TARGET 8: Man suing police after Taser incident in downtown Columbia bar
COLUMBIA – A Jacksonville, Florida man is suing Columbia police officers, a supervisor and the chief, claiming he was unjustifiably Tasered and officers filed false reports in an attempt to cover up what his attorney said was improper use of force.
‘It was extreme. It was zero to 100.’
On October 23, 2013, Nick Daniels said he went to the Fieldhouse bar in downtown Columbia to celebrate his birthday with friends from Lincoln University. According body camera video given to KOMU 8 News by Daniels’ attorney and court documents, four Columbia police officers entered the bar for a standard “open business check."
Once they entered the bar, body camera video showed the officers walking around, talking to various people, including employees. Daniels and his attorney, Brent Haden, provided KOMU 8 News with the two body camera videos they obtained for his legal cases. In one video, from Officer Patrick Corcoran’s camera, Daniels’ lawsuit stated Corcoran can be heard saying, “There are a lot of players in here. There are probably at least two guns in here.”
A few minutes later on the tape, Corcoran and another officer, Officer Ryan Terranova, spot Daniels and a Fieldhouse bouncer in a struggle. The officers rush over.
Watch the video from Corcoran's perspective below. KOMU 8 News has edited the beginning of the tape to begin when Corcoran appears to talk to the bouncer. The tape is unedited after that point and stops when it appears Corcoran's body camera is flipped off his uniform.
Daniels said he had been walking toward the door to get some air when the bouncer went by him.
“He nudged me really hard, and I didn’t like it. And he said if I don’t like the way I’m being touched, I can leave. I let him know that’s what I was trying to do, and he told me that I was done. Whatever that means. And then he grabbed me," Daniels said.
From this point, police were involved, first with two officers. Shortly later, Officer Clint Sinclair and another officer saw the struggle. Sinclair’s body camera showed the other officers joining the fray. Quickly after becoming involved, according to video and court documents, Sinclair was punched in the face. Seconds later, officers are heard yelling, and Sinclair deployed his Taser on Daniels.
Daniels recounted the moments the police became involved this way: “Next thing I know I hear ‘freeze,’ and cops are punching me, kneeing me. I’m being hit, struck from all over the place. I felt like an animal how I was being handled. Ultimately I got Tased from behind. With my hands up and everything. Fell to the ground, was threatened to be maced.”
Watch the video from Sinclair's perspective below. KOMU 8 News has edited the beginning of the tape down to just before Sinclair sees the altercation and edited the end of the tape when Sinclair goes back into the bar after Daniels is brought outside. The tape is unaltered between those cuts.
Charges dropped, lawsuit filed against police
Police arrested Daniels, and he was initially charged with resisting arrest, assault of a law enforcement officer, and trespassing. The prosecutor later dismissed all of those charges, according to Haden, approximately five months later.
“The charges against him have been dismissed, but the damage to his life because of his arrest record now trying to get a job, beyond the emotional trauma of being beat up, beyond the physical pain of being Tased by these officers unjustifiably, is that he’s had trouble finding jobs and getting work because his arrest record remains.”
Daniels is now suing three of the officers involved that night, the shift supervisor, and the police chief. He initially sued in federal court; however, his attorney explained the case was dismissed for jurisdictional reasons. In state court, he is accusing the police of malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, battery, and negligent supervision.
“Man, these guys really screwed my life up. I don’t like blaming people for my own, for situations I created myself. But I didn’t do this,” Daniels said.
Who threw the punch?
Haden said the main accusations are that officers unjustifiably used force against Daniels, that they wrote incorrect police reports, and that those reports were written in an attempt to cover up why an officer used a Taser.
“One of the officers alleged later that my client, Nick Daniels, punched Officer Sinclair. That was recorded in the police reports, but upon viewing the body camera, it became obvious Officer Sinclair was actually punched by a fellow officer, Officer Terranova,” Haden said. “After Officer Sinclair was punched by Officer Terranova, he Tased Nick Daniels. Then after the fact they wrote police reports in which they allege that Nick Daniels had punched Officer Sinclair, and thereby tried to cover up where their improper use of force for something Nick Daniels didn’t do.”
Terranova is the officer who wrote the initial report. In it, he wrote, that Daniels resisted arrest by breaking away from him.
“I observed Daniels turn around and grab the lapel of Sinclair’s jacked. Daniels then struck Officer Sinclair with a closed fist across the left side of his face, assaulting him.”
In the next paragraph, Terranova described attempts to bring Daniels to the ground and Sinclair’s use of a Taser. “Daniels fell forward and continued to resist arrest by locking his hands beneath him.”
Sinclair wrote an offense report two and a half months after the incident. In his report, he wrote about seeing the altercation between the bouncer and Daniels. He also stated it was Daniels who punched him in the face seconds before he deployed his Taser.
Officer: 'I believe there's a possibility that it was not Mr. Daniels that struck me'
In depositions in summer 2016, Sinclair said after reviewing the tape, he believed it could have been Terranova who punched him that night.
“After further reviewing of the video, I believe there’s a possibility that another individual involved in the fight with myself and Officer (sic) Daniels, specifically another officer, could have been responsible for me being struck in the face.”
Terranova pointed out in the tape where Sinclair was punched, noted it was in fact his arm cocked in the video before the hit, but he said it was not him throwing a punch.
“And the reason why is because I know I didn't throw a punch there just because I -- I wouldn't punch someone standing up like that,” Terranova said.
Despite the change, Sinclair said he still believed Daniels was not complying and that the altercation would have continued.
“The video would not have changed my perceptions and what I believed happened that night. I -- I -- I?-- regardless of the video, I believe that Mr. Daniels assaulted me, regardless of whether or not it was him or Officer Terranova that punched me in the face,” Sinclair said.
Police response: ‘They reasonably believed that [Daniels] posed a significant threat’
The Columbia Police Department does not respond to pending litigation; however, their responses in court show full denial of the claims made by Daniels and his attorney.
The response stated the force used was reasonable: “Justified to do so because they reasonably believed that such a use of force was necessary because they reasonably believed that Plaintiff posed a significant threat to these Defendants or others.”
The response also stated the police believed force was necessary because Daniels was resisting arrest: “Violently or aggressively resisted arrest, failed to appropriately respond to and/or obey verbal directives of law enforcement officers; and assumed the risk of injury.”
While the department would not directly respond to the accusations in an interview, Sgt. Brian Tate agreed to discuss use of force procedures over the phone.
He said a person’s back is a preferred location when using a Taser: “It’s just a better, easier hit target. It limits the possibility you might strike someone in the groin or facial area… There’s more mass there. It’s just a better targeting area. If it’s available to you. It’s going to provide the best, most effective result of the Taser. There might be a situation where you have two officers at the scene standing behind the individual and for whatever reason the Taser is selected… that would be the perfect time for the second officer to deploy the Taser to the back of the individual.”
He said he was unfamiliar with the case, had not seen the tape and was not there that evening, so he could not provide more specific information: “I would not feel comfortable, not knowing the specifics of this case, Monday morning quarterbacking the officer’s decision.”
Court documents and police reports
Use the document viewer below to review the federal and state lawsuits, as well as Terranova and Sinclair's reports of the incident.
Editor's note: Daniels now lives in Jacksonville, Florida, where he is an Uber driver. KOMU 8 News found out about this story when he happened to drive Chief Investigator Jamie Grey while she attended a conference in Jacksonville.