On May 10, just a few weeks after video showing Henry County Police Officer David Rose choking handcuffed ex-NFL player Desmond Marrow went viral, Police Chief Mark Amerman was widely lauded after firing Rose, saying the department “does not tolerate this type of conduct from its officers.”
“If and when we find that this type of conduct is evident, the (department) will take appropriate action,” said Amerman, who had just been promoted.
But new documents released Monday, including a chain of damning emails and a copy of a previously undisclosed internal investigation, reveal Henry police had seen the video days after Marrow’s Dec. 2 arrest. They were also aware of dash cam video in which Rose is heard telling his partner, Officer Matthew Donaldson, “I’m not going to write it down, but hell ya I choked that (expletive deleted).”
Despite that, an initial investigation, completed Dec. 7, cleared the officers.
“We were all, the entire community, fed a certain story of what happened,” said Marrow co-counsel Chris Stewart, who filed a lawsuit in Henry State Court on Monday alleging deprivation of rights. “We thought the chief and the council members found out about the incident when it went viral. We saluted that department for taking immediate action, because it’s so rare. Sadly, that wasn’t the truth of what happened.”
Henry spokeswoman Melissa Robinson declined comment, citing county policy concerning pending or ongoing litigation.
“However, once officials review the recently filed complaint, an appropriate response will be filed with the Court,” she wrote.
The findings of the previously undisclosed initial investigation — which included the citizens video and dash cam footage — were known to Henry’s board of commissioners but kept from Marrow’s attorneys and the public. Internal emails, and a reference to that Dec. 7 report in the second investigation, completed on May 4, confirm as much.
“Want to know why? Because it was wrong, filled with lies,” Stewart said.
It’s clear that the same information that led to Rose’s dismissal was available to police and commissioners within a week of the incident. The differing outcomes either add up to a conspiracy, as Marrow’s lawyers allege, or, at best, incompetence.
At a press conference after the video went viral, Amerman said an investigation was already underway because of “more facts that concerned (him) greatly.” But he didn’t mention that he had seen the video long before it hit social media.
In that report, Internal Affairs Division Maj. Mike Ireland determined that Rose’s hand “was placed in the area of Mr. Marrow’s neck (and) does not appear to be intentional.” Marrow’s movements caused Rose’s hand to slip around the neck, the report stated.
“My investigation revealed the officers were in compliance with policy,” Ireland wrote.
Rose and Donaldson were not punished. Ireland, meanwhile, was promoted to deputy chief.
Only one county official, commissioner Bruce Holmes, expressed concerns about how the investigation was handled.
“I’m beginning to feel that people are hiding information,” he wrote in an email to Amerman on Dec. 7. In that same email chain, Holmes — who did not respond to a request for comment from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution — said he hopes no one believes the video will stay hidden.
It would, for a little more than four months. When it was posted on Facebook in late April, a massive outcry followed. Rose was placed on administrative leave. A second investigation was launched.
Behind the scenes, commissioners fretted about possible protests and damning headlines. Henry County Manager Cheri Matthews informed them she had retained a crisis manager to assist in a response and advised commissioners to refrain from comment.
The second report was damning. The allegation against Rose of unnecessary force was sustained, citing his comments on the dash cam video, which constituted another policy violation.
Rose was fired. Donaldson was exonerated, even though he failed to report Rose’s admission that he wasn’t going to disclose details about choking Marrow. “If he did say it, it went in one ear and out the other,” Donaldson said.
There were sins of omission, as well. Rose is heard on the dash cam video talking about a federal officer who witnessed the incident.
“He walked over to sergeant and said, ‘You shouldn’t be doing this,’ ” said Rose, referring to the chokehold.
No mention of that witness’s account is in the incident report or any of the investigations that followed.
“It’s so rare that you catch the people involved red-handed,” Stewart said. “But we did in this case and that’s why it’s so significant. It happens to people all the time, especially to young black men, where all you have to do is throw a bunch of charges on them, don’t interview the witnesses who support them, hide the reports, and then it goes away if they can’t afford to hire a lawyer.”
Rose, in fact, was incredulous when he was informed about the second investigation’s findings.
“Can I ask one question? How did you even know that was in there?” Rose can be heard asking Capt. Joey Smith on the audiotape of the second internal affairs investigation that led to Rose’s dismissal.
He was referencing his admission, near the end of the dash cam footage, that he had choked Marrow.
“Who goes 42 minutes to the end? People who do this for a living,” said Smith, who conducted the second investigation.
Attorney Gerald Griggs, co-counsel for Marrow, called on the state attorney general and Henry County’s district attorney to investigate.
“Today we learned the true depths of a coverup,” Griggs said. “The public’s trust is something not to be toyed with.”
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