Officer in Nickerson case used excessive force

Feb. 27, 2013 @ 06:02 PM

A former Durham police officer accused of beating a woman during an arrest last year used excessive force, an internal affairs investigation has found.

Cpl. B.D. Schnee resigned from the Durham Police Department last month following protests by supporters of Stephanie Nickerson, who said the officer beat her in the face during the Oct. 28 incident. She filed a police brutality complaint.

The department said in a release on Wednesday that Schnee used “more force than was necessary,” but said there was not enough evidence to prove Nickerson’s allegation that she was arrested without cause.

Charges against Nickerson of resisting arrest and assault on an officer were dropped by prosecutors last month.

Schnee responded to a noise complaint Oct. 28 at an outdoor party. Nickerson supporters said that she told the hostess she didn’t have to allow officers into the house because they had no warrant. Supporters alleged that the officer then threw Nickerson to the ground and punched her in the face.

During a protest in front of Durham Police Headquarters, Nickerson held up a photo showing a badly bruised face. She declined to answer questions from a reporter, and Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez said she and supporters initially didn’t cooperate with the investigation.

In an interview Wednesday, Lopez said he was disappointed by the officer’s actions.

“I’m always disappointed when an officer uses excessive force on a citizen,” Lopez said. “I know this is not part of the culture of the Durham Police Department, and the community needs to realize that we will fully investigate [complaints] and take these matters seriously, and address them properly.”

Lopez said the officer will not face criminal charges.

“The investigation was an administrative one, so no criminal charges will come out of it,” he said.

Under the so-called Garrity Rule, Lopez said, “when internal affairs interviews officers, the person is compelled to tell the truth. They can’t plead the Fifth [Amendment against self-incrimination], so you can’t use any of that material in a criminal proceeding.”

The investigation was thorough and fair, Lopez said.

“This is something we thought was important to the community, and that the community realizes that we take it seriously and investigate it fully,” he said. “Even after [the officer’s] resignation, and in light of the fact that we weren’t getting full cooperation from the witnesses, we still continued after it.”

Eventually, however, witnesses did step forward and help police with the inquiry, he said.

Lopez said that the investigation is now closed.