OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater has cleared three Highway Patrol Troopers accused of brutality and charged the deaf suspect at the center of that controversial arrest.
Pearl Pearson, 64, was arrested by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol about 10:30 p.m. on January 3, 2014.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol immediately conducted an internal investigation of the use of force during that arrest.
However, after intense media attention the patrol launched a second, criminal investigation into the actions of Pearson and the officers involved.
Wednesday, the results of the criminal investigation reveal the troopers will be cleared of wrong-doing and the deaf man will be charged with a misdemeanor count of resisting arrest.
Despite a long-standing OHP policy of refusing to release dash cam video, NewsChannel 4’s Ali Meyer has obtained the dash cam video of the Pearl Pearson arrest.
Because of the OHP exception to the Oklahoma Open Records Act, the agency refused to release the tape. However, that video is now part of the criminal case against Pearson.
The dash cam video shows the moments before Pearson’s arrest as Trooper Eric Foster speed toward Pearson’s white SUV, lights and sirens activated, in the area of I-40 and Eastern.
Trooper Foster was one of three troopers called to respond to a call about a hit-and-run incident.
Just a few moments earlier, the driver of a vehicle traveling eastbound on 19th Street in Moore alleges Pearson backed into his vehicle at a red light. The caller told police Pearson the accident was minor, but Pearson had left the scene.
The victim called 911 as he tailed Pearson until OHP arrived.
DA David Prater has analyzed the video to look for evidence of police brutality.
Prater said, what he found instead was “a great deal of restraint” on the part of the troopers.
“They had enough sense about them and showed enough restraint to where they did what they thought they needed to do and nothing more.” Prater said.
According to investigation documents, Trooper Foster and Trooper Kelton Hayes arrived at Pearson’s vehicle at the same moment and initially holstered their weapons as they could see Pearson’s hands on the wheel.
However, both troopers say as they got closer to the SUV, Pearson made a sudden movement reaching down toward his car door which caused them to be suspicious about a weapon.
Prater says, according to trooper interviews both troopers said they motioned and yelled to Pearson to show his hands and to put his hands out of the window.
The dash camera inside Trooper Foster’s squad car recorded the entire ordeal. Most of the action occurs off-screen.
Even though the scuffle cannot be seen, it can be heard.
For five and a half minutes Trooper Foster and Trooper Hayes wrestle with Pearson as he refuses to allow his hands to be handcuffed.
The Troopers said they had no idea he was deaf, but struggled through the violent arrest because they feared he was hiding a gun in his coat.
Pearson is finally taken into custody after a third officer, Trooper Jason Owens arrives and assists in the arrest.
“I wish every law enforcement agency had dash cam because it tells the rest of the story. No matter what the story is (the video) tells the truth.” Prater said. “I relied on it greatly in this case in determining what to do.”
OHP investigators interviewed five troopers, a civilian ride-along who was in the passenger seat of Trooper Foster’s squad car during the arrest, and the three people in the car Pearson backed into.
Each eyewitness says the same thing: Pearson fought the troopers when they tried to take him into custody.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol did not interview Pearl Pearson during the course of their investigation because of a disagreement about their interpreter.
However, Pearson and his attorney, Billy Coyle did submit an affidavit explaining that Pearson wasn’t reaching for a weapon during the stop, but that he was reaching for a hearing impaired placard so that he could communicate with the officers.
The troopers believed he was reaching for a gun.
“You have to comply with law enforcement.” Prater said. “They have to see your hands. Your hands can kill someone. That’s what you grab something with. That’s what you punch people with. That’s what you stab people with. That’s what you shoot people with: your hands.”
When the cuffs were finally on, and Pearson was in police custody his face bore the marks of the violent arrest.
He was taken to the hospital to be checked out before he was booked into the Oklahoma County Jail.
According to investigation documents, doctors at the hospital determined Pearson’s shoulder had been dislocated. It was re-positioned before he was transported to the jail for processing.
Pearl Pearson’s defense attorney, Billy Coyle, stands by his client and believes Pearson was unnecessarily roughed up by the OHP.
“I believe he came close to his death that night.” Coyle said.
Coyle is shocked his deaf client is now facing a criminal charge for resisting arrest.
“A minor, minor accident that the officers didn’t witness. They didn’t need to draw guns on him. They didn’t need to yank him out of the car and beat him like some animal. They savagely beat this man for no reason.” said Coyle. “I’m very disappointed the district attorney believes my client resisted arrest. He didn’t resist arrest. He was trying to get his hands in front of him to let them know, ‘I’m deaf. I can’t speak.'”
Prater believes Pearson is also lucky to have survived the night, as the troopers may have been justified in using more lethal force considering their suspicion the suspect may have been reaching for a gun.
“Those who advocate for the disabled I understand that. But you also need to understand the other side of it. Mister Pearson is very fortunate to be alive today and that’s because of his actions.” Prater said. “This was handled the very best it could have been handled by the Highway Patrol and the officers involved.”
Wednesday afternoon DA Prater notified the Oklahoma Highway Patrol that he had cleared Troopers Foster, Hayes and Owens of any wrong-doing in connection with the arrest of Pearl Pearson.
The OHP issued the following statement regarding the clearance of their officers:
The Oklahoma County District Attorney’s office recently notified our department that after a thorough review of the facts surrounding the arrest of Mr. Pearl Pearson, Trooper Foster and Trooper Hayes have been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing. We appreciate the office of District Attorney David Prater for his diligence and the expeditious nature of his examination of this case, bringing it to a timely resolution.