It was New Year’s Eve 2021 and the Lafayette Police Department was called to a hotel where a man was banging on a door and being unruly.
Another man staying there said he was robbed by Edmond Thornton and reluctantly agreed to press charges to get officers to take Thornton away, according to police records.
Former Officer Alex Ritter placed Thornton, who later told an LPD supervisor he was intoxicated, in the back of his police unit. Thornton yelled and kicked. He was unruly, Ritter wrote in his police report.
When Ritter pulled up to the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center, he alone tried to escort the handcuffed man inside, a video obtained by The Daily Advertiser shows.
But Thornton “resisted” and while Ritter waited for correctional staff to open the jail door, he struggled with Thornton, eventually hitting him in the jaw and head eight times to “gain control,” according to Ritter’s report on the incident.
Ritter was fired after an Internal Affairs investigation and charges were brought against him. But a Lafayette Parish grand jury declined the malfeasance in office charge and the district attorney’s office dismissed the simple battery charge. And Ritter wants his job back.
What happened when former Officer Alex Ritter arrested Edmond Thornton?
Lafayette Police officers were called at about 11 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2021, to an armed robbery at a hotel in the 2800 block of Northeast Evangeline Thruway.
When they arrived, there was a shirtless man “banging obnoxiously” on a door, according to a police report written by Ritter. The man, later identified as Thornton, walked away when he saw officers but stopped when they asked.
Thornton appeared “highly intoxicated,” swaying back and forth and slurring his words, Ritter wrote.
Ritter walked Thornton to his patrol car and told the man he was being detained until the officers could figure out what was going on.
Thornton grabbed the front push bumper and said “just cuff me to the vehicle,” according to the report. Ritter told him to let go and handcuffed Thornton, though Thornton tried to “detach” himself and didn’t initially comply. Thornton was put in the back of the car.
Officers found the man who said Thornton robbed him. He said he was walking outside with his son when Thornton, who they had seen around before, approached them with a knife and said he wanted their money, according to the report.
Thornton hit the man, who told officers he didn’t fight back. He had several large knots on his head, according to the report. The man said his wallet, which had $60 in it was taken. Officers found a box cutter on top of a nearby trashcan.
Federal lawsuit: Lafayette Police officer ‘brutally attacked’ man during arrest
The man told officers he was reluctant to fill out a statement, fearing for his family and worrying about what would happen to Thornton, but didn’t want Thornton around anymore. He eventually decided to write one and press charges to get officers to take Thornton away, according to the report.
Ritter went back to his patrol car and told Thornton he was under arrest for armed robbery and simple battery. Thornton, who had been removed from the backseat to have his handcuffs adjusted, was placed back in the car but lunged forward in an “aggressive manner, Ritter said in his report.
“Mr. Thornton began banging his head against the window of my unit,” Ritter wrote. “Mr. Thornton was advised to stop the self-harm he was inflicting on himself and towards the vehicle. He then began to scream unknown utterances.”
Thornton continued to scream and yell while Ritter drove downtown to the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center. Thornton asked Ritter for his badge number and name. He asked where Ritter lived and said he would find his family, Ritter said in his report.
At the jail, Ritter tried to get Thornton out of his car and put his hand on his arm. But Thornton “was getting aggressive and was not complying to verbal commands” to get out. Once Thornton did get out, Ritter kept his hand on Thornton’s arm while walking to the intake door.
Thornton was “passively resisting by not complying and trying to pull back towards my unit,” Ritter wrote in his report. Thornton “sprung forward in an attempt to escape my grasp and flee,” Ritter wrote.
A supervisor wrote in his report that Ritter told Thornton to “pick up the pace” and Thornton sped up his walk while heading toward the jail’s door. Thornton later told that supervisor he was moving slowly because his hand hurt and was being a “smart ass” when he began walking faster.
Video of the incident shows Thornton quicken his walk toward the intake door and then Ritter slammed him up against the wall, pushing his head against it.
Ritter hit the button on the intake door but it didn’t unlock. He waited nearly a minute before a corrections officer opened the door, video shows.
While waiting for the door to open, Ritter and Thornton struggled. Ritter said Thornton was resisting.
Video shows a handcuffed Thornton trying to twist from the wall and face Ritter. Thornton’s elbow knocked Ritter’s body warn camera off. Ritter held Thornton, who moved to face the officer, by the throat before pushing the man to face against the wall, the video shows.
Ritter yelled at Thornton and cursed at him while telling him to stop resisting, the video shows.
“While trying to keep Mr. Thornton on the wall, he kept trying to turn around towards me, as I felt it was a way for Mr. Thornton to disengage from my grasp,” Ritter wrote. He wrote that Thornton elbowed him three times during the altercation.
Thornton bucked his body away from the wall and again tried to face Ritter, but Ritter slammed him back and punched him in the jaw and back of the head eight times.
“I delivered emptied (sic) handed close fist strikes to Mr. Thornton’s jawline until compliance was rendered by Mr. Thornton and he stopped resisting,” Ritter wrote. “It was at that time I was able to gain enough compliance of Mr. Thornton that I was able to control him into the corner wall…”
A correctional officer opened the door and Ritter pulled Thornton inside. Thornton was handcuffed to a bench inside because he was “still highly aggressive,” Ritter wrote in his report.
Thornton was later taken to a hospital for evaluation before being booked in the jail and charged with armed robbery, simple battery, simple escape, resisting an officer, self-mutilation of a prisoner and battery on a police officer.
He was later indicted by a grand jury on armed robbery, simple escape, battery of a police officer and resisting arrest charges.
What happened after the incident?
Ritter called a supervisor to complete a use-of-force report. The supervisor reviewed Ritter’s body-worn camera footage, video from the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center, Thornton’s medical records and interviewed Thornton.
The supervisor told Ritter there was a criminal investigation and asked if he wanted to be interviewed. Ritter said he had an attorney who he would consult with. By Feb. 3, 2021, the supervisor had heard from neither, according to his report.
Ritter was fired and charged with simple battery and malfeasance in the office on April 7, 2021. Ritter had been on the job less than a year before he was fired.
The Lafayette Police Department’s use-of-force policy from 2014 states that “officers shall only use the type and degree of force that is reasonably necessary to affect an arrest.” What type of force is used is judged as “the minimum force necessary to accomplish a legitimate police objective.”
“The officer must assess each situation to determine the type and degree of force required,” the policy states. “Short of physical force, there are a variety of methods by which an officer can influence an uncooperative subject.”
Appropriate uses of force include officer presence, verbal commands, soft empty hand control, hard empty hand control and pepper spray, according to the policy.
Charges dismissed, lawsuit filed
But in May, a Lafayette grand jury issued a “no true bill” related to the malfeasance in office charge, meaning it didn’t think there was enough evidence for the 15th Judicial District Attorney’s Office to pursue the charge.
Because of the secrecy surrounding grand juries, it is unknown who the members heard testify or what was presented to the members.
The simple battery charge was then dismissed by the district attorney’s office, according to court records.
“The only comment we have is that after presentation of video, testimonial, and documentary evidence by the Lafayette Parish DA’s Office, a Grand Jury issued a no true bill; and the DA’s office dismissed all pending bills of information,” Allyson Melancon, Ritter’s attorney, said in an emailed statement.
Thornton pleaded guilty in December to simple battery and the prosecution dismissed the other charges, according to court records. He was sentenced to serve six months in the parish jail with credit for time served.
Thornton also filed a federal lawsuit claiming his constitutional rights were violated by Ritter and Lafayette Consolidated Government, which oversees the police department.
Thornton alleged LCG has a “history of failing to properly supervise, monitor and training Lafayette Police officers” and overlooks and fails to investigate officer misconduct “which created a consequence-free environment where (Ritter) felt free to violate (Thornton’s) constitutional rights,” according to court filings.
Ritter denied that he violated Thornton’s rights and said he acted in good faith and with probable cause.
That lawsuit is expected to be heard by a judge for a bench trial in August 2023.
Ritter has filed an appeal of his discipline with the Lafayette Fire and Police Civil Service Board. His attorney, Allyson Melancon argued he was fired without cause and in bad faith. The board could uphold Ritter’s termination, decide to levy lesser discipline or decide discipline was not necessary and reinstate Ritter with back pay.
A date for that hearing has not yet been set.
This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Lafayette Police officer fired for hitting handcuffed man wants job back