Zared Jones, a 29-year-old black man, says members of the Greensboro Police Department’s downtown bike patrol team escalated conflict resulting in a friend being Tased after he complained about being assaulted by a bouncer.
Zared Jones, a 29-year-old nursing assistant, and three friends drove to downtown Greensboro on the evening of Sept. 10, 2016. According to Jones, it was the rare occasion when their busy work schedules aligned for them to get together, and they were looking forward to a fun night on the town.
Almost from the moment they parked their car in front of Cheesecakes by Alex on South Elm Street, the four young, black men attracted the attention of the Greensboro police downtown bike patrol, Jones said.
“Immediately, we were surrounded by police officers, maybe seven of them,” Jones recalled. “They started asking us what we were doing, where we were going. We asked them why they were asking all these questions. The best answer they could give us is that they were the community resource team, and it was their job to go out in the community and ask questions.”
They would soon encounter the bike patrol again, this time on the 100 block of West McGee Street bustling with raucous late-night revelers in a confusing situation that quickly spun out of control, ending with Jones’ friend, Aaron Garrett, getting Tased and all four arrested and hauled down to the Guilford County Jail. Graham Holt, Jones’ lawyer, contends that the four men became the target of the police’s attention solely because of their race, and that the officers unnecessarily escalated the situation.
The incident is currently under administrative investigation by the department’s professional standards division in response to a complaint filed by Jones and Holt on Aug. 24. Capt. Teresa Biffle, who supervises the professional standards division, said the department would not be able to comment on the matter while it was under investigation — typically a process that takes about 45 days.
After conferring about where to go, Jones and his friends settled on the Boiler Room, a bar on the 100 block of West McGee Street. His cousin was not allowed in the bar and left, so Jones said he went in by himself to try to order a beer. Jones said the bartender took his money, but didn’t give him a beer. He said while he was trying to talk to an employee who looked like a manager, a security guard came over, picked him up by the neck and carried him out of the bar. Todd Olson, the owner of the Boiler Room, declined to comment for this story.
As soon as he was dropped on the sidewalk outside the bar, Jones said he found himself surrounded by some of the same officers who had questioned him and his friends outside Cheesecakes by Alex. Believing that he had been assaulted, Jones approached one of the officers, whom he learned later was Cpl. Korey R. Johnson.
“I went and asked Cpl. Johnson to help me with the assault,” Jones said. “He tried his best to persuade me it was pointless to pursue it. I asked him: ‘Are you going to do your job?’ He took my ID and went into the Boiler Room to investigate.”
Jones said that while he and his friends were waiting for Cpl. Johnson to return with his ID, another officer “came up on a bike and proceeded to escalate the situation.”
Jones said, “He got off the bike and asked, ‘Have these people here been kicked out of the club?’”
A video taken by one of Jones’ friends captures a tense scene. A voice off camera says, “That s***’s stupid as hell. I ain’t even did nothing. I’m trying to stop my man from goddamn getting in trouble…. See, now he try to tell me I got to step over here.”
“Just as long as you ain’t over there, you’re good,” an unidentified officer says.
“Where am I over?” the man asks.
“You’re good right now,” the officer responds. “You’re good, you’re good. Everything is kosher.”
Sgt. Steven Kory Flowers, a member of the street crimes unit, can be seen walking past Jones and pointing to Jones’ friend while declaring, “He’s already been kicked out.”
Jones walks over and interjects: “He has not been kicked out. He has not been inside of that club…. I’m being kicked out.”
“You have to leave, do you understand?” Flowers says, still focused on Jones’ friend. “We’re not going to talk anymore. Go away. You’ve been kicked out. Go away.”
Within seconds of the exchange, Jones said Flowers grabbed him by the wrist and slammed a handcuff on him. Aaron Garrett, also 29, made a swiping motion at Flowers’ hand, and asked, “What are you doing?”
The video then shows Officer Samuel A. Alvarez move in on Garrett, commencing a 35-second scuffle that ends with Garrett being Tased. After Garrett turns to face Alvarez, the officer charges him and grabs him by the neck from behind. Alvarez pushes Garrett against a car as Garrett attempts to free himself. Two other officers grab Garrett by the hands while Alvarez grabs Garrett’s ankles and flips him forward.
Jones said his friend was able to catch himself, avoiding a painful face-plant on the sidewalk.
The video shows Garrett rise to his feet and back away as the officers advance on him, and then begin firing their Tasers at him, laying him out on the ground.
All three men were taken into custody, and Jones said his cousin, who had left the area after being denied admittance to the Boiler Room, was also picked up by the police and arrested. Jones was charged with misdemeanor second-degree trespassing and misdemeanor intoxicated and disruptive. Court records indicate that Garrett was charged with assault on a law enforcement officer, resisting arrest and second-degree trespassing, while Alfonzo Thomas III, 28, was charged with second-degree trespassing, and Clifton Donnell Ruffin, 22, was charged with second-degree trespassing and intoxicated and disruptive.
“All Zared did was ask for help, and he got arrested,” Holt said, adding that the bike patrol officers set the stage for the arrests by profiling the four young men as soon as they got out of their car.
“They were targeted, and it’s because they’re black,” Holt said. “That’s the only reason they were targeted. They were questioned just for arriving downtown. It was an interrogation, not a reaching out of a community officer.”
Then, according to Holt, the officers who arrived on the scene after Jones was ejected from the Boiler Room manufactured a crisis.
“It’s textbook police escalation of the situation,” he said.
This is not the first time Alvarez, the officer who tackled Aaron Garrett, has been the subject of a complaint.
Jose Charles, a 15-year-old boy who had been attacked by a group of teenagers at the Fun Fourth Festival at Center City Park on July 4, 2016, wound up in a melee with downtown bike patrol officers that resulted in criminal charges against him and a hospital visit. While Charles was using his T-shirt to stanch blood from a cut above his eye, Officer Alvarez approached Charles and asked him what he was doing. Tamara Figueroa, Charles’ mother, alleged in an interview with Triad City Beat earlier this year that Alvarez reacted to her son’s profane response by grabbing him, lifting him “in the air with all the force they could, and slam[ming] him on his head.”
Cpl. Johnson, the supervisor on duty on both July 4 and Sept. 10, acknowledged in the investigative report for the Charles incident that following the encounter with Alvarez, “Charles’ pre-existing lacerations to his right eye began bleeding rapidly.”
The administrative investigation by the department’s professional standards division cleared the officers of wrongdoing in the Charles incident, but the police community review board, a citizen panel, disagreed with the department’s finding. Lindy Perry-Garnette, a member of the board, was forced to resign after she publicly expressed concern about what she saw in police body-camera video of the incident. Frustration about city council’s handling of the matter boiled over with dozens of Charles’ supporters taking over council chambers in May.
After reviewing the video, Mayor Nancy Vaughan, along with council members Marikay Abuzuaiter, Justin Outling and Nancy Hoffmann, said in a prepared statement that they supported City Manager Jim Westmoreland’s decision to uphold the police department’s initial determination clearing the officers of wrongdoing.
“In my mind, it’s not a close call,” Outling told reporters at a May 3 press conference. “At times, there are close calls. In my mind, this isn’t a close call, and I fully support the findings and conclusions of the city manager and the chief of police.”
Outling and Abuzuaiter have both publicized endorsements from the Greensboro Police Officers Association for their 2017 reelection bids.
Perry-Garnette, who is now running for an at-large seat on city council, questioned whether she saw the same video as the current council members during a candidate forum at Scuppernong Books on Sunday.
“It’s very hard for me to believe that they saw what I saw, and then stood in front of TV cameras and said to the public: ‘There’s no problem here whatsoever.’ Trust me: There was a problem there, and a big problem there.”
Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson has attempted to distance herself from her colleagues who supported the city manager’s determination.
“I saw something that I thought could have been handled a lot better,” Johnson said at the candidate forum.
The magistrate’s order for Zared Jones’ misdemeanor charges, which lists Alvarez and Officer Jose M. Chavez as the arresting officers, alleges that he “[remained] on the premises of the Boiler Room bar… after being notified not to enter or remain there by a person in charge of the premises” and that he appeared “intoxicated and disruptive in that the defendant did interfere with passage across a sidewalk.”
Jones’ complaint accuses Alvarez of perjury.
“Alvarez had to swear that warrant before a magistrate, so it’s perjury,” said Graham Holt, Jones’ lawyer. “The warrants says things that are untrue. The video shows it’s not true. The warrant says he was obstructing a sidewalk, and he was not.”
Jones said while he was waiting to be booked at the Guilford County Jail, he said he asked about his assault complaint against the Boiler Room employee, and officers told him they didn’t know what he was talking about.
“One of the officers handed over my ID so they could put it with my belongings,” Jones said. “I said, ‘The officer who I gave my complaint to had my ID.’ Upon learning that the officer with his ID was Cpl. Korey Johnson, Jones said he asked for him, and was told that Johnson had already clocked out.
“Cpl. Johnson is African American,” Jones said. “I feel that’s why he left early…. He didn’t want to answer the questions he knew he would be asked.”
Records provided by the Greensboro Police Department show that Johnson, a 12-year veteran of the department, was promoted from corporal to sergeant three weeks after Jones’ arrest, with a pay increase $55,253 to $60,533. Jones said he didn’t see Johnson again after the bike-patrol supervisor went into the Boiler Room to investigate his complaint. But the video shows Sgt. Steven Kory Flowers, Alvarez and at least two other officers intervening.
“There’s a whole team of officers,” Holt said. “None of them has spoken up. They all allowed Zared to get arrested. They all participated. It’s a barrel of bad apples.”
Capt. Teresa Biffle said the department could not grant interviews with Alvarez and Flowers because the matter remains under administrative investigation. (Flowers previously served on the department’s two-man criminal intelligence division team responsible for monitoring fringe groups from white supremacists to Occupy Greensboro.)
In May, prosecutors dropped both of the charges against Jones. Court records indicate that they also dropped the second-degree trespassing charges against Aaron Garrett and Alfonzo Thomas III, while Clifton Donell Ruffin’s charges for second-degree trespassing and intoxicated and disruptive remain pending.
The shuck on the case file for Garrett’s assault charge indicates that the YouTube video was introduced as evidence. The magistrate’s order alleged that Garrett pushed and punched Officer Alvarez at least two times while Alvarez was attempting to arrest him. The order also alleges that Garrett resisted arrest “by fighting with the officer and hitting him by throwing punches. At the time, the officer was discharging and attempting to discharge a duty of his office by arresting the defendant for trespassing.”
Garrett was found guilty of assaulting an officer but not guilty of resisting arrest. A judge ordered him to attend an anger management class.
Jones said his experience with the downtown bike patrol on McGee Street last September has made him reclusive.
“It’s discouraged me from going out, period,” he said. “Every time I see the police I get worried and distressed. I don’t know the outcome.”
If the professional standards division and police community review board find that the officers didn’t do anything wrong, Jones said he hopes they’ll at least tell him what he can do to avoid future abuse.
“I asked the internal affairs officers: What could I do to avoid this abuse? And they couldn’t give me an answer,” Jones said. “At the very least I would hope there would be something in place to avoid this happening. I don’t understand why there’s no rules and bylaws to keep this situation from happening. From asking the question, the information I got is you can only let it happen, and accept the abuse.
“There’s a whole segment of the American population that’s not living the American dream, and it doesn’t have the same opportunities as a normal, or Caucasian person,” Jones added. “It’s no different from a bully at a school that makes you feel less than, and like you’re wrong for being you. Like the bully in the schoolyard, the most you can do is let people in charge know. And when that’s not enough, the most you can do is be stuck between being bullied and living your life.”
Read the complaint.