Head or shoulder?

District attorney’s investigation clears deputy’s kicking arrest

District Attorney Mike Ramsey, left, and Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea answer reporters’ questions at a Sept. 11 press conference concerning the posted video of a deputy making an arrest in south Oroville.

District Attorney Mike Ramsey, left, and Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea answer reporters’ questions at a Sept. 11 press conference concerning the posted video of a deputy making an arrest in south Oroville.

PHOTO by tom gascoyne

A Butte County sheriff’s deputy was within his legal rights when he delivered a kick to a man in a seated position during an Aug. 26 arrest captured on video and posted on Facebook, District Attorney Mike Ramsey announced at a Sept. 11 press conference.

Terry Lee Collins, 56, who was arrested and charged with resisting arrest and battery on a police officer in connection to the incident, failed to appear in court on Monday (Sept. 15).

The videoed event took place just three weeks after the high-profile Ferguson, Mo., case in which 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer. That incident led to protests and triggered a national debate over how law enforcement officers treat the public, particularly blacks.

With that background, Ramsey said, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea asked the District Attorney’s Office to conduct an independent investigation into the case in which the white deputy kicked a black suspect. During the more than hour-long press conference, Ramsey showed the posted video as well as footage obtained by an outdoor surveillance camera that depicts Deputy Samuel Burnett pulling up and parking his sheriff’s vehicle next to Collins, who was pushing a recycling bin along A Street in south Oroville. The surveillance video shows only the men’s lower bodies and it is not clear exactly what is taking place.

Ramsey said Burnett, who’s been with the Butte County Sheriff’s Office for 20 years, was aware that Collins had a warrant out for his arrest for failure to appear in court on a charge of aggravated trespassing.

“As deputy Burnett attempted to explain that there appeared to be a warrant out for him,” Ramsey said, “Mr. Collins vehemently rejected the idea that there was a warrant out for him and at that point began to struggle with the officer.”

That struggle went on for 45 seconds, crossed the street to where its conclusion, the kicking and subsequent handcuffing, were captured on the video posted to Facebook. During the confrontation, Burnett called for backup, an audio recording of which was included in Ramsey’s presentation.

Collins, who is thought to be homeless and possibly suffering from mental illness—he has had court-ordered psychological evaluations—has more than 20 court filings against him going back to 1990, including drug possession and repeated failures to appear in court. Ten years ago he was charged with resisting/obstruction/delay of a peace officer to which he pleaded no contest.

The posted video that appeared to show Burnett kicking Collins in the head was of great concern to Honea, Ramsey said.

“He made this request out of his office’s desire to be totally transparent on an event that came to the public’s attention from a posting of a video on Facebook,” Ramsey said early on. “That posting was, as many things in life are, out of context and therefore misleading.”

During the press conference the video was shown in stop action to provide proof that Burnett kicked Collins in the right shoulder and not in the side of the face. It was hard to tell because the video is dark, but Ramsey said medical reports say there were no signs of injury to the right side of Collins’ face. He was, however, treated for injuries to the left side of his face, according to a Butte County Sheriff’s Office press release.

A number of witnesses also testified to the DA’s office that the kick was to Collins’ shoulder and not his head.

“An analysis of the evidence also shows deputy Burnett’s kick to Mr. Collins’ shoulder was an acceptable law enforcement technique to quickly put a subject on the ground in a prone position to lessen further conflict to either the officer or subject,” Ramsey said.

In no way, Ramsey insisted, was the kick delivered “out of any desire for revenge or punishment to Mr. Collins as a result of their violent confrontation.”

As in the Ferguson case, there is also a racial component in the local incident: Collins is black and Burnett is white and all but one of the witnesses interviewed in the case were also white. However, the lone black witness was the person who made and posted the video, Ramsey said after the press conference.

At one point the video-maker says: “Look it, he just kicked him in his fuckin’ face.” But he also says that Collins was “fuckin’ that cop up. Oh he was fuckin’ that cop up. Well, from what I seen.”

When asked how he would respond to the inevitable accusations that, as district attorney, he was simply providing expected defense of law enforcement, Ramsey shrugged and said the evidence speaks for itself.

“The video doesn’t show the struggle that occurred before [the kick],” he said. “What many people have claimed is that we have an out-of-control, angry, vindictive, vengeful deputy who’s kicking Mr. Collins just because he is angry. If that were true we would expect that we would see additional action by this deputy in terms of using the baton, using his hands and essentially roughing up Mr. Collins. As we see, none of that occurs.”

Honea said his department is currently making efforts to get funding to equip deputies with lapel cameras so that incidents such as this one are kept more transparent.