Butte County DA says deputy used "reasonable force" in cell video that went viral

Sep 12, 2014 3:09 PM by Cecile Juliette

Deputy Sam Burnett is back on duty with the Butte County Sheriff's Office. Terry Collins still faces charges connected to a recent string of events that put the often-homeless man in the local spotlight, briefly making him an unlikely civil rights figure.

In the late morning hours of August 26, Deputy Burnett and Collins, 53, were involved in a struggle that was partially caught on cell-phone video, which was then widely-circulated on Facebook throughout the North State community. The video appeared to show Deputy Burnett, who is white, kicking the African-American man in the head or face as he sat, motionless and unarmed on the ground.

Thursday, Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey announced the result of his two-week investigation into the case. "This video is out of context, and therefore misleading," said Ramsey. "This is a tape that starts at the end of a violent confrontation."

That violent confrontation, according to Ramsey, began several minutes before the cell phone camera started rolling, when Deputy Burnett spotted Collins pulling a blue recycling bin near the corner of Myers Street and Wyandotte Avenue. "That drew the deputy's attention for two reasons," said Ramsey. "One, he knows Mr. Collins, having arrested Mr. Collins in the previous two weeks for failure to appear in court on a warrant for aggravated trespass....Deputy {Burnett} thought it was strange, because he knew Mr. Collins was generally homeless, and shouldn't have a residential recycling bin."

Ramsey asked his investigators to play a recording of the conversation between a dispatcher and Deputy Burnett. Once the dispatcher informed Deputy Burnett there was a warrant out for Collins arrest, he got out of his patrol SUV and approached the man who, according to Ramsey, immediately became combative. Said Ramsey, "He reaches out to take Mr. Collins arm, and at that point, Mr. Collins violently resisted."

According to Ramsey, a fight ensued that lasted 45 seconds. Again, audio of the dispatcher's conversation with Deputy Burnett was played. He is heard calling for backup. Ramsey said Collins then pulled the deputy's radio from his collar. At one point, Deputy Burnett tried to use his baton, but it dropped from his hand, because, as he told investigators, his wrist may have been injured in the struggle.

Finally, said Ramsey, Deputy Burnett told Collins to get on the ground. The video shows him pointing to the ground. Instead, Collins sat down. It was in these moments that the witness, from a passing car, began recording. Deputy Burnett, according to Ramsey, then used his boot to kick Collins in the shoulder to the ground to minimize the potential threat, which was part of his training as a law enforcement officer. Ramsey asked his investigators to play the kick frame-by-frame. Using his laser pointer, he said, "This is the impact, and as you can see, the impact is to the upper right, slightly to the rear shoulder of Mr. Collins. This is the front part of the deputy's boot. There is sufficient room between Mr. Collins' head and this boot. In looking at this, we're convinced there is no contact to Mr. Collins' head."

Ramsey played the cell phone video in its entirety. The video-taker's voice is heard. "Look at this {expletive} right here boy...he just kicked him in his {expletive} face," as the deputy kicked Collins to the ground. Moments later, as the video-taker is driving by Deputy Burnett, who now had Collins on the ground and in handcuffs, he seemed to corroborate Ramsey's claim that a violent struggle had just taken place between the two men. "He {expletive} that cop up. He {expletive} that cop up. From what I seen."

Ramsey told reporters both his independent investigation, and the investigation by the Butte County Sheriff's Office are closed, because Deputy Burnett was just doing his job. He said, "the arrest and techniques employed by Deputy Burnett were reasonable, and within the bounds of law and reason."


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