Georgia police officer charged with battery in GBI excessive force case

Officer Clayton Watkins of the Columbus Police Department has been charged with battery and violating his oath of office.

A Georgia police officer is facing charges after a GBI investigation determined he used excessive force during the arrest of a man holding a small amount of marijuana in 2019.

Officer Clayton Watkins, 35, of the Columbus Police Department, has been charged with battery and violating his oath of office, according to a GBI announcement. The agency opened an investigation into the incident at the request of the Columbus PD.

According to the investigation, Watkins and a police trainee stopped two men walking in the middle of the road on Wade Street in Columbus, a violation of a city ordinance. During the stop, Watkins demanded that one of the men, 43-year-old Donnell Russell, open his left hand, in which he appeared to be holding something.

Russell refused to open his hand, even after he was handcuffed. Through body camera footage, investigators said they determined that Watkins hit Russell multiple times, pointed a Taser at him, threw him to the ground and hit him again. According to the GBI report, police eventually determined that Russell was concealing marijuana.

The GBI announcement did not say if Russell sustained injuries from the incident and it did not identify the other man involved in the stop. The GBI has not responded to requests for additional detail.

Watkins is on administrative leave without pay, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reported.

Russell was arrested on charges of violating a city ordinance and obstruction of an officer, the GBI said.

The GBI will submit this case and the findings of its investigation to the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit’s District Attorney’s Office for prosecution.

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Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

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