SOUTH BEND – A man arrested for resisting arrest and hitting an officer has now filed a civil lawsuit against a South Bend police officer for punching him.
Each South Bend police officer took an oath to serve and protect, but in 25 pages of court documents Patrolman Theodore Robert is accused of going too far.
Robert pushed, then punched Germain Harris. The whole thing was caught on surveillance cameras at the St. Joseph County Jail.
WSBT called the attorneys representing Harris and Ashley Hyde, and we stopped by the couple's apartment to learn more about their civil suit and the series of events that led to Harris' arrest and ultimately Robert's 30-day suspension without pay.
No one was available for comment:
This lawsuit comes one year after the public safety board suspended Robert for a month without pay.
Back in May, 2010, officers arrested Harris for resisting arrest and battery, but Harris' story is different. According to the civil complaint, Harris said Officer Robert saw three men standing in the street. The three men talked to the officer, and then they walked away to his apartment and Harris, recognizing one of them as an acquaintance, let them inside and closed the door.
About a few minutes later, Harris said Robert knocked on the door and asked to talk to those three men.
Harris said that's when the trouble between them began. He said Robert broke the lock to the door to get to the three men.
“Officer Robert, as he entered the home, had no arrest warrant in his possession for Mr. Harris, Ms. Hyde, or the three unknown men,” the lawsuit contends. “Officer Robert had no search warrant for Ms. Hyde’s home. Officer Robert had no exigent circumstances to enter the home without a warrant.”
The lawsuit goes on to say that Robert slammed Harris into a wall while trying to gain control of the room. The three men, meanwhile, ran out of the house. Harris was briefly knocked unconscious, according to the lawsuit.
Robert’s police report from that night tells a different story. The officer wrote that Harris threw the first punch and that Harris, in fact, was one of the three suspicious men he came upon in the middle of Taylor Street.
When the three men tried to flee Hyde’s house, Robert was able to grab Harris while the other two ran out.
According to Robert, that’s when Harris started striking the officer in the face and head.
Capt. Phil Trent, spokesman for South Bend police, said the department disputes any allegation that Robert’s arrest was unlawful or that he entered Hyde’s apartment illegally.
“We think (Robert) performed a lawful arrest,” Trent said.
Harris was booked into St. Joseph County jail.
In a surveillance video inside the jail, Harris stood next to a county police officer with his hands cuffed behind his back.
Robert was a few yards away, doing paperwork.
The video does not have sound, but Harris admitted words were exchanged between the two.
Seconds later, Robert pushed him from one side of the room to the other.
Officers separated the two.
Then, Robert punched Harris in the face.
South Bend Police Chief Darryl Boykins said the punch was not necessary for anyone's self defense and recommended a 30-day suspension without pay.
The public safety board agreed, but the decision wasn't unanimous.
Patrick Cottrell believes Robert should have received a 60-day suspension without pay. He was the lone dissenter.
Cottrell said just looking at the tape – it's easy to see excessive force.
"This happened inside the jail, there were county officers who held him while he was struck," said Cottrell. "It should have been 60 days.
WSBT News filed a Freedom of Information Act Request with South Bend to look into Robert's personnel file and the police reports filed from that night.
We are waiting on a response for that request.
Additional information provided by Mary Kate Malone with the South Bend Tribune.