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Federal prosecutors plan to show jury evidence of prior excessive use of force incidents in APD officer’s trial

Published: Jul. 15, 2021 at 6:35 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Recent court filings reveal an Anchorage police officer facing felony charges in both state and federal court for allegedly depriving someone of their constitutional rights had a known history of using unjustified force.

The incidents were not made public until now because in Alaska, complaints filed against police officers and law enforcement disciplinary records are kept secret — protected as confidential under Alaska law.

The documents, made public in a recent filing in the United States District Court in Alaska, offer a look at previous uses of force by an Anchorage police officer as well as a look inside the Anchorage Police Department system, and how or whether it disciplines officers.

Background

The charges against APD officer Cornelius Aaron Pettus, who used the name Aaron Pettus, stem from a 2019 incident with a bicyclist.

Pettus, 33, is accused of punching and kicking then-49-year-old Samuel Allen on Sept. 30, 2019 after he and officer Deorman Stout went to Allen’s home to deliver bicycle citations. Allen was also pepper sprayed, handcuffed, arrested and charged, according to court documents and online court records.

The incident was captured by police dash cameras. After a review by the Office of Special Prosecutions, the state dropped Allen’s charges from that night and filed misdemeanor assault charges against Pettus.

State and federal charges

In July of 2020, a grand jury indicted Pettus on the misdemeanor assault charges along with a misdemeanor charge of interference with constitutional rights and two felony counts of tampering with public records.

Stout, who initially did not face charges, was indicted on a single felony count of tampering with a public record.

Then, in October 2020, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska announced Pettus had been indicted on a felony charge of deprivation of civil rights under color of law.

A jury trial in the federal case is scheduled to start on Oct. 4 of this year.

A trial date has not yet been set in the state case. A hearing to set a trial is scheduled for Sept. 20.

‘Prior bad acts’

According to recent federal court filings, prosecutors intend to introduce evidence of two prior incidents in which they claim Pettus used unjustified force.

Prosecutors wrote the following statements about each incident:

  • “The first incident occurred on March 20, 2018. The defendant and other police officers encountered an intoxicated woman who had been involved in an altercation with employees at a supermarket. In the course of attempting to place the woman into his police car, the defendant directed two kicks to her, and then closed the door. In a report written to document the incident, the defendant claimed to have only used ‘hard hand control’ and ‘put [his] hand into [the woman’s] thigh’; he did not acknowledge kicking her. The Anchorage Police Department found the defendant’s use of force to be excessive and in violation of policy.”
  • “On August 21, 2019, the defendant was dispatched to investigate a suspicious person who may have damaged vehicles. The defendant located a potential suspect, chased him onto a bike trail, fired his taser at him (missing the suspect), ‘commandeered’ a bicycle from a bystander, tackled the suspect, and kneed him in the side while he was on the ground. APD also found this use of force unjustified and outside of policy.”

A motion from the defense, seeking an order to exclude evidence of the prior incidents, notes that the investigation into the incident in March, 2018 was closed without criminal charges. The motion describes the encounter with the woman in the police car in different terms.

“In order to move the suspect’s legs into the patrol vehicle, Pettus used his foot to push her legs into the patrol vehicle,” the document states.

The defense’s motion also states that while Pettus was served with a complaint notification for the August, 2019 incident and an APD Internal Affairs Memorandum was issued stating his deployment of the taser was not justified and violated department policy, the memorandum “was not served on Pettus and Pettus was not disciplined for his role in the incident.” The document also states, “The incident did not lead to criminal charges ... and was not referred to prosecutors for evaluation of potential criminal charges.”

In his motion, Attorney Clint Campion, who is representing Pettus, argued the evidence of prior incidents is prejudicial and irrelevant to the Sept. 2019 incident that sparked the federal case, and should not be admitted in the trial.

APD Communications Director MJ Thim said the department could not participate in an interview Thursday, citing pending litigation.

Pettus has been with the police department since 2015, and is on administrative leave without pay.

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