Phenix City Police Chief Ray Smith said Thursday Sgt. Percy Hill "acted appropriately" when he used pepper spray on a Prattville High student Friday during the football game against Central High at Garrett-Harrison Stadium.
Montgomery attorney Michael Kidd told the Ledger-Enquirer on Wednesday his client, 17-year-old Cameron Rader, was wrongfully detained and sprayed with pepper spray during the final minutes of the game.
The confrontation began when two Phenix City police officers asked several Prattville students to step away from the railing in the stands where people aren't allowed to stand. Smith said his officers believed the students would try to rush the field after Prattville won as he was told they did when they beat Baker High the week before in Mobile, Ala. An altercation happened between fans on the field after that game, Smith said.
Smith said Rader lied about three parts of the story.
Rader told his attorney he wasn't standing near the railing, but laughed when an officer said he "wasn't a cop (Rader) could mess with." The teen said he turned away from the officer to talk to a girl behind him, and never touched the officer.
The police chief believes after watching the video all of that is a lie.
"If you watch the video, he absolutely was at the rail," Smith said. "He never turned to talk to the girl, and he stepped into and pushed the officer."
Around the 34 second mark of the video, Rader can be seen by the rail. That's when the altercation turned physical.
"(Rader) tried to hit him," Smith said. "He initiated the assault. You'll see that the kid pulls into Percy and then tries to hit him, and he may have hit him."
When asked why Hill needed to use additional force, Smith said Rader was "ready to come back at the officer as soon as he got the opportunity."
"If you look at (Rader's) face, he's in no mood to give up. He's wanting to fight."
Smith said the pepper spray his department uses is "food quality," meaning it's not poisonous or dangerous.
Hill, the police officer, took Rader out of the stadium and later released him to the Prattville High principal.
“If you’re an officer, you can’t just detain someone. You certainly can’t just mace someone for no reason,” Kidd said. “Cameron has asthma, and he kept telling the officers he couldn’t breathe. They never decontaminated him. They never offered to decontaminate him.”
The only decontamination for the spray is time and air, and Rader was fine five minutes later, Smith said.
Several witnesses at the event told Kidd that Rader did nothing to threaten the officer or provoke unnecessary force, Kidd said. If the Alabama Bureau of Investigation chooses to investigate the case, Kidd said he believes the officer could receive a felony charge for unnecessary use of a weapon and unlawful arrest.
Smith said his department welcomes an additional review, adding his department will continue to look at the case for a few weeks. "We're very critical of ourselves," he added.
But it's Rader, Smith said, that could have faced charges in Russell County for at least disorderly conduct or felony assault on a police officer. "We felt it was more appropriate since he's from out of town to turn him over to school administration . My question is 'What did they do to the student?' If they did nothing, they're encouraging this type of behavior from students.
" School administrators were told to move them. That's a Prattville problem. They have a history of that at games. And I'm not pleased they put my officers in that position."
Hill is a veteran officer who's been with the PCPD for approximately 23 years, Smith said. He's worked football games as an off-duty officer for years.
Smith said he usually puts about 20 officers at Central football games, with a little more than half of them on the home side and the rest on the visitor side. Before this event they have not had any significant altercations this year, he said.
The PCPD has 95 sworn positions with 90 of those currently filled, Smith said. A use-of-force report was filed for the altercation.
"The officer used the chemical spray in order to keep from having to use hard-hand techniques, which could have injured both the juvenile or the officer," Smith said. "It also would have prolonged the altercation, which would have allowed other people the time to make the decision to get into the altercation. By deploying the chemical spray, it diffused it. He quit fighting, got him out of the area quick enough and everyone else then complied with the order to get back into the stands."