TEMPLE, TX — Temple Police said an internal affairs investigation into the Oct. 1, 2020 arrest of 55-year-old Kenneth Wright revealed that Temple officers did not use excessive or improper force during the event.
However, the investigation has resulted in shift-level counseling for one officer due to the use of improper language.
“After thoroughly reviewing the evidence, I have determined that officers’ use of force in this incident was appropriate and warranted,” Police Chief Shawn Reynolds said.
At about 3:12 a.m. on Oct. 1, 2020, an officer was conducting a check of an area known for stolen vehicle activity when he observed a male subject sitting in a vehicle in the 700 block of North 20th Street.
According to police, Officer Michael Sapp made voluntary contact with the male, identified as Wright, and learned that he had four outstanding warrants for possession of controlled substance, resisting arrest, possession of dangerous drug and theft.
Police said the suspect asked the officer if he was under arrest and the officer explained that he was going to be detained.
Officer Sapp had handcuffs in his hand and attempted to reach for the suspect’s arm, but the suspect attempted to flee, according to Temple PD.
Officer Zachary Quick arrived at this time as the subject lost his footing and fell to the ground on his hands and knees.
Officer Quick attempted to control the subject’s legs as Officer Sapp attempted to control the subject’s upper body and arms, police said.
The suspect had not been patted down or searched for weapons at this time, according to Temple Police. Both officers attempted to get the subject to lay flat on his stomach.
"Due to the limited space between the subject and the officers, the lack of ambient light and the fact that one of the officers' body cameras fell off during the encounter, much of the struggle is not clearly visible on the officers’ Axon body camera footage," Temple Police said. "However, the audio is captured in its entirety."
Officer Sapp and the subject ended up in a head-to-head position.
"Officer Sapp used an under hook of the subject’s upper body in an attempt to get the subject fully onto the ground," Temple Police said.
During this maneuver, Officer Sapp placed his chest on top of the subject’s back and his arms under the subject’s arms. According to police, the subject forcefully bucked his head upward into Officer Sapp’s stomach and chest area repeatedly, "continuing to ignore both officers’ instructions for him to get on the ground."
Officer Sapp placed his hand across the subject’s right jaw/cheek area to secure the subject’s head, preventing him from continuing to buck upwards, according to police.
Temple Police said during the altercation, Officer Quick advised the subject that he would be tased if he did not get on the ground.
When Wright did not comply, Officer Quick applied a drive stun, which is a technique in which the Taser is applied directly to the subject’s body without deploying the device’s probes.
Officer Quick reported that he applied a knee strike to the subject’s leg during the struggle.
The subject stated several times that he could not breathe and that the officer choked him during this encounter.
"The investigation revealed no evidence that either officer choked or restricted the subject’s airway at any time," Temple PD said on Friday. "The subject continued to yell throughout the encounter, and both officers confirmed they could hear and see the subject breathing the entire time."
As required by policy, the officers immediately called for a supervisor and EMS after the subject was detained.
At 3:21 a.m., the subject complained of back pain.
EMS arrived on scene at 3:30 a.m. and transported the subject to Baylor Scott & White Medical Center-Temple at approximately 3:52 a.m. with non-life-threatening injuries.
Both officers sustained minor injuries, and one was treated at the hospital.
Wright was treated and released from the hospital the following day.
While this incident was still under administrative review, Wright, who was riding a bicycle at the time, was arrested for the outstanding warrants on Oct. 20, 2020, after a traffic stop in the 200 block of West Avenue I. He was transported to Bell County Jail without incident.
“This was not a criminal investigation into the officers’ actions, but rather an administrative review to determine if any policies or procedures were violated,” Reynolds said.
Temple Police said while it was determined officers did not use excessive force during this incident, one officer received a shift-level counseling for use of improper language.
The administrative review also revealed an inconsistency between TPD’s Taser policy and the training officers receive related to Taser use.
"The policy does not explicitly allow Tasers to be used in drive stun mode, however, this is an acceptable tactic that TPD officers are trained to use under certain circumstances."
Chief Reynolds has amended TPD policy to provide for the appropriate use of the drive stun technique consistent with the training TPD officers receive.
Temple Police previously released a timeline of events.