A Spokane police officer kicked a handcuffed man in the genitals during a July arrest, after the man surrendered but resisted restraints and allegedly kicked an officer.
While the Spokane County Prosecutors’ Office declined to file charges after a criminal review by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, the incident spurred an ongoing internal department investigation.
The officer, Kris Henderson, remains on paid administrative leave.
Investigative reports from the sheriffs’ office and body-worn camera footage of the incident were provided to The Spokesman-Review through a public records request. But a document containing the prosecutors’ office’s rationale for not pursuing the case was redacted.
Henderson’s attorney, Rocky Treppiedi, said in an email to The Spokesman-Review that the officer’s use of force was lawful based on U.S. Supreme Court precedent under Graham v. Connor and that the prosecutor’s decision not to prosecute was “entirely appropriate.”
The Graham decision considers a suspect’s threat to police or others, the severity of the crime and whether the suspect is resisting arrest from the perspective of the officer at the time, among other factors.
Henderson’s use of force occurred after a reckless driving incident on July 12 that led police on a pursuit of Anthony L. Belcourt, 23, to the suspect’s home in north central Spokane, according to court and investigative documents. Belcourt abandoned his vehicle in the middle of the road, then ran into his residence and barricaded himself inside while cursing at and insulting officers.
Belcourt claimed he was not under arrest, said, “You guys got guns? I got guns, too,” and went out of sight of officers several times, according to investigative documents. But after about three minutes Belcourt exited the residence without a weapon, and Henderson arrived as backup as Belcourt dropped onto his stomach and put his hands behind his back.
Henderson was placing Belcourt’s girlfriend in handcuffs facedown for allegedly obstructing police while three other officers began struggling with Belcourt, who officers estimated to be close to 6 feet tall and 300 pounds, according to investigative documents. The girlfriend, who was eventually handcuffed by another officer, and Belcourt’s son screamed throughout the encounter.
Belcourt was jerking his body around, trying to pull his arms free and kicking at officers while they tried to put him in handcuffs, according to investigative documents. Police ordered Belcourt to stop resisting, and multiple officers were unsuccessful in an initial attempt to raise him to his feet.
As three officers raise Belcourt to his feet a second time, Belcourt twists his body away from police and widens his stance, according to investigative documents and video.
Henderson then applies a single “Thai kick” toward Belcourt’s upper thigh and strikes him in the genitals. Belcourt yells out in pain and a voice that sounds like Henderson says a forceful expletive at him, according to video footage.
Four officers take Belcourt to the ground and an officer who sounds like Henderson warns Belcourt that he’ll be tased. Other officers tell Belcourt to stop resisting while he continues to struggle with officers.
“I’m not fighting anymore,” Belcourt said. “I’m done.”
Officers then placed Belcourt in leg restraints and carried him into a police vehicle using a cloth stretcher to avoid further struggle, according to investigative documents and video. In the police vehicle, Belcourt apologized for his actions.
An officer who responded at the jail to investigate Belcourt for DUI said the suspect smelled of alcohol and his eyes were bloodshot, according to court documents.
Belcourt was charged with reckless driving, along with obstructing police, resisting arrest and assaulting an officer, according to court records. His case has since been referred to therapeutic drug court. He has no prior criminal record in Washington.
Henderson immediately reported the use of force on Belcourt to a police lieutenant at the scene, saying he had kicked him in the genitals, according to video footage. He said Belcourt “donkey” kicked an officer in the leg and was flailing around, so he wanted him to stop. The officer reported he was kicked once in the shin in court documents.
Henderson wrote in a report that the target of his kick was Belcourt’s inner thigh to cause him to lose his balance and reduce the threat of assault of an officer, according to investigative documents.
The officer noted striking a handcuffed individual is an exceptional technique, but he believed the action was reasonable under the circumstances.
Criminal prosecution of police use of force cases is rare. The most recent case of note in the state involving a handcuffed suspect was in 2014 in Seattle, where an officer was fired for punching a drunk woman after she kicked him. County prosecutors declined to file charges against the officer.
More recently, a Maryland police officer was convicted of assault earlier this month after video showed him driving his knee into the back of a handcuffed suspect who was facedown on a sidewalk and had allegedly spit on the officer. A since-fired West Virginia State Police trooper accused of using excessive force for tossing a handcuffed 16-year-old onto his back was acquitted of charges last week.
Henderson, the Spokane officer, was placed on administrative leave July 26 and an initial look at body-worn camera footage by Spokane police internal affairs prompted officials to refer the case to the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office for criminal review.
The Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office declined to file charges in the case on Sept. 18, the day after Belcourt told sheriff’s investigators he wanted to move on from the case and not cooperate with a criminal prosecution of Henderson. Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell was unsuccessful in locating a deputy prosecuting attorney’s report declining to prosecute the case and said he was not familiar enough with the matter to comment on Friday.
The Spokane police review process of Henderson’s use of force differs from the one that occurred after the February arrest of Lucas Ellerman, in which a Spokane police officer let loose a flurry of threats of lethal force before he sicced a dog on Ellerman inside his vehicle. Police Ombudsman Bart Logue was unaware of that case until Brian Breen, a retired Spokane police detective and blogger, notified him in April. Logue filed a complaint that spurred an internal affairs investigation in May. It resulted in a one-day suspension of an officer.
The internal review of Henderson’s use of force is ongoing, according to police Sgt. Terry Preuninger.
The Spokane Police Department’s public use of force policy does not specifically mention physical strikes to a handcuffed individual. The policy says use of nonlethal chemical irritants, such as pepper spray, are prohibited on handcuffed individuals unless they are engaged in “active aggression” and a threat for imminent harm.
Henderson joined the Spokane Police Department as a lateral transfer from the Lakewood Police Department in June 2016, according to a Spokane police Facebook post. He graduated from the basic law enforcement academy in June 2014, according to a Facebook post from Lakewood police.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.