Case of ex-trooper charged with unmasking protester advances
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee state trooper testified Monday that he saw his former colleague on the force yank the mask off a protester last summer during the COVID-19 pandemic, refuting the former officer’s denial before a judge advanced the misdemeanor assault charge against him.
Nashville General Sessions Judge William Higgins sent the case against former Trooper Harvey Briggs to a grand jury after Monday’s preliminary hearing, which included testimony from the protester whom Briggs is accused of assaulting, Andrew Golden, and Trooper Brian Carmouche, who said he watched Briggs pull the mask off Golden’s face.
Prosecutors also played Golden’s widely circulated recording of the August 2020 incident, which shows Golden’s mask on the ground but didn’t capture Briggs removing it, and when Golden said the trooper ripped off his mask Briggs denied doing so on camera.
“I just saw (Briggs) pull (Golden’s) mask off, and throw it in the grass,” said Carmouche, who said he saw the incident from 75 or 100 feet (23 to 30 meters) away. Carmouche has previously told department investigators he was “110% sure” of what he observed, records show.
Briggs’ attorney, Dana McLendon, focused on derogatory comments about the police on social media made by Golden, saying if he had those views about police then “he might lie about this one particular police officer.” Golden responded that he didn’t see how it wasn’t relevant to him telling the truth or not.
The encounter between Briggs and Golden happened last summer as lawmakers reconvened inside the state Capitol for a session in which they passed legislation threatening felony charges for protesters who camp out on state property amid the sustained outcry for racial justice nationwide.
Carmouche said he and another trooper were addressing a traffic stop before he saw Briggs take the mask off Golden.
Golden was recording the traffic stop when Briggs, who was nearby but not involved, scolded Golden for cursing and told him not to “impede” the scene.
The video shows Briggs, unmasked, getting up close to Golden’s face. Golden then says on camera that Briggs ripped off his mask, and shows the mask on the ground nearby. “I did not,” Briggs responds. “I’m tired of you people making stuff up.”
After Briggs’ encounter with the protester, he was fired and charged criminally. He sued the state this spring over his firing.
Briggs’ notice of termination as a trooper also says security footage of the incident from the nearby Tennessee State Library & Archives supports the claim that Briggs took off Golden’s mask.
In the lawsuit challenging Briggs’ firing, his attorney repeats Briggs’ claim that he didn’t pull the mask off Golden, saying it “did not appear in the video nor on videos from cameras situated on various structures in the Capitol parking area.”
Surveillance footage of the incident provided by the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security is grainy, but appears to show Briggs’ arm reach toward Golden’s face, prompting Golden to stumble backward.
Additionally, Briggs’ personnel file shows that over his 22-year career with the Tennessee Highway Patrol, he had been suspended for 17 days without pay for several infractions before the mask incident.
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