Griz players' attorney says police used 'excessive force' in tasing, arrest

2011-10-27T06:15:00Z 2014-10-03T14:28:39Z Griz players' attorney says police used 'excessive force' in tasing, arrestBy ROB CHANEY and MICHAEL MOORE of the Missoulian missoulian.com

The attorney representing two University of Montana football players accused of resisting arrest and obstructing police at a party early Sunday morning said Wednesday that Missoula police used "excessive force" in dealing with the situation.

"We absolutely believe that excessive force was used in this incident, and that there was no reason whatsoever for officers to treat these two men the way they did," said Darla Keck, of Datsopoulos, MacDonald and Lind. She said the incident was witnessed by many people whose statements contradict the police version of events surrounding the arrests of cornerback Trumaine Johnson and quarterback Gerald Kemp.

"Numerous witnesses saw this event unfold and have different accounts (than police) about what was said and done," Keck said. "At least two people videoed the event and we will be comfortable with that information if we go to trial."

At one point during the incident, Kemp used his cellphone. Keck said that Kemp had called his grandfather, who overheard some of what happened.

"He'll be a good witness," she said.

Missoula police Chief Mark Muir said Wednesday the police department was doing an internal review of the use of force in the arrests, and that review is not yet finished. Muir said he had written a letter to the defense attorney asking for any substantiation of excessive force claims and had not yet received a response.

"We're being blindsided by all these claims," Muir said. "But not a single person has come forward to make a complaint against an officer. There's a lot of stuff being thrown around in the public media and the social media."

Kemp and Johnson were charged with obstructing police, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct - all misdemeanors - in the incident, which happened after the Grizzly football team returned from a victory at Northern Arizona University on Saturday.

***

The consistent theme in eyewitness accounts of the arrests outside the Maplewood Apartments on North Russell Street was chaos.

But stories differ about who seemed most responsible for turning a loud-party disturbance into an incident where Missoula police officers used Tasers on Kemp and Johnson.

Residents at the apartments agree a large number of people were at a party in the ground-floor apartment early Sunday morning, hours after the Grizzlies' come-from-behind victory in Flagstaff, Ariz. Two police officers arrived about 2:30 a.m. in response to noise complaints.

The police report of the incident said Officer Mitchell Lang tried to speak with Kemp, who allegedly put his hand on the officer's shirt and yelled at him. After backup officers arrived, Kemp allegedly hit Officer Pat Erbacher in the chest. Erbacher then fired his Taser at Kemp, according to the police report.

Johnson then allegedly tried to intervene and was tased after resisting police efforts to get him on the ground, police officers said.

Residents reached by the Missoulian and other local media gave conflicting reports about who started the fight. A neighbor who spoke with the Missoulian but declined to give her name because of fear of retribution said she thought "the police were being aggressive and the players weren't aggressive."

The witness said when she got to her balcony overlooking the scene, she saw one player on the ground and another player talking on a cellphone. The person on the cellphone was shoved against a patrol car by several officers before being handcuffed and put inside, she said. Then officers got the second person off the ground and placed him in a patrol car. She did not see anyone push officers.

But another neighbor, Alyse Backus, recalled a different set of events. She saw Kemp struggling with an officer, who was trying to get him on the ground.

"I didn't know if he'd been tased or not then," Backus said. "He kept saying Trumaine's name over and over. I thought something really bad had happened. There were girls screaming. And then Trumaine comes out of nowhere. ... They got him down on the ground and then they tased him."

Witness Sofi Tsolakidis told KECI television she saw Johnson run to help Kemp get up after he was hit by the Taser, and that's when Johnson got tased. Tsolakidis would not talk to the Missoulian on Wednesday, saying she "would have to talk to the athletic director" first.

UM athletic director Jim O'Day declined to comment on Wednesday, but a staff member in his office said no one in the UM Athletic Department had asked students not to speak to the media. The staff member also said police had asked university officials to stay out of the incident investigation.

Kemp and Johnson both pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charges in Missoula Municipal Court and are free pending a trial date set for early February.

UM football coach Robin Pflugrad said Wednesday that he "could not say" whether the players will take part in this Saturday's game against Weber State.

Copyright 2015 missoulian.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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