Police too rough on Rock Hill man, wife says

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comSeptember 11, 2013 

Matthew Belschner

— The wife of a Rock Hill man police forcibly removed from a truck last weekend after receiving calls about a man with a gun says officers acted excessively when they pulled him from the vehicle without heeding her warnings that he suffers from muscular dystrophy.

Rebecca Belschner, 43, said she told several police officers that her husband, Matthew Belschner, 45, is afflicted with muscular dystrophy, a group of genetic diseases that causes muscles in the body to weaken.

Police had gone to the couple’s Millstone Place home, off Springdale Road, at about 7:30 p.m. Sunday after neighbors called saying they were being threatened by a man with a gun, according to Rock Hill Police documents. When police arrived, they learned that Belschner and her son, 15, were arguing in their front yard.

“He’s a teenager,” she said. “It was not the quietest thing in the world; it was in our own yard.”

According to police, the family had been placed under “zero tolerance,” a designation given to homes where police have tried to use problem-solving techniques and community policing to resolve issues they’ve responded to several times, said Executive Officer Mark Bollinger.

It doesn’t mean police no longer respond if there’s an issue, but it gives responding officers latitude to make arrests to mitigate the situation, Bollinger said.

While his wife and son argued, Matthew Belschner left the house. Rebecca Belschner said he did not want to hear the two bicker.

When police arrived, Rebecca Belschner told them that her son had gone inside the house and they would not find any firearms. Authorities ordered the boy out of the house.

Neighbors told police that they walked out of their homes and watched as the teen fought with his mother, a police report states. The boy did not like them observing and began yelling at them.

When they did not leave, the boy got into his truck and revved the engine, threatening to run them over, the report states. He then said, “I’ll kill you,” before going into the house to grab his rifle case.

He opened the case, the report states, and threatened to shoot. The neighbors fled and called police. Eight witnesses gave police statements.

Those neighbors, Rebecca Belschner said, were drunk and threatened to harm her son after they were asked to stop watching the argument.

“They made some remarks that made my son and I both angry,” she said. “He started screaming at them” but she did not hear him threaten to kill them. He climbed into his truck and revved the engine, she said. He also displayed his rifle case, which she said was empty.

While police were investigating, Matthew Belschner returned home in his truck, the report states.

Rebecca Belschner said she told officers that her husband had a gun in the center console of his truck so “they would not start assuming” he would use the gun.

Police say Matthew Belschner refused to comply with commands to get out of the truck. Police said he leaned toward the center console, so police reached in and grabbed him. As they removed him from the truck, the report states, Belschner was cut above his left eye when his head hit the concrete.

Before police acted, Rebecca Belschner said she told officers several times that her husband suffers from muscular dystrophy.

“He never reached over for the gun,” she said. “He has very poor use of his legs. In order to get out of his truck, he has to swing his legs to the left, lean back and slide down. Police did not give him enough time to get out of the truck.”

Rebecca Belschner said at least three police officers pulled her husband from the truck despite her protests. After he was removed from the vehicle, Matthew Belschner “continued his screaming at officers” and interfering with the investigation, the report states.

He was arrested and charged with public disorderly conduct, police said. He was released from jail on a $260 bond. His son also was arrested and taken to the York County Juvenile Detention Center.

On Wednesday, Rebecca Belschner said her husband still suffers from a sprained arm and contusions. He suffers from Becker syndrome, she said, one of two main forms of muscular dystrophy that is less severe than its counterpart, Duchenne.

Tara Heil, executive director for the Muscular Dystrophy Association in Columbia, said it’s difficult to gauge the long-term effects a patient with muscular dystrophy could suffer if they are removed from a truck and hit the ground.

There are at least 43 different types of muscular dystrophy, she said, that affect everyone differently.

“Part of the challenge we have in finding cures in our research” is that the disease affects people on a case-by-case basis.

“Police felt they were being threatened, and he was being uncooperative,” said Bollinger of the Rock Hill Police Department. “The report stands on its own – those are the facts.”

Police on Wednesday maintained that Matthew Belschner interfered with the investigation. Bollinger said he was unsure if the officers were aware of Matthew Belschner’s condition, but it likely would have not weighed in their decision to remove him from the truck.

“When you tell us about a medical condition, we’re not doctors; we’re not paramedics,” he said.

Police “make split decisions in the field,” he said. Defendants, he said, still have their days in court and the “arrest is not the end.”

Jonathan McFadden 803-329-4082

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