YORK — A York County public defender says a Rock Hill police officer used excessive force and performed an unlawful arrest when trying to remove his client from a car during an arrest three months ago.
On Thursday, Magistrate Judge Mandrile Young ruled in favor of the defendant, saying police had no probable cause to arrest Jody Phillips, 33, who has been in jail since May 29.
Phillips struggled with police, who charged him with resisting arrest and assault and battery after he allegedly assaulted his mother.
In a preliminary hearing Thursday, assistant public defender Creighton Hayes, Phillips attorney, said Rock Hill Police Officer Arthur Philson III struck Phillips in the face after trying to snatch a cigarette from his mouth.
Philson, who works with the departments Violent Crimes Unit, told the judge that his hands never made contact with Phillips, who refused to get out of the car and ignored police orders not to light a cigarette.
He wrote in a court document that Phillips punched him on the right side of his face after he confiscated the cigarette, grabbed his vest and tried to pull him into the car.
Hayes argued that none of Philsons claims are backed up by a video of the encounter that prosecutors played in court, claiming that the officer instead used excessive force and his version of events were an outright lie.
When Im right there, the officer is in control, Philson testified. Thats why were the law.
On May 29, police went to Constitution Boulevard after Debra Phillips, 57, reported that her son had assaulted her, according to a Rock Hill police report. Phillips told police she and her son had been arguing inside her car when he punched her several times.
She pulled over and stopped the car in the middle turn lane, the report states, and stepped out, at which time her son hit her in the head and kicked her after she fell.
A witness told police he saw Phillips attack his mother before he got back into the car, the report states.
When officers arrived, Debra Phillips was speaking with a police lieutenant, who instructed Philson and two other officers to arrest Jody Phillips, Philson said in court Thursday.
Philson opened the car door and told Phillips to get out, documents show. Phillips did not comply, saying, Im not going anywhere. Im going to light my cigarette, Philson said.
When Phillips tried to light the cigarette, Philson said, he twice reached inside the car to take it from Phillips mouth so he would not be able to flick the lighted cigarette on him.
Police often ask suspects to discard cigarettes, lighters, matches or anything else that could be used to harm the officer, said Executive Officer Mark Bollinger, spokesman for the Rock Hill Police Department.
After taking the cigarette out of (Phillips) mouth, he then punched Officer Philson with a closed fist in the right side of his face, according to court documents. Once he punched Officer Philson, he then grabbed his vest, pulling him inside the vehicle causing Officer Philson to hit his upper right arm on the door jam.
Philson said Thursday that Phillips held onto his vest and tried to pull him toward the car even as Philson hit him with several brachial strikes to loosen his grip. Two other officers helped Philson pull Phillips from the car and restrain him on the ground.
Under questioning from Hayes, Philson said he told Phillips he was under arrest, but acknowledged that he did not record that he had done so in court documents.
Hayes challenged Philsons assertion that Phillips punched him in the face.
Sharon Ohayon, the assistant 16th Circuit solicitor prosecuting the case, showed Judge Young a slowed-down and digitally enhanced version of the police dashboard video showing the encounter between Philson and Phillips.
Philson put the video on pause and pointed at the computer, insisting that Phillips hit him in the face and then tried to pull him inside the car with one hand.
Hayes asked the 225-pound Philson how much he thought Phillips weighed. About 180 pounds was the officers guess.
I cannot pull backwards because hes pulling me, said Philson, who demonstrated how he would typically remove a suspect from a vehicle. What cant be seen in the video, he said, is Phillips steadying himself with his feet in the car.
Ohayon said after the hearing that when slowed and paused, the video shows Phillips swinging at Philson.
You definitely see the defendants hand come out of the car, but its difficult to see because another officer was standing in the way. The defendants hand comes out...at least near the officer. I do agree its a little difficult to see, but I dont think that it didnt happen.
You cant see into the car clearly. Its not a high-definition video; its not close up; you cant see from Philsons point of view.
Hayes said it was hard to believe that, within the 20-second duration of the incident, Philson was able to tell Phillips he was under arrest and instruct him to get out of the car and not light a cigarette, and for Phillips to refuse to do so.
Thats not me, Phillips said aloud in court, seated in shackles next to his defense attorney. Phillips requested to see the video himself and interjected during Philsons testimony. A detention center officer removed him from the courtroom for repeated outbursts his mother later said he cannot help.
Her son suffers from several mental issues, she said, and they were on the way to pick up his medicine May 29 when her son began saying things that made her feel uneasy. She said that when she stopped the car and got out, Jody Phillips hit her in the head and kicked her in the back.
Phillips pleaded guilty several weeks ago to the assault charge in magistrate court.
I believe Mr. Phillips acted defensively, not offensively after being struck in the face, Hayes said, adding that police should have exercised more tact and given Phillips several more warnings before pulling him out of the car.
I dont think Phillips escalated the situation unnecessarily, he said. He defended himself. Whats been testified to today is inaccurate and an outright lie.
Ohayon defended Philsons actions.
The officer used the amount of force he thought was necessary, she said, because Phillips was resisting.
After the hearing, Hayes said Philson couldve taken a step back and given Jody more time to get out of the car, without being so aggressive, so physical.
There was no evidence (Phillips) was armed and dangerous, he said. Theres no reason he couldnt have talked him out of the car.
Debra Phillips, before starting paperwork for her sons release from jail, tearfully said, I feel free in my spirit. I thank God truth wins.
Jonathan McFadden • 803-329-4082