Saturday, June 23, 2018
Public safety

St. Petersburg police officer used too much force during jail booking, chief says

ST. PETERSBURG — A police officer was suspended for four days Wednesday for dragging a drunken woman across the floor after she refused to cooperate while being booked into jail.

Police Chief Chuck Harmon said Officer Christopher Goodwin, 47, used an excessive amount of force during his interactions with 49-year-old Debra Leibrock, who was arrested April 13 for trespassing and disorderly intoxication.

Leibrock suffered minor injuries and complained to the mayor's office.

According to internal affairs investigators, Goodwin responded that morning to Trinity Lutheran Church, 401 Fifth St. N, where volunteers were serving breakfast to the homeless.

People there called police after Leibrock, who was intoxicated, started causing trouble.

Goodwin pulled up and ordered Leibrock to leave. She started to walk away, then turned back and smashed a bottle in the middle of the road.

Goodwin tried to handcuff her, police said, but Leibrock began to flail around and then went limp. The officer took her to the ground and half-dragged her by the shirt collar to his cruiser.

He called paramedics to examine a gash on her face.

Once inside the police car, Goodwin said, Leibrock became docile. She chatted with him and complained her head hurt. The officer promised a nurse would examine the wound.

But when they got to the jail, Leibrock became uncooperative again, Goodwin said. Leibrock plopped on the pavement and refused to move. A video from the jail shows her trying to evade the officer's grasp.

Goodwin notified jail deputies of Leibrock's status. But before anyone came to help, he again grabbed the woman by her collar and dragged her inside the jail.

An intake deputy at the jail told internal investigators Leibrock "was not providing any physical resistance to the officer other than sitting down on the ground," according to documents released by police.

"Deputy Hall was 'shocked' by the officer's actions and stated he had other options available to him for assistance," the documents said.

Yet people who were at the church that day, including G.W. Rolle, an advocate for the homeless, said they didn't see anything wrong with Goodwin's conduct. They said the officer was professional and wanted to thank him for taking care of the problem.

Leibrock has a criminal record that dates back to 1997. Her most recent arrest was a week ago for disorderly intoxication.

Goodwin, who has been on the force since 1991, told investigators he knows he could have done things differently and that it was inappropriate to drag Leibrock into the jail.

Harmon said Goodwin's actions violated a general order against unbecoming conduct.

"He handled the entire incident appropriately, except for his actions in the sally port area of the Pinellas County Jail," Harmon wrote in a memo. "He was remorseful for his actions and any embarrassment it may have brought to the agency."

In addition to Goodwin's case, department officials also reviewed two fatal shootings. Officers in both cases were ruled justified in their use of force in the deaths of Arthur Allen Dixon Jr. on March 10 and Pamela Dale Kirk on April 28.

Dixon rushed at two officers with a pair of scissors after a failed negotiation attempt, officers said. Authorities said Kirk, who suffered from mental health issues, pointed a gun at an officer as he tried to speak to her through a window.

Prosecutors cleared the three officers of any criminal wrongdoing earlier this year.

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