburn said when Panter came back to the seats, an officer told him he was out of the game. Cockburn said Panter told the officer he was going but needed to gather some of his belongings first. According to the incident report, Panter pulled away from an officer who had his hand on Panter’s arm and said, “I’m not leaving without my (expletive).”

Cockburn said Panter told Dyer he had no right to treat him that way and to calm down. Cockburn said he followed as Dyer dragged Panter away, and he saw Panter thrown against a door to the gym, against a water fountain and to the ground. The incident report states Panter had already pulled away twice and Dyer was unable to keep a good grip on him because of the bodysuit he was wearing. It also states Panter “spun around” once he was in the locker room hallway outside the gym and said, “Take your (expletive) hands off me.”

Cockburn said that’s when he began yelling at his friend to calm down.

“All I was saying was just ‘Jeremy, Jeremy, Jeremy, calm down,’” Cockburn said. “I was trying to help them (the officers) out.”

Gibson said there are many factors that play into containing a crowd in a potentially dangerous situation. In this instance, he said, the officers believed Cockburn was making the situation worse and stirring up the crowd. Gibson confirmed one of the officers pulled a Taser but didn’t use it.

Cockburn said he told the officers they had no right to point the Taser at them; that they hadn’t done anything wrong. One of the officers told Cockburn to go back to the gym, Cockburn said. As he walked out, Cockburn said of the officers’ handling of the situation, “That’s some (expletive) (expletive).”

Cockburn said he was back inside the gym and Panter already in handcuffs when an officer came up from behind him and threw him to the ground and against some seating and arrested him for disorderly conduct.

“That right there was excessive force,” Cockburn said. “The problem was resolved. I wasn’t threatening him at all. All I said is, ‘This is some (expletive) (expletive).’”

Gibson said the sheriff’s office has received several informal complaints from callers threatening and cursing at them over the incident. Those who have concerns should come to the front office, which is open around the clock everyday, and ask for formal paperwork to file a complaint, he said.

“We’ll turn it over to our internal affairs,” he said. “We’ve got nothing to hide. We stand by our comments. We stand by our case.”

Gibson said no one was hurt in the commotion, and that’s a good outcome for a situation that could have been much worse and resulted in stiffer charges for the two men. While Payne’s complaint will be investigated, so far there’s no evidence suggesting the officers did anything wrong, he said.

“I think the officers showed great restraint by not hurting anybody,” Gibson said. “Nobody got hurt, misdemeanor arrests, and the ball game was completed.”

Murray County Schools administrative services director Mike Tuck said he couldn’t discuss whether Cockburn and Panter would be disciplined for violating that school system’s policies.

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