Police punch, kick suspect who rammed police car

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

ST. LOUIS -- The Missouri State Highway Patrol will determine if four police officers stepped over the line in punching and kicking a suspect on Monday.

A police chase began in the St. Louis suburb Maplewood and ended in the city of St. Louis. Live television showed much of the chase, and the beating of the suspect. What could not be clearly seen on the video was how much resistance the man was providing.

KTVI-TV video showed the suspect, Edmond Burns, 33, bloodied. He was hospitalized, but his condition was not known. Three Maplewood officers were also treated for injuries. None of the injuries was life-threatening.

Three of the officers involved in subduing the suspect were from the Maplewood department and one was from St. Louis. Names of the officers were not released.

The St. Louis officer was uninjured and is still on active duty, authorities said.

"This incident is disturbing from both sides and the city is investigating," Mayor Mark Langston said in a brief news release.

All four officers are white; the suspect is black.

Maplewood Police Chief James White, during a sometimes-contentious news conference Monday, cautioned against jumping to conclusions based upon the video.

The NAACP also is asking that the officers involved be suspended until the investigation is complete. White said his officers are on injury leave for the next few days and have not been suspended.

The incident began around 7 a.m. when Maplewood police believed a man in a GMC conversion van was acting suspiciously. The suspect allegedly tried to ram a police cruiser as he fled.

A chase began, and TV video showed the van weaving through traffic at a high speed, with police in pursuit.

Finally cornered in St. Louis city, the suspect's van tried to ram a squad car before two other police cars rammed the side of the van.

Video showed the man getting out and running. An officer tackled him, with the man's head apparently striking the pavement behind a building. Other officers closed in, and video showed them punching and kicking the man for several seconds.

The Rev. B.T. Rice of the St. Louis County NAACP said it appeared that the officers stopped only when they noticed TV helicopters above them.

"Had not the media been on the scene, one wonders what might have happened," he said.

St. Louis Police Chief Joe Mokwa said video of the arrest "appears provocative, and it's going to incite conversation."

Mokwa said St. Louis officers were told not to join in the pursuit because of a city policy aimed at making sure bystanders are not injured in a police pursuit.

Maplewood has its own policy that reads, in part, that the decision to initiate a pursuit "must be based on the pursuing officer's conclusion that the immediate danger to the officer and the public created by the pursuit is less than the immediate or potential danger to the public should the suspect remain at large."

Whether officers followed that policy was unclear because the report had not been written, White said. He hopes to have the report by today, but said because of the officers' injuries, it may not be finished before Friday.

Attorney Chet Pleban, who is representing the officers, noted that the incident occurred on the second anniversary of the death of St. Louis police officer Nicholas Sloan.

"The fact of the matter is, it's a violent job," Pleban said.

Another allegation of police brutality against the department surfaced during the news conference.

Frank Licavoli, 42, of St. Louis, who is white, said he was arrested at a Maplewood eatery early New Year's morning and charged with indecent exposure after his too-baggy pants fell to his ankles.

Licavoli said he recently lost a lot of weight and the pants simply fell.

Six officers arresting Licavoli beat him badly, first outside the restaurant, then in a holding cell, Licavoli said.

"It's not fair what your people did," Licavoli told White.

White said that allegation is under investigation.

AP reporter Betsy Taylor in St. Louis provided information for this story.

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