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Black man pleads guilty to assault on white cop in plea bargain deal: Sentence too light, but DA’s office checked, cleared Woodfin officers of wrongdoing, FOP leader says
Thursday, 16 September 2021 19:26
By JOHN NORTH
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WOODFIN —Jonathan Barker, the black man from Swain County who was filmed being shocked with a taser by white Woodfin Police officers after he failed to comply with their orders, pleaded guilty on Sept. 3 to assaulting a government official.

The races of those involved are mentioned because some outsiders were infuriated that Barker was tased — and felt it was because he was black and the three officers were white. The case was turned over to Buncombe District Attorney Todd Williams for review — and he found no wrongdoing after reviewing a video taken of the incident. 

Rondell Lance, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, told the Daily Planet in a Sept. 11 interview that, while he felt the sentence was too light, he was pleased that the DA’s office cleared the officers of any wrongdoing, and that the DA also conferred with the officers, in advance, on the planned plea-bargain offer.

Barker received a sentence of 15 days in jail, 11 of which he already had served. He has since been released from the Buncombe County Detention Center. The maximum sentence for the charge is 150 days in jail and possible fines. 

District Court Judge Julie Kepple signed off on the plea. 

Todd Lentz, Barker’s court-appointed attorney, told the Asheville Citizen Times he had no comment on the plea, the newspaper reported.

“‘Mr. Barker has asked me not to say anything about anything to anyone,’ Lentz said,” according to the ACT.

The ACT also reported the following:

“Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams said he will not be requesting an investigation into the incident by the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation.”

Following is Williams’ full statement on the Barker incident and the DA’s review:

“After a review of bodycam video that captured the entire arrest of Mr. Jonathan Barker on Tuesday, August 24, I have determined that Woodfin Police Officers used legally permissible force per NC law and will therefore not request a NC SBI investigation.

“N.C. law states that ‘a law-enforcement officer is justified in using force upon another person when and to the extent that he reasonably believes it necessary . . . to effect the arrest of a person who he reasonably believes has committed a criminal offense.’ See NCGS 15A-401(d)(1).

“My review is limited to a determination of whether a potential violation of NC law has occurred. The DA’s Office does not review for internal agency policy violations, civil liability, or any other purpose; these and other questions should be directed to the Town of Woodfin and/or Police Department.

“Law enforcement agencies throughout Buncombe County are advised to implement and deploy de-escalation techniques, including active listening, to enhance and preserve community trust and reduce police use of force. De-escalation tactics should be used as an alternative to force whenever circumstances permit.”

 

Regarding the plea bargain, Rondell Lance, the local FOP president, said in a Sept. 12 interview with the Daily Planet that “it’s just standard procedure, with most DAs, especially this DA, to keep things from going to court.

“Sometimes plea deals are good. It keeps from tying up the court” and the officer’s time.

“My understanding is they (the DA’s office) wish he had gottten more time, but if they didn’t agree with it, they would have had” a lengthy, time-consuming and expensive case to pursue in court.

“As an officer you take each case,” as it  arises, and “sometimes it’s easier on an officer to accept whatever the DA offers in a plea deal. Every once in a while, you go to court. That’s part of the court system — the way it works.

“As FOP president, I understand — to a certain extent — the plea deal situation.”

After a pause, Lance asserted, “At least the DA did reach out and talk to the Woodfin officers involved, telling them, ‘This is what we’re offering, if he goes with it, you don’t have to go to court’ — the officers could have said ‘no,’ but they would have been tied up in court for months for what? Another 20 days” of possible jail time — for the defendant?

 “As an officer, you’d say, ‘Alright, I think he should have gotten more time.’” 

Lance then reiterated that, as a big plus from a police officer’s viewpoint” is that, “from my understanding, the DA’s office did reach out to the Woodfin officers — and talked to each one.”

Again, Lance asked, rhetorically, “Is it worth tying up the courts in trial? Is it worth going to court on his day-off as an officer to get him (Barker) 20 more or 30 more days” in jail?

“I’m not happy with the outcome,” Lance said.

However, “at the end of the conversation, basically, they (the DA’s office) thought he (Barker) actually should have gotten more time for the crime, but this is the way the courts work. But, while we didn’t like the time he got, we’ll agree” it is not worth pursuing it in court.

Lance then asked, rhetorically, “As a citizen (might ask), ‘Why even offer him a plea?’ But that’s the standard operating system.” The FOP leader said the system, despite flaws, helps keep the courts from clogging up.

As for the DA’s review of the case, Lance said, “From my understanding, the DA looked at the footage and said there was nothing wrong.

“I was worried he’d try to go after the officers and try to make a big deal of it. That’s not what happened... The guy (Barker) pled guilty for most of the charges.”

After another pause, Lance asserted, “The (three Woodfin police) officers did a great job — a tremendous job.”

On a separate matter pertaining to the Woodfin police on an allegedly inappropriate social media post involving the Barker case and disparaging the reporting of the Asheville Citizen Times, the FOP president told the Daily Planet, “My understanding is this Woodfin police officer wrote that (social media), but meant for it to go on his personal Facebook page. And, instead, he accidentally put it on the Woodfin Police (Facebook) page. 

“Once, he understood what he did, he took it down within two to five minutes. But somebody took a screenshot of it in the meantime and published it... When the chief called him in to discipline him (the officer’s identity is not known), he said, ‘You’re right, chief, I’d do the same thing if I was in your shoes.’ He was displined,” Lance said.

Then, the FOP president added, “It was just his (the officer’s) personal opinion. He didn’t regret what he wrote, but he shouldn’t have put his personal opinion on the town police page.”

Switching subjects, Lance said that, while he was pleased that the DA’s office cleared the officers of wrongdoing in the Barker case and met and conferred with them on the planned plea bargain offer, “I had hoped the DA’s office would commend the officers because they did a good job in the Jonathan Barker case -— and that the DA would not try to come after the officers for doing their job ... a great job.

“Basically, the DA just said, ‘This is the plea deal we’re offering.’ I don’t know why he didn’t say they did a great job... It’s just everyday things officers face.

“As FOP president, we’re here to watch to make sure everything” is handled fair and square. In this case, “It was SOP (standard operating procedures). The guy pleaded guilty to the charges. The officers did nothing wrong....”


 



 


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