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Video shows Chesterfield officer punch driver during traffic stop. Now he's being sued in fatal shooting.

Same officer now being sued in Charles Byers fatal shooting
Posted at 5:58 PM, Jul 09, 2024

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. — Video obtained by CBS 6 showed a Chesterfield Police officer strike a man in the face during a traffic stop. The strike was described as "excessive" by federal courts. The officer sued in that incident is the same officer being sued for alleged excessive force in the deadly police shooting of Charles Byers.

The officer in the video pulled over a 20-year-old driver on Hull Street Road in March 2019, according to court records.

A complaint filed by the driver's attorney, Ericka Battle, stated the officer did not initially explain the reason for the stop.

“You had a traffic accident a little while ago? Knocked out your lights and scraped up the side?” the officer asked the driver during their initial interaction.

“Yeah," the driver responded.

The officer took the driver's information, went to his vehicle to run the information through his systems, and came back a couple minutes later to tell the driver to exit the car.

Watch: Police officer strikes driver during traffic stop

Police officer strikes driver during traffic stop

“Alright bud, go ahead and step out for me real quick," the officer said.

“Can I ask why you pulled me over?” the driver asked.

“Your headlight’s out bud. Go ahead and step out for me," the officer said, while opening the driver's door.

“Huh?” the driver said.

“Your headlight is out. Go ahead and step out. Step out now," the officer said, while placing his hand on the driver's arm.

“Can you not?” the driver asked.

The officer then punched the driver in the face, pulled him out of the vehicle onto the ground, and arrested him.

There were 15 seconds in between the officer telling the man to exit the vehicle and the punch.

Battle sued the officer for excessive force and false arrest. She alleged the officer violated the driver's civil rights and displayed "deplorable conduct."

She added that at no point did her client resist the officer or "conduct himself in a manner that would provoke violence."

When questioned about the incident in Chesterfield General District Court, the officer stated that he smelled marijuana when he approached the car.

"I don't have to explain why he has to exit the vehicle. I'm not going to get into an argument over the odor of marijuana before somebody exits the vehicle," the officer said in court.

After the officer arrested the driver, the video showed that he searched the vehicle and confiscated what he believed to be marijuana. The driver was charged with possession of marijuana.

However, the charge was dismissed after a General District Court judge suppressed the prosecution's evidence, because he found the officer's actions went beyond what's allowed in the Fourth Amendment and the officer could not "conduct a warrantless search after an unconstitutional seizure."

According to court transcripts, Battle asked the officer in court whether it was "normal practice to punch someone in the face if they haven't cooperated" with his request.

He responded that it's "a technique that is taught as a defensive tactic" by the Chesterfield Police Department.

“When an officer tells you to do something, you got to do it," the officer was heard telling the driver in the body camera footage.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia denied the officer qualified immunity in the case, concluding "a reasonable officer would understand that striking a suspect in the face with a closed fist constitutes excessive force under the facts presented."

The officer appealed the rejection of qualified immunity, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the district court's decision and explanation.

The case ultimately settled in 2022 for an undisclosed amount.

The same officer has now been named as a defendant in another excessive force lawsuit.

He was the officer who shot and killed Charles Byers in July 2023 after responding to reports of breaking and entering and finding Byers holding a hatchet.

Charles Byers body cam footage

It was determined after the shooting that Byers was in the midst of a mental health crisis and under an active court order to be held involuntarily in a psychiatric facility since he was incapable of caring for himself and therefore could suffer serious harm.

The officer fatally shot Byers 45 seconds after arriving on scene, after Byers did not comply with orders to drop with hatchet.

The officer shot at Byers five times as he was retreating from officers, and he fired two more gunshots at Byers' back as he was running away.

The attorney for the Byers family, Paul Curley, claimed the officer violated Byers' right to be free from excessive force, failed to de-escalate the situation, and did not give Byers a warning that he would use lethal force.

Curley is also suing Chesterfield County, alleging it had knowledge of the officer's "propensity to use excessive force against citizens" but "allowed him to be on the street."

CBS 6 asked the police department for the outcome of its internal investigation into the officer's conduct during the traffic stop and whether any disciplinary actions were taken. Spokesperson Liz Caroon said she could not comment since the incident is now connected to pending litigation.

In the Byers case, Chesterfield Police maintained their officers took the appropriate and necessary actions because they had a duty to protect the public and themselves.

They said Byers was "threatening" and "unrelenting" and was given time to comply with orders to put down the hatchet.

Commonwealth's Attorney Erin Barr cleared the officers of any criminal wrongdoing, citing the same reasons.

Barr said she was unable to confirm either way whether her office received a complaint regarding the officer's actions during the traffic stop incident, since it happened under a different administration.

Watch Tyler Layne's reporting on CBS 6 and WTVR.com. Have something for Tyler to investigate? Email him.

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