Police accused of excessive force against 15-year-old at Fun Fourth

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Jose Charles with his mother, Tamara Figueroa (photo by Jordan Green)

Jose Charles had removed his T-shirt to stanch the blood from a cut above his right eye after suffering an assault by a large group of boys at the Fun Fourth Festival at Center City Park in downtown Greensboro last July when he was approached by Officer SA Alvarez.

His mother, Tamara Figueroa, had told Jose to wait for her while she took her three younger children and a niece to the bathroom. Jose, who was 15 at the time and is now 16, told Triad City Beat that he recognized one of the attackers from kindergarten and had experienced friction with some of them on Facebook in the past. By the time Alvarez reached him, the boys had scattered.

Jose said Alvarez asked him: “What are you doing?”

“N****, I just got jumped,” Jose responded.

In a matter of moments, the situation would devolve into a melee with Jose incurring four criminal charges, including assault on a government official, and eventually being treated for his injuries at Cone Hospital.

“Instead of administering aid — it says in the police report he’s an apparent victim — they don’t render aid,” said Figueroa, who has reviewed the police body-worn camera footage of her son’s encounter with the police. “They grab him and lift him in the air with all the force they could and slam him on his head.”

Figueroa characterizes Alvarez’s forcible restraint of her son as something like a suplex wrestling move. The police report, which Figueroa allowed TCB to review, describes Alvarez as placing Jose on the ground, but the results suggest a more forceful approach. The body camera footage isn’t publicly available.

The police report, completed by Cpl. KR Johnson, contends that Jose’s language could have instigated more violent conduct by juveniles who were bystanders, and that Jose “then resisted a lawful detention and began pulling away” from Alvarez, who told him he was under arrest and attempted to handcuff him.

“As a result of the resistance, Officer Alvarez then placed Charles on the ground and affected the arrest,” Johnson wrote. “As a result of being placed on the ground, Charles’ pre-existing lacerations to his right eye began bleeding rapidly.”

With a large crowd gathering around to witness the confrontation, the police moved Jose to the alleyway across the street from the park, next to the Davie Street Parking Deck. By that time, Figueroa had come out of the bathroom with the younger children, having missed the fight entirely. Figueroa recalled that her son’s friend, Madison, was yelling, “Hurry, they’re beating him.”

Johnson wrote that Jose “became extremely noncompliant and started to move towards his family while cursing officers with great passion.”

In support of the assault against a government official charge against Jose, Johnson wrote, “It was also at this time while Officer [BS] Hilton was attempting to have Charles sit back on the ground that Charles stated to Officer Hilton ‘f*** you’ and spit blood and saliva in Hilton’s facial area.”

Figueroa contends there’s no basis for the charge because her son was only trying to clear the blood out of his mouth.

“You can see the blood squirt out of his head,” she said. “The way he was pinned the blood was going into the mouth. He said, ‘I’m choking, I’m choking.’ When they let him up the blood sprayed at the officer. They tried to say he spit. He did spit, but it wasn’t with malice.”

In addition to assault on a government official, Jose was also charged with affray, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct related to the July 4, 2016 incident.

Figueroa said after she filed a complaint with the police department, and internal investigation determined that there was no excessive force. She appealed the decision to the police complaint review committee, a subcommittee of the Greensboro Human Relations Commission, in December. The committee reviewed the video of the incident, and Figueroa received an official letter from the human relations department stating, “PCRB disagrees with the outcome of the GPD’s investigation and has requested the chief of police to further review your complaint and respond to the board’s concerns.”

Susan Danielsen, a spokesperson for the department, said the police are legally constrained from commenting because the subject was a juvenile at the time of the incident and because the complaint filed by Figueroa remains under investigation.

Jose has been in trouble with the law on two occasions since the July 4 incident. Challenged with mental health difficulties, the young man’s brushes with the law have played out against an ordeal involving interruptions in medication and misdiagnosis, his mother said.

At the time of the Fun Fourth Festival, Figueroa said she was looking for a new doctor because Jose’s previous doctor was closing his practice.

“After the Fourth of July incident Jose completely lost his mind,” Figueroa said. “He didn’t get to see this [new] doctor until the first week of August. We found out that Jose shouldn’t have been taking that medication in the first place; it was making him hyper instead of settling him down. He got a new diagnosis for schizoaffective disorder, mood disorders, and he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress from what happened at Fun Fourth.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, symptoms of schizoaffective disorder can include hallucinations, delusions, depression and mania, and co-occurring substance abuse is a serious risk.

Figueroa said her son started hanging out with an older group of teenagers who were stealing to support themselves. In one incident, Jose and the other teenagers broke into a house and two pounds of marijuana were taken. When the police came, Jose was the only one arrested because the other teenagers ran away. Figueroa said she told the police everything she knew about the other teenagers.

Another time, they broke into a car, and the police caught Jose with Xanax and marijuana. When the police called Figueroa they told her that her son was “high out of his mind.” She said she found him unconscious and later he told her he didn’t remember anything about the episode.

In all, Jose wound up accumulating eight charges from the two incidents after the Fun Fourth debacle. Figueroa said she recommended a juvenile court judge that her son be put on electronic monitoring because, as she put it, “We have to stabilize this kid.”

Prior to her son’s lawyer viewing the police video, Figueroa said the Guilford County District Attorney’s office offered to drop all of the charges from the Fun Fourth Festival. She said she asked her lawyer to look at the police video because she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. “The day the lawyer viewed the footage,” Figueroa said, “they no longer wanted to drop the charges from the Fourth of July.”

Now, Figueroa said, the district attorney’s office is offering to drop all the eight charges accumulated after the July 4 incident if her son pleads guilty to the four charges, including assault on a government official, that arose from the Fun Fourth Festival. As part of the deal, he would receive four months probation.

Pleading guilty to assault on a government official would sabotage Jose’s goal to join the Navy, Figueroa said.

“If you’re going to hold him accountable, hold him accountable for something he did,” she added. “Take that assault charge off the table.”

Assistant District Attorney Bill Wood said because the case is pending and because it’s a juvenile matter, the district attorney’s office will not comment.

Jose’s supporters appealed to Greensboro City Council to review the video at the most recent meeting on March 7. Lewis Pitts, a civil rights activist and former lawyer, upbraided council, saying he was appearing before them in support of Figueroa and her son “about the issue of getting fairness and not being coerced or pressured into accepting a plea that the child assaulted an officer when the reverse is what happened — merely so as to legally protect the city from liability. Getting that kind of a plea on record is what that would do. It would make it impossible for that mother to take legal recourse because they would point to: ‘Oh, he pleaded guilty to it.’ That’s the tactic that’s being used here.”

Councilwoman Sharon Hightower and Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson said they are committed to reviewing the video.

“The community needs to know that we are going to look at that video,” Hightower said. “That gives them some confidence tonight that we are going to do what we say we are going to do.”

Johnson told Jose’s supporters: “I represent you, and I want to see what happened. Because we have the power to ask the manager to direct certain things.”

Councilwoman Nancy Hoffmann urged her fellow council members to wait until the process by the complaint review board was complete before voting to review the video.

“If we have confidence in the people that we have appointed to this particular board, we need to let them do their work,” Hoffmann said. “We may see at that point that we’re in perfect agreement with what they have done and what their recommendation is. So it seems like a charade to me to jump over that and just assume that we’re gonna do this four weeks from now or whatever. We can still do it if there is some displeasure at what has taken place as a result of their work and through the process. But I think we can wait on this.”

Ultimately, the council voted 5-4 to review the video when the process by the complaint review committee is complete, with Mayor Nancy Vaughan, Councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter and Councilman Jamal Fox joining Hightower and Johnson in support. Hoffmann, along with Councilman Mike Barber, Councilman Justin Outling and Councilman Tony Wilkins voted against the measure.

City Attorney Carruthers said the process allows the chief to respond to the complain review committee, and then if the committee still disagrees with the chief, it can request a review by the city manager. The committee’s next meeting is scheduled for April 5.

Jose Charles made a court appearance on Thursday. His mother said his medication caused him to fall asleep during the hearing. She said he did not accept or reject the most recent plea offer, which remains on the table, and the case was continued until May 11. The judge also ruled that the video could only be released under seal to Jose’s criminal attorney but could not be disclosed to a civil attorney.

Figueroa said she went into a depression after the Fun Fourth incident because she felt that Jose blamed her for failing to protect him. That makes her all the more resolved to see that justice is done.

“I really need to show him I’m sorry this happened to you,” she said. “And I’m not going to stop until there’s some accountability.”

  • Al McMullin Walle

    Alvarez, who I’ve met, isn’t one of those, as far as I know, who allowed the neighborhood association to keep coming to me @ all hours of the night until I broke-up the convoy with a baseball bat right by the Westerwood Sign @ 2:30 A.M.; all of those people–including some of their undercovers that I repeatedly met–would take some time to list.

  • BC

    Sounds to me like he was being a jackass to the cop and not complying with his orders.