SPRINGFIELD, Fla. (WMBB) — A Springfield Police Department officer has been arrested on criminal charges after an incident involving excessive-force on an unarmed man with special needs.
On Tuesday, the Bay County Sheriff’s Office and Springfield PD held a joint news conference, announcing that former officer Ronnie Nelson had been arrested on a felony official misconduct charge and a misdemeanor battery charge. Nelson has been placed on unpaid leave and is pending termination.
This comes after an incident was recorded on body-cam footage of Nelson pulling and deploying a taser on an unarmed black man, Solomon Smith, after what Sheriff Ford has called a “bad” or unwarranted stop. The incident happened on Business Highway 98 in Springfield, after officers stopped Smith as he was walking alone around midnight on May 29.
“It’s an embarrassing situation,” said Ford. “It’s an infuriating situation from a law enforcement perspective.”
Springfield Police Chief Barry Roberts said he saw the footage during a routine investigation into use-of-force.
“It was gut-wrenching,” said Roberts. “Immediately upon seeing it I contacted a prosecutor at the state attorney’s office.”
Investigators say the incident occurred after officers thought Smith had given them a fake name. According to the police report, Smith had actually given the officer the correct name, Solomon E.Smith, but a trainee officer “misheard” it as Solomon “Eastman.”
Smith’s mother has also told police that Smith has a developmental disorder that he was diagnosed with as a child.
The body-cam footage shows Smith being taken onto the ground; he can be heard pleading with officers to let him go home, saying he had done nothing wrong. The investigation has also shown that Nelson falsified the police report, saying Smith had tried to throw a punch at the rookie officer on scene. Two other officers on scene have told investigators that Smith never tried to throw a punch.
As of Tuesday morning, Nelson had been arrested.
“There is a clear message that this is not tolerated,” said Roberts.
Community minority group leaders, like Tony Bostick of the Northwest Florida Minority Business Chamber of Commerce, said at the news conference that they’re glad to see officers holding other officers accountable.
“These two law enforcement leaders in our community have shown that they can be trusted and they are willing to make the right call and are willing to hold their employees accountable,” said Bostick, who also urged residents to stay calm, especially in reaction to the video footage.
Smith said he still has nightmares from what happened and just wants everyone to be on the same team.
Hours after the news conference, a protest in response to what happened was held near the scene of the incident. Dozens of protesters came out to the event, many saying they don’t believe justice has been served.
“Justice is every officer that was involved should be punished, should be brought up on some kind of criminal charges,” said Springfield resident Robert Stewart. “If I slammed somebody who doesn’t have proper mental capacity, what’s going to happen to me? We want them to be treated like it would be me.”
Many of the protesters said Smith, who is nicknamed “Sonny-D,” is well-known in the community and frequently walks in that area. They said they believe the officers with Springfield PD should have been able to identify that he had a developmental disorder.
According to Chief Roberts, the entire incident is still under review.
The entire body-cam footage clip can be found below, as well as the news conference.