Mississippi trooper cleared in probe of chokehold video

Aug 12, 2022, 3:37 PM | Updated: 4:08 pm
FILE - The emblem of a Mississippi Highway Patrol badge on a "cover," the hat worn by uniformed off...

FILE - The emblem of a Mississippi Highway Patrol badge on a "cover," the hat worn by uniformed officers, is shown June 30, 2021, taken at a ceremony in Pearl, Miss. The Mississippi Department of Public Safety said on Aug. 12, 2022, that its investigation into an incident involving a white Mississippi Highway Patrol officer and three Black men showed no evidence of criminal conduct by the state trooper. The investigation was launched after a viral video showed the officer putting a handcuffed man into a chokehold and wrestling him into a ditch, Friday, Aug. 12, 2022, in McComb, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

JACKSON, Miss (AP) — The Mississippi Department of Public Safety said Friday that its internal investigation found no criminal conduct by a white Highway Patrol trooper who used physical force against a handcuffed Black man during an arrest — a confrontation caught on video by relatives of the man being arrested.

An investigation started after the relatives’ video of the Aug. 5 incident went viral. The footage showed the trooper putting a handcuffed man into a chokehold and wrestling him into a grassy ditch in a rural area near the south Mississippi city of McComb.

The department and investigators from two of its divisions, the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, said they completed all necessary inquiries.

“A review of this incident by MBI agents and command staff produced no evidence of criminal conduct by the trooper throughout the encounter,” Lt. Col. Charles Haynes, director of the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, said in a news release.

The Department of Public Safety released nearly 40 minutes of video and audio. It included video shot by cameras in the trooper’s patrol car, audio captured by the trooper and video shot by brothers of the first man arrested. Although some of the patrol car footage was silent, the department said it had synchronized the video and the audio clips.

Part of the footage shows Eugene Lewis standing in the road in handcuffs as his brother Gary, who also goes by the name “Packer” Lewis, and another brother, Derrius Lewis, yelled that they were recording the incident. Suddenly, the trooper grabbed Eugene Lewis by the neck and pulled him across the road, tackling him to the ground. At one point, the trooper appeared to use his knee to pin him down.

Investigators identified the trooper as Hayden Falvey. In the combined video and audio, Lewis can be heard telling Falvey, “I can’t breathe,” to which the trooper responded, “You’re running your mouth. You can breathe.”

According to the news release, Falvey pulled over Lewis for speeding and other traffic violations. It also said Falvey alleged he smelled burnt marijuana from the vehicle, and Lewis’ eyes were bloodshot and glassy.

In patrol car dashboard camera footage and audio released Friday, Falvey can be heard saying to Eugene Lewis: “Did you smoke some weed recently?”

Lewis replied that he had done so about 40 or 50 minutes earlier.

“OK,” Falvey said as he patted down Lewis. “Not a big deal.”

Falvey put handcuffs on Lewis, saying it was a precaution as he searched Lewis’ SUV. The trooper said Lewis was not under arrest at that point and asked Lewis several questions about whether he had ever been arrested and whether any marijuana or other drugs were in the vehicle. Lewis said he had previously been arrested for selling cocaine.

During the trooper’s vehicle search, Gary and Derrius Lewis drove up in a Dodge Charger, stopped and got out of their vehicle. They identified themselves as Lewis’ brothers. After a brief exchange with Falvey, the brothers left. They soon returned to shoot cellphone video as the trooper’s physical altercation with Eugene Lewis started.

After Falvey put Eugene Lewis into the patrol car and buckled his seatbelt, Lewis used obscenities against the trooper.

“I’m glad you feel that way, sir,” Falvey responded.

Video shot by one of Eugene Lewis’ brothers showed another state trooper arriving. It also showed one of the troopers walking toward the two brothers and pointing a weapon at one of them.

Troopers arrested Eugene Lewis’ two brothers. In the audio released Friday, Falvey can be heard telling the men they should not have stopped to shoot video.

“Your brother is going to jail,” Falvey said. “Now all of y’all are catching charges for your theatrics.”

Packer Lewis said his brothers were released from jail that night, but he was kept two more days because of a past charge on his criminal record. He said he is facing nine charges related to the incident, including obstruction of justice. Eugene Lewis is also facing eight charges and Derrius Lewis is facing five charges.

Tindell defended the troopers’ decision to arrest the brothers who shot video of the incident.

“While DPS and MHSP recognize and respect the right of citizens to observe, and even record, law enforcement officers executing their duties, those rights are not without limitations,” Tindell said in the news release. “As you will see, this event is a prime example of how even a routine traffic stop can quickly turn into a dangerous situation for both citizens and law enforcement officers when subjects resist arrest and when uninvolved persons interfere.”

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Mississippi trooper cleared in probe of chokehold video