The Beatdown That Just Won’t Go Away

Wilson Johnson
Officer James Wilson beating homeless veteran Terre Johnson.

A damning letter sent by the Orlando Citizens’ Police Review Board is putting new pressure on the Orlando Police Department as well as Mayor Buddy Dyer over ongoing problems of excessive force in addition to the city’s failure to properly investigate its own and provide answers to the public. In the scathing letter sent to Police Chief John Mina, the Orlando Citizens’ Police Review Board Chair, Henry Lim, blasts OPD and makes it clear this issue is far from over.

Earlier this month, the Orlando Citizens’ Police Review Board rejected the proposed exoneration of Officer James Wilson, who was caught on video beating homeless veteran Terre Johnson. After the incident, Chief John Mina ordered an internal affairs investigation and the Orlando Police Department only gave Wilson an oral reprimand. OPD asked the Police Review Board to exonerate Officer Wilson at their April meeting. The board unanimously disapproved the findings exonerating Officer Wilson.

Despite not receiving a response from Mayor Dyer, Chief Mina or the Orlando Police Department after their vote earlier this month, the Citizens’ Police Review Board is not letting the issue go. The new letter to OPD calls the Orlando Internal Affairs investigation “poorly conducted” and asks Mina to further investigate the officer.

“Incidents such as these, followed by exonerations, combine to have a toxic effect upon the relationship between citizens and police,” Lim wrote to Mina. “The City of Orlando is better than this and Officer Wilson’s actions are unbecoming of an officer wearing the OPD uniform.”

But the Orlando Citizens’ Police Review Board went beyond that, blasting State Attorney Jeff Ashton and the Orlando Police Department for failing to adequately investigate the officer.

“We find it odd Officer Wilson was not even investigated by the State Attorney or the Orlando Police Department for Battery or Aggravated Battery but that is not for this Board to decide,” the letter continued. “However, as citizens, we encourage you to further investigate this matter, refer it to the necessary authorities so at least an investigation begins, and offer explanations for your reasoning of exoneration.”

The Citizens’ Police Review Board found many parts of the OPD internal affairs investigation to be problematic. The board even rejects the reasoning that Officer Wilson had probable cause to stop Terre Johnson, because Johnson was never told he was stopped or under arrest by the officer. The board also declared that Johnson had the constitutional right to leave and walk away after being berated by Officer Wilson. “Since there was no order to stop and no announcement Mr. Johnson was under arrest, Officer Wilson had no right to ‘go hands on’ with Mr. Johnson,” the letter detailed. “Mr. Johnson was simply walking away not posing any threat to Officer Wilson.”

“Officer Wilson taunted Mr. Johnson appearing to incite a fight,” Lim continued. Later in the letter, Lim blasts Officer Wilson for use of excessive force. “The audio is quite clear and at no time does Officer Wilson instruct him to stop or place him under arrest. As a citizen, at that time, Mr. Johnson is free to walk away. Nevertheless, Officer Wilson attacked Mr. Johnson.”

“At that point, Officer Wilson used excessive force.”

The board agreed the internal affairs investigation correctly sustained Officer Wilson for violating Conduct Towards Public. “It is clear Officer Wilson acted in a demeaning, condescending, and threatening manner towards Mr. Johnson and those around him,” the letter said. “Officer Wilson picked this fight and when Mr. Johnson began to walk away, Officer Wilson made sure there was a fight.”

The Police Review Board also questioned why Internal Affairs did not investigate Officer Wilson for wearing a name badge not belonging to him. “When asked about this confusion, the Board did not receive an adequate response and only exacerbates what appears to be a poorly conducted investigation,” Lim wrote.

Officer Wilson’s mother is a fellow Orlando police officer and she is married to Shawn Dunlap, the police union president. The police union was one of the first endorsements for Mayor Dyer’s re-election and Jeff Ashton faced criticism from local police ahead of his re-election bid this year. Questions about the potential of bias because of the officer’s relationships are spreading around the community. Even the Police Review Board agrees there is a lot at stake here for the community.

“As a Board, we fear erosion of confidence from the public towards OPD as it sets us on a path potentially causing harm to the City of Orlando,” the Citizens’ Police Review Board letter declared.

This is only one excessive force of many involving Orlando police. Click here to view the Orlando Police Brutality & Excessive Force News Recap video from Wildcard Strategies:

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