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Fresh Market : Review of dash cam footage raises questions about Germantown officer's account

11/24/2015 | 09:10pm US/Eastern

Nov. 24--An investigation into a couple's complaint about how they were questioned by a Germantown police officer in September prompted a supervisor to question whether the officer had violated department rules about truthfulness and adherence to law.

Neither of those internal charges were included in the administrative hearing regarding Officer C.J. Torrence -- a hearing that led to a five-day suspension last month. Records associated with the complaint by the couple and separate encounters with two other drivers over the previous four months cite Torrence for detaining people for long periods without probable cause, using a chemical agent on a suspect and some searches characterized as unconstitutional by his superiors.

The latest details emerged in the investigation of Torrence's actions with the couple and their three small children, who were questioned by the officer on the Fresh Market parking lot on Poplar in Germantown in the early morning hours of Sept. 12. The family was sleeping in their car with the windows down and the heater on when Torrence and two officers, who also arrived on the scene, rousted them, immediately handcuffed the husband and began questioning them about why they are on the parking lot while the business was closed.

In another incident, Torrence pointed his weapon at a man during a traffic stop after the driver -- who volunteered he was a handgun permit holder and armed with a pistol -- did not pull out the weapon as directed by Torrence, according to police documents.

"When the driver complied with this command, it appears Officer Torrence grabs the driver by the neck with his right hand, and points his duty weapon at the driver," according to the statement of charges filed in the case.

The third incident involved Torrence using a chemical agent on a suspect -- without warning -- when Torrence was helping on a case involving a driving-under-the influence case.

Torrence was charged with department violations regarding personal conduct and unnecessary force in connection with the three instances. He did not appeal the five-day suspension -- the maximum Insp. Lee Covey, head of uniform patrol, could recommend under the department's policy, Deputy Chief Rodney Bright said.

"That's not how we perform," Bright said of Torrence's actions.

Police Chief Richard Hall added: "I expect our officers to be professional, courteous and kind."

The series of investigations were prompted by the couple's complaint about the Fresh Market incident shortly after midnight on Sept. 12. The department charges stated the officer, "exhibited unacceptable personal conduct when he improperly detained a husband, wife and three kids for one hour and fourteen minutes."

Documents associated with the charges against Torrence said he not only didn't identify himself to the driver, he "quickly awoke and removed the driver" from the Buick Enclave." The administrative hearing summary states Torrence immediately handcuffed the driver and continued to hold the family "for some unknown wrongdoings."

"He had reasonable suspicion for (DUI or child endangerment) initially, but his reasonable suspicion for both criminal charges dissipated very quickly," documents state, also noting the removal of the man in that manner "was not reasonable and involved more use of force than was necessary in that circumstance."

After removing the driver, however, Torrence handcuffed the man and left him in the back seat of his squad car while he searched for the man's driver's license in the car "without a legal right to do so," the administrative hearing summary states, searched around the car with his police dog and contacted the Oxford, Miss., Police Department to learn more about the car's occupants -- all of which "were not Constitutionally allowable."

The man and his family were released without charges. He filed the complaint within hours after his release, stating Torrence entered his car without probable cause and unlawfully held him on the scene.

The complaint led to an investigation by Lt. J.C. Schultz of uniform patrol, who reviewed dash cam video of the incident. Torrence, who questioned the occupants about drug use almost immediately, said his drug dog "was alerting all over that car," particularly near the trunk and front doors as if there were drugs present. That led to Torrence using the dog inside the vehicle and officers conducting a full search of the car, pulling out clothes, checking consoles and glove boxes and other areas for possible hidden drugs.

However, Torrence told a supervisor all three of the couple's children were out of the car when he had the dog search inside the vehicle. "The in-car camera footage and the statement of (a backup officer) proves this to be untrue," Schultz wrote in a Sept. 25 memo regarding his investigation. The camera shows one of the children was removed, but the other two apparently were in the car.

During the exchange, Torrence tells the husband he is being detained for child endangerment because the kids were asleep in the car with the windows down, but the heater was on despite the temperature being in the low 70s. Torrence adds the kids are "burning up," and there was a danger of carbon monoxide poisoning of the family.

But Schultz stated when Torrence immediately began a drug investigation against the driver while the children were still in the car, it showed "his concern for the children's well being was secondary to his intent to arrest the driver for a yet unknown offense."

"These actions also dissolve any possibility of articulable probable cause for child endangerment offense," Schultz wrote.

Torrence said the driver became combative after he was removed from the vehicle, although the dash-cam video and statements from the other officers on the scene "refute this accusation." One officer even said the driver acted consistent with someone awakened from a deep sleep.

Schultz stated that based on his review of the dash-cam footage, the details of the complaint and interviews associated with the stop "it is my belief" that Torrence violated department regulations regarding personal conduct, adherence to law and truthfulness.

At an Oct. 22 administrative hearing, Torrence faced charges of personal conduct and unnecessary force and was given the five-day suspension after a hearing that lasted about four hours.

Torrence has been on leave since the suspension was issued and will begin serving the punishment when he returns, Bright said.


(c)2015 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.)

Visit The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.) at www.commercialappeal.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

© Tribune Content Agency, source Regional News

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