Antwan Wheeler may not have been a “good kid,” and he may have been up to no good when, at age 15 three years ago, he was arrested on suspicion of stealing a car. But when DeKalb police got him, he says, they made him a victim.
He claims an officer beat him while he was handcuffed, then lied in an official police report.
Three former officers have been indicted, on charges including making false statements and aggravated battery. A fourth former officer, who was not indicted but resigned, says police investigators framed him in Wheeler’s case.
A lawsuit filed for Wheeler last week in DeKalb County State Court says the police actions helped send the teen up for a two-year stint at Eastman Regional Youth Detention Center A police investigation later verified the false police report and testimony.
“He is no angel,” Wheeler’s lawyer Mike Puglise said of his client during an interview in his Gwinnett County office. “But did he deserve to be treated the way they treated him? Absolutely not. You’re taking about a police officer targeting a 15-year-old kid, and he is a small kid.”
The lawyer, a former policeman, characterized what he said was a cadre of cops gone rogue. “They are as evil as what they propose to stop,” he said. “They are their own gang.”
The lawsuit is the latest reverberation from a DeKalb police scandal involving allegations of brutality of teenage criminal suspects. It adds charges of manufactured evidence and perjury. The department has been plagued by troubled officers, with at least 17 being arrested in the past two years, three of whom were charged with aiding illicit drug organizations.
The three indicted former officers — Sgt. Anthony Remone Robinson, Officer Blake Norwood and Officer Arthur Parker — are also charged with violating their oath of office and other corruption charges in the case involving Antwan Wheeler and his friends and a separate one involving then 18-year-old Travarrius Williams, who authorities said suffered a cracked tooth and a ruptured disc.
The DeKalb grand jury declined to indict a fourth former officer, Quontwais Hudson, whom the lawsuit accuses of beating Antwan. An internal affairs investigation determined Hudson had created a false report about Antwan and testified falsely in a juvenile hearing that he had seen Antwan in the stolen car, but the investigation was silent on Hudson’s role in the alleged beating. He resigned, as did Parker and Norwood. Robinson was fired.
An internal affairs report said auto theft detectives determined Hudson never had enough evidence to arrest Antwan for a stolen car. But they failed to do a written report outlining the inaccuracies in Hudson’s original arrest report, and they did not report claims of abuse to supervisors, the internal affairs report said.
After that, Antwan was convicted of theft by receiving a motor vehicle.
That report also says Hudson admitted he falsified the police report, claiming he did it at the direction of Robinson, and admitted that he lied at Antwan’s court hearing.
In an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, however, Hudson denied admitting to investigators that he had lied or falsified a report. He contended the auto-theft arrest was legitimate.
He suggested investigators had framed him.
“This is why DeKalb is so corrupt,” he said. “I would not have been involved if DeKalb County did a proper investigation.”
New Police Chief Cedric Alexander pledged to crack down on police misconduct after an AJC investigation in May found that the internal-affairs files of 16 officers arrested over the previous 18 months were riddled with complaints, many found valid.” For me, it’s important that we investigate ourselves with a great deal of scrutiny, ” he said in May. “This chief is not going to cover up a thing.”
He did not make himself available for an interview about the Wheeler case.
Hudson’s personnel file depicted an aggressive, hardworking and competent officer with an exceptional record of arrests during his nearly four years on the force but at times a questionable one. An internal affairs investigation into his use of a Taser on a man ruled his use of the weapon proper, but a polygraph indicated deception when he denied using abusive profanity toward the man’s mother, who was injured when she interfered.
Antwan Wheeler was already familiar with the juvenile justice system when Hudson pursued him and Jayson Maurice Shorter and Mark Sidney Emmett, both then 16, to an Ellenwood subdivision in south DeKalb County on Dec. 23, 2010. Antwan said he knew Hudson as an officer who was always “harassing” him.
His criminal record went back to at least 2006 when as an 11-year-old he was picked up in a burglary, a case that was dismissed, according to court records. Three years later he was charged with auto theft — a complaint that also fell by the wayside — and then a week later he was charged with snatching a woman’s purse at a mall.
Asked by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution why he stole, the now diminutive 18-year-old, donning a Nike warmup suit in the living room of his Marietta home, said he liked designer labels.
“I didn’t have any money,” he said.
His record in 2010 lists burglaries and auto thefts, some charges dismissed and some with findings of guilt, “adjudicated delinquent” in the parlance of youth courts.
Hudson suspected the three teens had stolen a Dodge Stratus that had been left by the road. He said he knew they were suspected of burglaries and auto thefts plaguing the neighborhood.
They were a small bunch. Police reports put Wheeler at 5-foot-2 and 110 pounds while Emmett is listed at an inch shorter and 80 pounds. Shorter was the heavyweight of the group, 5-foot-11 and 140 pounds.
Antwan described the officers — including Hudson — threatening him and his pals by smacking their palms with their fists over and over while saying, “ ‘we’re going to have some fun now ”
He described the officers descending upon them, hitting them in the stomach and head. “They weren’t playing,” Antwan said.
Hudson said he didn’t participate in any abuse and did not see any. He said the grand jury that indicted his former colleagues did not indict him because radio traffic showed he was collecting evidence at the stolen Stratus when the assault allegedly occurred.
If there is a civil trial, he doesn’t expect Antwan’s charges to be a hit with the jury
“He has some credibility problems,” he said of Antwan.