Certain facts are not in dispute.
On the evening of Aug. 5, Jarvis Mikel Jackson was arrested by city police and charged with possession of marijuana, obstructing justice and resisting arrest.
As officers engaged Jackson on Greene Street, a large crowd began to form. Many of them started recording the interaction on their cellphones, shouting profanities at police as they handcuffed Jackson and transported him to the Greenwood County Detention Center.
Police were brought to the scene after two patrol units detected an odor of marijuana emanating from the area, Chief Gerald Brooks said.
“I don’t care if you record. Just step back, OK?” one officer says as the number of onlookers begins to swell. “Y’all can record all you want, but you got to get back.”
As one officer was on crowd control, Cory Boyter and a fellow patrolman engaged Jackson, ultimately detaining him in a cruiser.
“He’s got dope in his britches,” Boyter said to a fellow officer, before turning back to Jackson.
“I feel it in your underwear, Jackson. I feel it. We’re going to get it. Are you going to cooperate?”
What those who only witnessed the street level confrontation between Jackson and authorities couldn’t have known is what happened next.
Jackson, who has a criminal record dating back to 2007 including several drug charges, hid a baggie of marijuana in his sock when police contacted him last month — it was recovered and landed him the possession charge.
Once Jackson arrived at the county detention center, city police asked one of its officers not to uncuff the man until he could be more thoroughly searched for more drugs.
“He’s got dope in his crotch. He’s fought with us already, and we haven’t gotten the dope out,” an officer told the detention center official.
But the detention officer, who’s employed by the Greenwood County Sheriff’s Office — disregarded that request and Jackson, while naked as he prepared to change into the county-issued prison garb, bolted for a toilet. What happens next is obscured by the position of the detention officer, but Jackson quickly flushes the toilet without seeming to use it.
Then, he stuck his tongue out at Boyter. The entire scene — about an hour’s worth of footage — was captured by body cameras.
Under the state’s Freedom of Information Act, which requires the release of police incident reports, employee personnel files and dashboard camera footage among other data — images caught on body cameras are exempt, but can be made public at the discretion of local officials.
And in the wake of allegations by a city man named Travis Greene, co-founder of Greenwood Black Lives matter chapter, Greenwood leaders including Police Chief Gerald Brooks, City Manager Julie Wilkie and Mayor Brandon Smith allowed an Index-Journal reporter and editor to watch the recording, hoping to provide a deeper context.
Greene — who has not seen the body camera footage — on Aug. 12 wrote a letter to Wilkie requesting a full investigation into the Jackson incident, including a probe into “officers pointing a weapon at or into a crowd or (sic) concerned residents are not threatening officer safety” and “officers telling residents what they can and cannot say; direct violation of “Freedom of Speech.”
The body camera footage — which includes audio — offers more nuance.
Greenwood’s Black Lives Matter chapter has posted on its Facebook page a two-minute, 11-second video of the episode that starts after Jackson has been handcuffed.
Jackson attempts to pull away from the officers, prompting Boyter to unholster his Taser and point it at the man. He then briefly brandished it in the general direction of the crowd but secured the weapon without discharging it.
From the vantage point of the bystander’s video, it’s impossible to see the position of Boyter’s finger, but the body camera footage shows he never touches the trigger before holstering the weapon.
“All this yelling and cussing ain’t gonna get us nowhere,” an officer says on the body camera video. At no point did city police threaten to arrest bystanders for their use of language.
But Greene’s letter to the city in the wake of that incident went a step further. It specifically asked that city officials place Boyter on administrative leave or “restricted duty” pending the outcome of the inquiry, and questioned whether the death of his wife and unborn child in 2013 left him mentally unfit for the job.
“We have received numerous other complaints of Officer Boyter, targeting and negligent treatment of black males; specifically during traffic stops,” Greene wrote, without offering evidence backing his assertion.
“The conduct and behavior of Boyter is believed to be stemmed from the death of his wife in 2013 and we completely understand it is hard for him, but the burden is placed upon Greenwood City to ensure he is mentally stable to “Serve and Protect” equally,” Greene wrote.
Boyter’s 21-year-old wife, Alisha, and unborn child were killed in an April 2013 car wreck along Highway 25 in Greenwood County.
In December 2014, 18-year-old Darius K. Andrews was sentenced to a maximum of six years in prison for his involvement in the crash.
He pleaded guilty to two counts of reckless homicide stemming from the wreck. Officials said he was driving 61 mph in a 45-mph zone when he ran a red light and T-boned a vehicle in which Alisha Boyter, who was 7 months pregnant at the time, was a passenger.
Mayor Brandon Smith, part of the administrative team that reviewed Boyter’s actions on the night of Aug. 5, said calling the officer’s mental acuity into question because of a personal tragedy was unfounded.
“There’s nothing in the record to show any pattern of bias against any race, gender, ethnicity and it’s conjecture and it’s offensive,” Smith said.
Brooks said department officials — including himself — worked with the Boyter following the tragedy, but details of those interactions are protected under HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
The 1996 federal law provides data privacy and security provisions for safeguarding medical information.
Greene ended his letter: “If Greenwood City does not comply with this request, we will have no choice but to hold a MAJOR DISRUPTIVE PROTEST!”
Through a Freedom of Information Act request, the Index-Journal obtained a copy of Boyter’s personnel file, which includes four written reprimands.
On May 10, Boyter didn’t end a vehicle pursuit when he should have, under department policy. It began as a traffic stop for a minor moving violation, but Boyter believed the vehicle may been tied to a recent shooting.
“But at the time of your attempted traffic stop the only known offense was driving left of center,” the reprimand states.
“Cory, you are a good police officer and possess a work ethic that is well noted, and violations of department policy on your part are not frequent,” Boyter’s supervisor, Lt. Jamie Davis, wrote in the reprimand, which Boyter signed on May 29.
Boyter was placed on six months’ probation on May 11, 2018 after he tackled a man to end a foot pursuit the prior month. The man had ceased running and raised his hands above his head before Boyter tackled him. Boyter said he was out of energy and didn’t want the suspect to flee again.
Boyter was also involved in an April 2016 motor vehicle wreck — he struck a tree at his residence while backing out of his driveway.
In September 2015, Boyter and another officer were roughhousing when one of them fell into the driver’s side rear door of a cruiser, causing more than $720 in damage.
Boyter’s file contains no record of bias or concerns from his superiors about mental acuity or targeting of a demographic.
Brooks said the department has a “rather extensive set of policies and procedures” some of which surpass those by other city employees adhere to.
The Aug. 5 response, he said, reflected that.
“I don’t believe we’re perfect, but I’m telling you we’re excellent, and I believe you saw that in that video. What you did not see was officers losing their composure. You did not see them using vulgar language toward the public. You didn’t see any excessive use of force, or being heavy-handed or overbearing,” the chief said. “I think they performed in an exemplary fashion. I’m personally proud of the way they handled themselves in that situation.”
Brooks said the only force used that August evening was “necessary to overcome his (Jackson’s) resistance. There’s no street justice. It’s just restrain them, subdue them and let’s take them in. Every situation is different. We have terminated officers for excessive use of force, but there’s a continuum,” Brooks said. “We’ve had excessive use of force where there was no injury, no complaint but through our checks and balance, we caught it and addressed it.”
In addition to a rigorous upfront screening process before an officer is hired, Brooks said each goes through months of field training before taking on solo shifts.
And body camera footage plays a vital role in ensuring officers are acting within departmental policy.
“Every supervisor is required to view so many videos of officers under their command per month, and we rate them,” Brooks said. “You give them a badge and gun and put them out there, you have to trust them but there’s that old saying, ‘trust but verify.’”
Brooks said the process serves as an “early warning system” to ward off problematic behavior by officers.
Ten days after Greene’s letter was submitted, Wilkie said the city would not take any further action after “multiple levels of law enforcement and I reviewed the serious allegations made in the complaint.”
“However, I would ask that you help educate the community that should such an event happen again, the safest response is to disburse and not to move toward the officers,” Wilkie wrote. “Citizens safety is important, as is officer safety.”
Greene and Black Lives Matter was also rebuffed in asking for $5,000 each from the city and county councils to match a $5,000 contribution from the organization itself in support of a gun buyback program. Under its proposal, made public July 10, the funds would be used to purchase gift cards to incentivize the relinquishments.
“We would like to be in agreeance that any gun turned in will not be subjected to any search or included as evidence in any outstanding murder investigations, rather have the relief of the weapon being in safe hands. The initiative rewards the voluntary surrender of firearms while also engaging our communities towards a common goal of reducing gun violence,” Greene wrote in a letter pitching the idea.
At the same time, Black Lives Matter was making that request, which included amnesty for anybody who turned in a firearm, the chapter was pressing area law enforcement agencies and public officials for action on four unsolved, gun-related shooting deaths that have occurred in the county since July 2018.
County Manager Toby Chappell said officials weren’t interested in participating under BLM’s parameters.
“Greenwood County cannot, should not, and will not receive evidence of a murder, or any other criminal violation, and be obligated to do anything other than process this evidence in a manner that ensures that the person who has illegally used this firearm is prosecuted,” Chappell replied to Greene on July 19. “This request is tantamount to a dereliction of duty for any Greenwood County official that participated in this event and we summarily and completely reject same.”