Britton cleared of any wrongdoing in Scidmore Park incident
THREE RIVERS — Three Rivers Police Officer Matthew Britton will not face disciplinary action following an internal review of Britton’s arrest of 59-year-old Mark Shelton at Scidmore Park on Thursday, July 25.
On July 25, Britton responded to a report of a man camping in the park. After identifying the man as Mark Shelton, Britton discovered Shelton had a warrant for failure to appear at a court hearing. When Britton attempted to arrest Shelton, Shelton did not comply and was tased and kicked multiple times prior to his arrest. Shelton was taken to the emergency room at Three Rivers Health, and was later lodged at St. Joseph County Jail. He was arraigned on a $10,000 bond for resisting and obstructing, and has since been released on bond.
In an interview with the Commercial-News Tuesday, Three Rivers Police Chief Tom Bringman said Britton followed the use of force continuum — a standard that provides law enforcement and civilians with guidelines as to how much force may be used against a resisting subject in a given situation — when making the arrest.
“When (Shelton) refused to cooperate with being arrested that’s when (Britton) ended up tasing him — that’s one of the levels officers use — and hands-on stuff always looks worse than what it really is,” Bringman said.
“Most of the time, and you can even hear on the video, (Britton)’s telling (Shelton), ‘I’m going to tase you.’ And when you (count down or count up), I can’t tell you how many times when someone is told they’re going to be tased or pepper sprayed, after you (begin to count), the person will all of a sudden stop and say, ‘Hold it, hold it, I don’t want to be sprayed,’ or ‘I don’t want to be tased.’ But in this case that didn’t happen.”
When asked if Britton gave Shelton enough time to heed his warning prior to tasing Shelton, Bringman said Shelton has been “known to resist” in the past, and when an officer has that prior knowledge, “you’re going to react faster.”
“Going into that as soon as he realized it was Mark Shelton — almost anytime officers have dealt with Mark, there have always been issues, he never cooperates — you heard out of the clear blue sky, and I don’t remember exactly where (it occurs in the video) but it was really early on, he said, ‘Don’t shoot me.’ And it’s like, ‘Where in the world does that come from?’ Nobody even drew a gun. So some of that is for show.”
Bringman said Britton could have “explained things in more detail” to Shelton but ultimately the officer didn’t violate any rules and therefore any disciplinary action is unwarranted.
“Did the officer do anything wrong? No, he didn’t do anything wrong, he followed the force continuum, and he didn’t break any rules. […] There’s nothing to discipline him for, there’s nothing he did wrong. I mean, could he have spent more time talking to the guy? Maybe. But in Mark Shelton’s case would it have helped? Why not just cooperate? He already knows we treat people fair because he’s been arrested before,” he said.
Bringman added ideally police officers want to act as peacekeepers because “the last thing you want is to use force,” but officers also have to be prepared for anything when called to a scene.
“Anytime we’re sent to something we’re sent with the idea that we’re going to handle whatever the situation is. Typically we’re peacekeepers, we help calm situations down, we take whatever comes our way and we try to handle it the best we can,” he said.
Bringman said it’s important to look at situations like the one that unfolded at Scidmore Park in July from a police officer’s perspective in addition to the subject’s perspective because “officers just want to go home at the end of the night” like everybody else. The longtime police chief said citizens can gain a better understanding of what that perspective is by taking advantage of his “open door policy” if they have questions or concerns.
“Come on in for a ride along and see the mindset at different times. We’ve had people over the years who have done that and they’ll come in, they’ll ride, and they’ll go, ‘I had no idea,’” Bringman said.
“The main thing is if people have questions, come and ask. I have an open door policy, and I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve talked with people, I listen to everything they have to say, and I do it in private in my office. I’ll let them get stuff off their chest, and what I do when they get all done is I’ll go back to the beginning and try to explain everything I can.”
Alek Frost can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 22 or firstname.lastname@example.org.