Crime & Courts

CMPD police officer charged with assaulting handcuffed man

A Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer was arrested Friday after police say he shoved a handcuffed and leg-shackled man last month into a cinder-block wall, breaking his collarbone.

The charges stemmed from an internal investigation that showed Officer Jason Alexander Van Aken, 28, used excessive force against Terance Germaine Malachi, 30, who was in custody on a charge of carrying a concealed gun, police said.

Van Aken was placed on unpaid administrative leave and had his gun and badge taken while the internal investigation continues, police said. He faces charges of misdemeanor assault inflicting serious injury and simple assault.

“The CMPD takes the allegations of excessive force seriously and will continue to hold officers who violate their power accountable,” Police Chief Rodney Monroe said in a statement. “At no time will this department tolerate behavior that violates the public’s trust.”

The incident happened Aug. 14 in an interview room at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s Metro Division station, police said.

All interviews in CMPD’s interview rooms are videotaped, including the one between Van Aken and Malachi, Deputy Chief Kerr Putney said at a news conference Friday afternoon.

While words were exchanged between Van Aken and Malachi, Van Aken “let his emotions override logic and reason,” Putney said.

After Malachi was shoved into the wall, Van Aken later pushed him into a chair to keep him seated, Putney said.

No other officers were in the room when Malachi was shoved into the wall, CMPD spokesman Rob Tufano said. A sergeant was in the room when Van Aken pushed Malachi into the chair, Tufano said.

The sergeant reported the incident, Tufano said, and Malachi’s injury prompted an internal investigation. The case was then assigned to criminal investigators who later determined that the use of force was criminal in nature, Tufano said.

Citing the ongoing investigation, Putney declined to release the video to the news media.

Van Aken was hired by CMPD on April 25, 2011, and was last assigned to the Metro Division as a patrol officer. He earns $46,706.

Van Aken is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 7.

As a part of an internal review, CMPD investigators said they will work to determine whether Van Aken is responsible for any other incidents involving excessive force.

Mark Foster, a Charlotte lawyer representing Van Aken, said the officer committed no crime.

“He was exercising his duties to the best of his ability” and was trying to restrain an unruly suspect, Foster told the Observer. “He had no intent to injure. No crime was committed. He’s not guilty.”

Asked how a man who was handcuffed behind his back and shackled to the floor could be unruly, Foster said movement was still possible, although he said he hasn’t yet had access to the police video.

Malachi was arrested for carrying a concealed .357 Magnum at a convenience store in the 3400 block of Freedom Drive, according to a police report.

Once in custody, Malachi “resisted, delayed and obstructed officers by slipping his handcuffs to the front of his body and attempting to prevent officers from moving them back behind him,” the report states.

Malachi also was charged with possession of a firearm by a felon and resisting a public officer in the Aug. 14 incident.

Malachi’s arrest happened five days after the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., by a police officer, which sparked unrest and nationwide protests.

Malachi was transported to Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center, where he was treated and released. He could not be reached Friday.

Malachi has served prison time for attempted common law robbery and other offenses. He also was previously convicted of carrying a concealed weapon and is awaiting trial on charges of cocaine possession and driving while impaired.

The charges against Van Aken come amid increased scrutiny of CMPD.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Randall Kerrick faces a voluntary manslaughter charge and a lawsuit stemming from the fatal shooting of Jonathan Ferrell a year ago Sunday. Ferrell, who was unarmed, was hit 10 times. Kerrick’s attorneys say the shooting was justified.

Last year, an Observer investigation revealed that a community board that reviews allegations of police misconduct has always ruled against people who filed complaints. In response, the City Council last November voted to expand some of the board’s powers.

Thirty-two use-of-force violations were alleged against CMPD in 2013, up from 26 the year before. In recent years, use-of-force complaints made up less than 8 percent of alleged conduct violations against CMPD.

In response to Van Aken’s arrest, CMPD plans to hold another round of classes on de-escalating incidents, Putney said.

Although such incidents are rare, he said, “it speaks to the trust we cannot afford to lose.”

Ron Martinelli, a California forensic criminologist who developed a de-escalation course for police, said CMPD chose the right response in planning another round of classes.

“This is a training issue,” Martinelli said. “If you don’t periodically train in good verbal skills and interview skills, they forget it.”

Police urge anyone who may have additional information concerning Van Aken or any other incident to call CMPD Internal Affairs at 704-336-2336 or the Crime Stopper tip line at 704-334-1600.

Staff Writer Gavin Off and Staff Researcher Maria David contributed.