A white Charlottesville police officer has been found guilty of assaulting a Black man.
Judge Theresa Carter sentenced officer Jeffrey Jaeger to a 12-month suspended sentence and two years of unsupervised probation following a trial in Charlottesville General District Court on Friday.
Attorney Mike Hallahan, who represented Jaeger, appealed the conviction to Charlottesville Circuit Court. Jaeger remains suspended from the department without pay, according to Hallahan.
Jaeger, who has been with the city since July 2016, was charged with misdemeanor assault and battery in September for his actions while responding to a call on March 3.
Andre Henderson, 37, testified that he called police after the mother of his children brought two of his kids back to his mother’s house on Prospect Avenue. Henderson said the woman was intoxicated and would not return two of his mother’s credit cards.
Henderson had gone back inside before Jaeger and two other officers responded to the scene. He testified that while he was inside, one of the children told him their mother had left them alone outside at a park while she had sex with someone in a bathroom.
CPD body camera video shows Henderson slamming the door open and screaming at the woman for leaving his children outside unattended. He comes outside on a concrete landing against a railing and stands there yelling.
Jaeger immediately and quickly approaches Henderson, grabs him, puts his arm behind his back and briskly walks Henderson down a concrete ramp before slamming him into a wooden fence.
After hitting the fence, Henderson can be heard saying Jaeger “busted my head up for nothing.” He says he needs ice, has a headache and is dizzy. Jaeger tells Henderson he is being arrested for disorderly conduct and then checks his name with dispatch. Henderson had a warrant for failure to appear in Fairfax County, which he said he didn’t know about because he had paid a fine and thought it finished the case.
No disorderly conduct charges were ever filed.
The interaction lasted about 15 seconds, but the trial lasted more than three hours. Only two witnesses were called.
The case centered on two key points of the encounter. The first is whether Jaeger had probable cause to arrest Henderson. The second was whether he used excessive force.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania argued that Jaeger did not have probable cause, therefore grabbing Henderson was battery. Jaeger made no attempts to de-escalate the situation and his actions in the arrest were excessive, Platania said.
Hallahan argued that Henderson was being disorderly and there was probable cause for arrest. Hallahan spent much of his time trying to prove a crime had occurred.
“I have to play the role of prosecutor because it’s not being done in this case,” he said.
In arguments, Hallahan referred to Henderson as the “bad guy,” “criminal” and “an absolute liar.” He argued Jaeger was in his right to detain Henderson for the safety of those on the scene.
“Officers don’t deserve to be treated like this, as a criminal, while the criminal gets to play the victim and come in here and grandstand,” Hallahan said.
While being transported to jail, Henderson told officers he was in the wrong and Jaeger was just doing his job, which Hallahan said proved Jaeger didn’t act excessively.
Henderson testified that he had been belligerent, but not disorderly or threatening. He said he only made the statements to officers because he wanted to get past the arrest and back to his children.
“I just wanted to get it over with,” he testified. “I was being belligerent, yes. I wasn’t being aggressive to him.”
Hallahan asked if Henderson is normally verbally aggressive, to which Henderson said “when it’s dealing with my kids, I see red.”
Hallahan argued the only way to get Henderson under control was through the takedown against the fence. Henderson countered that Jaeger could have handcuffed him on the landing.
“He could have cuffed me if he wanted to, but he chose to slam me up against the wall,” he said.
After the arrest, Jaeger filed a use-of-force report and was cleared by the Charlottesville Police Department. According to testimony, Police Chief RaShall Brackney is at the top of the chain in reviewing the reports.
Hallahan said it made no sense for CPD to clear Jaeger and then turn around and arrest him and suspend him without pay.
Lt. Tony Newberry testified he reviewed the report and recommended a finding of justified use of force. However, he penned a one-and-a-half page memo detailing other “areas of concern” with the report.
Before the verdict, Hallahan cautioned Carter that a guilty verdict would have a chilling effect.
“If the commonwealth doesn’t think that my client had a right to put his hands on Mr. Henderson, I can’t imagine any police officer in this city wanting to come back to work in the morning,” he said. “If Mr. Henderson didn’t do anything wrong, then this city is wide open to do anything you want to do.”
Platania said Hallahan’s argument reinforced that “this is the way we do stuff. This is the way we always do stuff.” He said a not guilty verdict would have been “taking the easy way out.”
“None of us wanted to be here today doing this,” Platania said.
After the conviction, Platania’s office issued a press release saying it would not provide further comment on the case because it will be appealed.
Prior to the trial, a group of officers was waiting outside the court and had planned to attend. They had been told not all would be allowed inside because of social distancing measures necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic. When the officers relayed the information to Jaeger, he bemoaned “closed trials” and said, “how very Soviet of them.”
In one of the body camera videos, Jaeger and another officer are walking to the scene because they had been sent to the wrong address. The other officer is heard saying some “dumbass can’t get his s—t straight” and should know his own address.
Following the trial, a visibly upset Jaeger walked past the officers gathered outside and said, “what else are they going to have to do to us before you guys get it through your head?”
Later, while talking to people outside of the Market Street garage, he asked “what kind of f—-ing country am I living in?”