The city Police Department doesn't plan to change the way it operates in the wake of recent court cases in which defendants used police brutality claims as a successful defense.
"We will continue to do things how they've been done, and if it comes to a lawsuit against the city, we will address it," Mayor Michael W. Tucker said late last week.
Priscilla McDowell, 49, of Center Street, was cleared of disorderly conduct charges Feb. 10 after 15 minutes of deliberations by a City Court jury. Two others arrested with McDowell during a street disturbance July 17 pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in court appearances last week. More serious charges were dropped against one of those defendants, and both of them were sentenced to no jail time as part of a plea bargain.
McDowell accused officers of taking her to the ground without provocation during her arrest on Church Street. Her attorney, E. Earl Key, showed the jury pictures of burn marks he called consistent with Taser burns. But police have denied using a Taser on McDowell.
Key said McDowell is now considering a civil lawsuit against the city on several grounds, including false arrest, malicious prosecution, excessive use of force and battery.
"We have had no negotiations so far," Key said Friday. "The trial was stressful for Mrs. McDowell. She had a rapid heart beat and needs some time to relax."
Key also said he feels the jury's verdict sent a message. "I think the not guilty verdict told the police something," he said. "They won't look at themselves in the mirror and see that maybe they are doing something wrong. Now I've got witnesses lining up. People complaining about past cases. Change is not going to happen unless it comes from the top down."
Police Chief Neil Merritt and Detective Capt. Larry Eggert on Friday said the situation last July was handled properly.
"One minor thing was addressed," Merritt said, "but it did not affect the people arrested. All procedures were followed, and it was handled professionally."
Merritt was asked about Officer Todd Chenez's string of obscenities caught on a police car tape and used by the defense.
"We absolutely tell officers they are not allowed to swear," he said. "If they do, they are sanctioned."
Merritt said he thought that officers who were disappointed with the verdict realize "that this is part of the job."
"They or I have no desire to change the way we do business," he said. "What they have been doing is very good police work. This was an issue in a certain locale. It was not a citywide issue and is not a big issue in general."