Family of teen charged in playground brawl claims his innocence, police misconduct

The family of a 17-year-old facing multiple felony charges in an after-school brawl Sept. 16 on the playground of Columbus’ Fox Elementary School has filed complaints alleging the youth is innocent and police acted precipitously in arresting him.

Joseph Passmore, a Jordan High School senior, remains in the Muscogee County Jail, his charges including two counts of armed robbery and three of aggravated assault. A judge allowed him no bond on the armed robbery charges and set bonds of $10,000 each on the assault counts.

After Passmore’s Sept. 23 Recorder’s Court hearing, family members were arrested during a disturbance outside the courtroom, charged with obstructing police and criminal trespass. At a press conference outside police headquarters Friday, family spokesman Stevie Porter said they want those charges dismissed, as well as the charges against Passmore, and an investigation initiated into the conduct of the officers involved.

Columbus Police Chief Ricky Boren said he has received the family’s complaints and has asked his patrol division to look into them. No one in the police department’s investigative bureau took part in the case, he said.

A Muscogee sheriff’s deputy arrested Passmore’s relatives outside Recorder’s Court. Sheriff’s Maj. Randy Robertson said the deputy acted appropriately in arresting Passmore’s mother, Rozina Thomas, after the woman took a swing at her in the Recorder’s Court lobby.

Robertson said Passmore’s relatives were in the lobby harassing three juveniles who had reported that up to 17 other youths attacked them at Fox Elementary. Deputy Latrista Biggers told the family to leave the kids alone and to leave the lobby.

Thomas took a swing at Biggers, and the deputy was handcuffing her when Thomas’ son, Alfonzo Passmore, 18, tried to stop her, Robertson said. The son and his mother were charged with obstruction. Then Anquanetta Passmore started yelling, and was arrested for disorderly conduct, said Robertson, adding all three also were charged with criminal trespass for refusing to leave.

“At this time, with all the information we have, we’re standing fully behind Deputy Biggers and the actions that she took,” Robertson said.

The juveniles who flagged down Patrol Officer Stacica Miller at 5:40 p.m. Sept. 16 to report being beaten said they were walking through the Fox playground when the other youths attacked them. All of those involved were Jordan High students, police reported, the victims being a 16-year-old girl and two 14-year-old boys, each of whom had injuries.

The left side of one boy’s face was swelling, and he had difficulty speaking, and the officer saw shoe prints on the front and back of his shirt. The other boy was bloody, dizzy and had trouble seeing. The girl’s face was swelling, and she said she had been punched repeatedly, according to police reports.

One 14-year-old boy's bicycle and cell phone were stolen, police said.

The two boys were taken to Doctors Hospital. The girl accompanied police as they drove around Wilson Apartments looking for suspects. She pointed out a 15-year-old, whom officers charged with two counts of aggravated assault. As police were arresting him, another juvenile came by with the missing bike, and was charged with receiving stolen property, police reported.

Investigators then had the 15-year-old suspect look at a Jordan High School annual, and he told them Passmore and two Jordan sophomores also were involved in the fight, so they later were arrested, too, police said.

Porter said the family believes police did not thoroughly investigate the incident, neglecting to interview all the witnesses. He said one of the 14-year-olds beaten had brass knuckles he was using on another youth, and all Passmore did was tackle the boy to break up the fight.

Porter produced a printout from Alfonzo Passmore’s Facebook page, showing an exchange between him and the 16-year-old girl. Her online postings described Joseph Passmore as “a sweetheart” who never hit her. She wrote that he tackled her 14-year-old brother as the brother went to strike another youth, but she didn’t see much after that because she was getting hit.

Porter said he was speaking on behalf of the family as the founder of “Greater Columbus Copwatch,” an organization that works to stop police misconduct.

The four 15-year-olds arrested along with Passmore have been processed through juvenile court, so only the case against Passmore remains to be prosecuted, he said.

Though all the alleged assailants are black and the three victims white, the Passmore family is not claiming any racial motivation, Porter said.