Local 2 Investigates controversial arrest involving Rice University police
Updated On: Nov 27 2013 12:06:16 PM CST
Local 2 Investigates has learned an independent investigation was launched following our questions into the level of force Rice University police officers used during the arrest of a bike thief.
The incident was captured on video by a Rice police officer's dashboard camera.
Rice officials said the incident began last August when officers were alerted that a University owned "bait bike" was showing movement. Officers tracked the bike's GPS signal to the off campus intersection of Montclair and Holcombe. Officers said a man by the name of Ivan Joe Waller was caught riding the bike.
"The next thing you know I seen the police and they was like, 'get down, freeze,'" Waller said.
Waller, who has a prior criminal history of assault, burglary and forgery, pleaded guilty to stealing the bike. However, Waller said Rice officers went too far when they arrested him.
"I didn't deserve that beating," said Waller.
On the dash cam video obtained by Local 2, Waller is seen on the ground and unarmed as two officers repeatedly hit him with their batons. At one point on the video one of the officers seen striking Waller with a baton steps to the side as his fellow officer is seen continuing to hit Waller with his baton. Two other Rice officers are also seen on the video, but neither is seen striking Waller at any point. The video shows Waller was hit with a baton 13 times in 20 seconds.
At certain points on the video Waller can be heard screaming, "I ain't got nothing" and "Why y'all beating me?"
Toward the end of the clip Waller is seen sitting up on a curb waving his arms as at least three officers move in to restrain him. There is no mention in court documents that Waller was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of his arrest.
"I was in pain from the beating," said Waller, who told Local 2 he was hit on his legs, side and shoulders.
However, sources familiar with the incident told Local 2 the video clip we obtained is only a portion of a video that lasts several minutes.
Local 2 repeatedly asked Rice officials to allow us to view the entire video of Waller's arrest to better understand why officers felt the level of force they used was necessary. Rice officials declined our request.
Local 2 tried to obtain a copy of the entire video under the Texas Public Information Act. Attorneys for the University denied our request.
Rice attorneys wrote that the since the police department is a division of an "independent, private institution of higher education" it is "not required to respond to your requests for information under the Act."
Rice University also blocked the release of Waller's "mug shot", taken at the Harris County jail the night of his arrest. When Local 2 requested this picture officials with the Harris County Sheriff's Office wrote in an email, "This is a Rice University Police case and they do not want the mug shot to be released."
Local 2 then asked for an on-camera interview with Rice Police Chief Johnny Whitehead. Rice officials said he was unavailable. When Local 2 tried again to speak with Whitehead at the Rice police department we were again told he was unavailable.
Rice University officials did send us two written statements regarding Waller's arrest.
"On Aug 10, 2013, around 11 p.m., Rice University police were alerted that a bike equipped with a GPS device had been stolen from campus. Rice police caught up with the bike and suspect at Montclair Drive and Holcombe Boulevard. As officers attempted to arrest the suspect, he resisted and had to be forcibly restrained and handcuffed. The suspect was taken to Harris County Jail and subsequently pleaded guilty to the theft. RUPD conducted an internal review of the incident, which is standard policy when use of force is involved. The department concluded the officers' actions were justified in making the arrest," read the statement sent to Local 2 on November 21.
"Around 11 p.m. on the night of Aug. 10, 2013, the Rice University Police Department was alerted that a bike equipped with a GPS tracking device had been stolen from campus. Rice police officers tracked the bike and caught up with the suspect at Montclair Drive and Holcombe Boulevard. The officers approached the suspect and attempted to arrest him, ordering him off the bike and onto the ground so that they could handcuff him, search for weapons and make the arrest. When the suspect failed to comply with verbal commands, the officers forced him to the ground, which is standard police protocol. The officers placed a handcuff on the suspect's left wrist, but he resisted having the right wrist handcuffed by pinning it under his body. Despite the officers' orders to allow himself to be handcuffed, he continued to resist arrest. The officers then used pressure point control techniques in an effort to subdue the suspect, but he continued to resist being handcuffed. After repeated attempts to gain control of the suspect with verbal commands and physical control techniques were unsuccessful, two officers deployed their batons and struck the suspect's legs. The officers are trained to strike the legs in an effort to subdue a resistant suspect without causing serious bodily harm.
Officers were finally able to gain more control of the suspect by applying a second set of handcuffs to his right wrist and then attaching that set of handcuffs to the handcuffs on his left wrist. At that point, the officers stopped the use of force, although the suspect then resisted being placed in the police vehicle. At no point did the officers draw their weapons. The suspect was transported to Harris County Jail, and he later pled guilty to the bike theft.
Rice University Police Chief Johnny Whitehead conducted an internal review, which is standard when use of force is involved, and concluded that officers used the amount of force necessary to overcome the suspect's resistance to arrest. The department is continuing to review its techniques for dealing with suspects who resist arrest.
Rice University police are charged with protecting the campus and its students and employees, and are fully trained and commissioned police officers," read a second statement sent to Local 2 on November 26.
"University Police Department has more privileges and protections than HPD, than Harris County, than the Texas Rangers," said community activist, Quanell X. "Who are they?"
Quanell X said he too received concerned calls about the handling of Waller's arrest. Quanell X said he also asked Rice University police to allow him to see the entire video of the incident.
"We were told by Rice University Police Department there was no tape," said Quanell X.
On Tuesday Waller filed a formal complaint against the Rice University Police Department with the Harris County District Attorney's civil rights division. Quanell X accompanied Waller when he gave a statement to investigators.
Quanell X told Local 2 the DA's Office told Waller and him it would open an investigation into this incident and would work to obtain a copy of the video.
Waller said he just wants someone other than Rice officials to view the entire video of his arrest and decide whether the officers' actions were justified.
"I didn't deserve to get beat like that," said Waller.
State Senator John Whitmire sent Local 2 Investigates a statement which read:
"I was shocked and outraged and the incident should be fully investigated and go where the facts take us. In regards to Rice University not cooperating with the public's right to know because they are private will not survive scrutiny. They get state money and their police are licensed and certified by a state agency. I urge Rice not tarnish their outstanding reputation by protecting these out of control officers. As the voice of police officers in Austin I will not tolerate what I saw on TV by the officers or Rice's lack of transparency. Rice will not win and I urge them to cooperate and hold people accountable. I will be working on this."