Body camera footage released Monday shows four officers beating an unarmed man in North Carolina, and one officer pointing a gun to his temple and threatening to kill him.
While Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police defend the actions of the four men, the struggle lasted more than four minutes, and the man arrested says he thought he was going to die, according to local television station WBTV.
The incident began when police pulled over a car on March 26 that was wanted in a string of larcenies. The passenger in the vehicle, James Yarborough, said his truck ran out of gas and he was getting a ride. He said the driver tried to sell him a pistol. With multiple federal gun convictions in his past, Yarborough said running was preferable to facing new gun charges.
“That is the only thing I did wrong that day,” he said. “I regret running.”
The body camera video shows one officer tackle him to the ground, and several more pile on and hold him down. “Don’t fucking resist,” yells one officer. “Ok, I’m not,” said Yarborough.
According to an internal police department report, that’s when Officer Jon Dunham pulled his service weapon out of his holster and threatened Yarborough. “I will kill you, you understand? Give me your hand, now!” he can be heard saying in the video.
“That moment felt like—it felt like it might have been my last day,” Yarborough said.
In the report, Dunham said he thought Yarborough was reaching for a gun.
“At this point I observed him shove his hand towards his waistband,” Dunham said. “He was completely uncooperative; I believed he was reaching for a gun in an attempt to seriously hurt me or Officer Michaels; knowing that suspects are known to frequently place guns in the front if (sic) their waistbands, I drew my pistol and threatened to shoot him.”
While Yarborough didn’t have a gun on him at the time, Dunham wrote that he “had indeed been armed with a stolen 9mm semi-automatic pistol and apparently tossed it in the Honda.”
As the struggle continued, Dunham put his gun away, hit Yarborough several times, and used his Taser against him. “He was still defensively resisting us and unequivocally refusing to obey any commands,” Dunham said. “I resumed striking him with closed fists.”
With at least three officers on top of him, Yarborough can be heard saying “I can’t breathe” several times in one body camera video. As an officer tells him to put his hands behind his back, he can be heard saying, “I can’t.”
That’s when an officer standing over the dog pile tells them to get up off of Yarborough so he can get his hands behind his back. “Guys, Dunham, you have to come up so he can get it back there,” the officer said. “He’s not going anywhere.”
An investigation by the department found no wrongdoing in the incident. “When you look completely at the totality of the circumstances, you have to ask yourself ‘was that reasonable in that situation?’ and, based on everything, it was reasonable,” said CMPD Major Stella Patterson.
Still, a lawyer who specializes in excessive force cases in the Charlotte area told WBTV he thinks a jury would disagree with the department’s conclusion. “I think if you show that to 12 people on the street, they would certainly think that there was a problem,” said attorney Jake Sussman. “There certainly seems like that was an unreasonable use of force.”
Yarborough said the incident still haunts him. “You know, that’s a real life beating,” he said. “Even now I sweat in my sleep. I wake up looking out the window because I’m like ‘they’re coming to get me again.’”