An Ohio man is suing the city of Akron after one of its officers stuffed several handfuls of snow in his nose and mouth, limiting his ability to breathe during an arrest.
“He’s still traumatized by it. He’s still in counseling and has PTSD from this experience,” Eddie Sipplen said.
Sipplen is the attorney representing Charles Hicks II, 28. They filed the federal lawsuit on Jan. 2, accusing the city of Akron and seven of its police officers of excessive force during an arrest on Feb. 7, 2021.
The night of the incident, Akron police were called to the home of Hicks and his girlfriend for a domestic violence complaint.
A police report says Hicks’ girlfriend claimed he grabbed a knife and threatened her with it.
Body camera video shows the officers arriving at the home. A shirtless Hicks greets the officers at the front door by yelling at them. Police say, Hicks, who appeared unarmed, was under the influence of alcohol upon their arrival.
As officers attempt to talk to Hicks, he repeatedly yells, “If you’re going to kill me, kill me.”
The officers slowly approached Hicks to apprehend him. Hicks is then wrestled to the snow-covered ground to be handcuffed.
“He’s not resisting. This officer takes it upon himself to not once, not twice, but three times he takes handfuls of snow and stuffs it in my client’s mouth and covers his mouth and nose,” Sipplen said.
While on the ground, six to eight officers hold Hicks down by positioning themselves on top of him. As he’s being handcuffed behind his back, officer John Turnure is seen grabbing snow from the ground and placing it onto Hicks’ face. Hicks can be heard gasping for air on bodycam video and utters, “I can’t breathe.”
Hicks was taken to jail and charged with resisting arrest and domestic violence.
After spending three days in jail, Sipplen says, Hicks’ domestic violence charge was dropped, but he pleaded no contest to resisting arrest.
Sipplen claims within the lawsuit complaint that police offered Hicks a plea deal that would also drop the resisting arrest charge if he agreed not to sue the city in return.
“Given his lack of criminal history, he was not going to serve another day in jail. I advised him that’s a crappy deal and don’t take it,” Sipplen said.
Sipplen says the plea offer was a cover-up in the making by the city.
“They knew their officer did something wrong, and they tried to cover it up,” Sipplen said.
When asked about the allegations of excessive force and alleged cover-up, a spokesman for the city of Akron told Atlanta Black Star, “the city doesn’t comment on pending litigation.”
The Akron Police Department did not immediately return requests for comment regarding the lawsuit.
John Turnure, the officer accused of stuffing snow in Hicks’ mouth, was placed on administrative leave as police conducted an internal investigation soon after the incident. Turnure resigned from the department in March 2021 before the investigation was completed in May. Police took no disciplinary action against him, and no criminal charges were filed, The Washington Post reported.
“Once the officer resigned, the investigation stopped. The city prosecutor who determines which charges go against city police officers declined to formulate charges,” Sipplen said.
Turnure has a documented history of excessive force complaints during his 10 years with the Akron Police Department.
The Akron Beacon Journal reported that Turnure was involved in three prior incidents classified as “use of deadly force,” but he was cleared in those cases. No one died as a result of the previous incidents.
Sipplen also believes race was a factor in the police handling of Hicks’ case.
“Had he been white, it would have been handled differently. There have been cases in this community where there have been white folks with guns and everything else, and the officers didn’t take an excessive amount of force to arrest them,” Sipplen said.
While the lawsuit does not have a set dollar amount in damages it is seeking at this time, Sipplen says punitive damages will exceed $75,000.