A now ex-Bethel police officer whose rough arrest of an Alaska Native man in July 2014 was captured on video is facing criminal charges for the incident.
Andrew J. Reid, 29, faces charges of fourth-degree assault and official misconduct as a result of the incident in front of the Alaska Commercial Co. store in Bethel’s town center. The charges didn’t generate any publicity when they were filed in December and are just now coming to light.
The incident itself provoked outrage from some Bethel residents. Bethel’s tribe, Orutsaramiut Native Council, said publicly that it was concerned for community members who felt threatened by police.
A routine hearing in Reid’s criminal case is scheduled for March 15 in Bethel. Reid, who has left Alaska, won’t have to appear. His attorney, Wally Tetlow of Anchorage, can handle at least some proceedings in his absence. Tetlow said it was too early to say whether Reid intended to fight the charges. Reid was fired from the Bethel Police Department last year.
Bethel police initially investigated the case but it was eventually turned over to the FBI, the primary federal agency that investigates reports of civil rights violations including excessive use of force by law enforcement. FBI spokeswoman Staci Feger-Pellessier said the bureau wouldn’t answer questions about the pending case.
A visitor from Arizona, Linda Green, witnessed the July 12, 2014, incident and reported it to Bethel police, saying what happened was abuse.
The video from the AC store surveillance camera, which was publicized last year, shows the officer repeatedly slamming a man to the ground before arresting him. The man arrested, Wassillie Gregory, didn’t have an attorney when he pleaded guilty to harassment two days later. The conviction was dismissed in May 2015 after Gregory’s new lawyer, Sean Brown, obtained the video. The city of Bethel also paid $175,000 to settle a civil suit brought by Gregory.
In his report on the arrest, Reid said he “kindly tried to assist” the inebriated Gregory into his cruiser, but Gregory resisted arrest. Reid then pepper-sprayed him, according to the new charges.
Green’s complaint prompted Bethel Police Chief Andre Achee to open an internal investigation and to obtain the video from the AC store, months before Brown received a copy. Reid denied to a police sergeant that he had thrown or slammed Gregory to the ground, the charges say. Achee did not return a call Friday afternoon about the case.
The video shows “Officer Reid picked (Gregory) up off the ground and slammed him into the ground several times,” the charges say.
The city sent its investigative file to the FBI, which picked up the investigation. In August, the FBI referred the case to the state Office of Special Prosecutions, which sought additional information, according to assistant Attorney General Robert Henderson.
Gregory injured his shoulder as a result of the force, the charges say. The civil lawsuit provided more detail, saying his shoulder and rib were fractured, and he needed surgery.
An officer is allowed to use nondeadly force in making an arrest, but the amount used by Reid “was excessive and unnecessary,” according to the charging document.
“People should be pleased that police officers are being held to the same standard as everyone else,” said Brown, the lawyer who represented Gregory in the civil case and after his conviction.