NAACP, Macon police investigating case after man’s arm broken during arrest

hgoodridge@macon.comApril 16, 2013 

The head of the Macon-Bibb County branch of the NAACP says the group is concerned about the number of complaints it’s fielding from residents claiming civil rights violations against Macon police.

Gwenette Westbrooks, president of the local NAACP, said the organization is seeking the public’s assistance in its investigation of one of the more recent complaints it has received. The arm of Shawn Flewellen, 24, was broken when he was arrested last month by police.

“We know there were a lot of witnesses there and we’d like to talk to them,” Westbrooks said, adding that people can call her office at 745-9944 if they saw anything.

Macon police Deputy Chief Mike Carswell, who is acting chief in the absence of Chief Mike Burns, said the department is conducting its internal review of the case. In his early review of the case, he believes “officers followed procedure.”

Carswell said the department saw a significant increase in complaints last year. An internal city audit of the department concluded 52 percent more complaints were filed in 2012 compared to the previous year. While negative perceptions about the department in the community are at times without merit, he said, “sometimes (the complaints) have merit.”

According to a police report, officer Andrew Gilbert stopped Flewellen while he was walking at the intersection of Roff and Pio Nono avenues just after 8 p.m. March 14 because there was a rash of car battery thefts in the area.

Flewellen, who eventually was charged with marijuana possession and obstruction, kept walking when Gilbert called him, according to the report.

“I asked him once more to come here and take his hands out of his pockets,” Gilbert wrote in the report. “I then grabbed his left arm to walk him over to my vehicle to find out what he was messing with inside his pockets.”

Gilbert said when he grabbed Flewellen’s arm, the man continued to jerk his arm away. Gilbert called for backup, and when officers arrived, one of them stunned Flewellen with a Taser.

It didn’t subdue Flewellen because he was wearing multiple layers of clothing.

Once Flewellen was handcuffed and searched, police found a bag of marijuana in his pocket. He also had a warrant for a probation violation. One of the officers told Gilbert that Flewellen tried to grab his gun while they were detaining him, according to the report.

Flewellen called his mother, Sharon Flewellen, the following morning from the Bibb County jail and told her he had a broken bone and had not received medical attention.

She called the jail and after checking his status later, she found that he had been admitted to the hospital, where he had surgery to reset his humerus.

Sharon Flewellen said she doesn’t believe her son reached for an officer’s gun. “My son would never reach for (the officer’s) gun,” she said.

Westbrooks said nine officers were at the scene and that the NAACP has submitted open records requests to the department to get the names of all the officers and their discipline files.

“The numerous complaints we have with numerous police officers, (the complaints are) something that has not just begun,” she said. “We want to see if it’s repeated behavior.”

Westbrooks also submitted requests to get the camera footage from all the police cars that responded and any use of force forms that were filed in the case.

“My concern with the whole thing is, were his civil rights violated?” Westbrooks said Tuesday. “He was stopped because he looked suspicious.”

To contact writer Harold Goodridge, call 744-4382.

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