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Trial date set for former Columbia police officer

The former police officer was charged with using excessive force.

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Aug. 28, 2012

A Boone County judge has set a date for former Columbia police officer Rob Sanders' court trial.

Sanders faces third-degree assault charges and a possible year in jail after surveillance cameras caught him using excessive force against an inmate in a holding cell last August.

Judge Larry Bryson has set Sanders’ court trial for 2 p.m. Sept. 26 at the Boone County Courthouse.

Sanders, an 18-year veteran of the Columbia Police Department, was caught on tape shoving inmate Kenneth Baker, 39, into the wall of a holding cell on Aug. 15, 2011. Baker had been pepper-sprayed before the incident while resisting arrest on two outstanding felony warrants. During the incident, Baker suffered a fractured vertebra and permanent back injuries, which led to a $250,000 civil settlement from the city.

Kevin Ahlbrand, president of the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police, said in an Aug. 13 statement he was shocked at the timing of the charge because special prosecutor Mike Fusselman did not file charges against Sanders until Aug. 10, 2012, 360 days after Sanders’ had been initially accused. Ahlbrand said he does not agree with Burton’s decision to fire Sanders or the assault charges and hopes Sanders gets his job back.

After an internal investigation declared all of Sanders’ allegations toward Baker were unfounded, Police Chief Ken Burton fired Sanders in September 2011 for using excessive force and violating police policy.

“An unfounded conclusion means that the incident never occurred,” Burton said in a 2011 radio interview. “Well, if you look at the (surveillance) video, it obviously occurred, so 'unfounded' wasn’t the right classification. It was an assault. Pure and simple. Had that happened on Tenth and Broadway, were we talking about two college students, one of them would be in jail, and we wouldn’t even be talking about it. It was assault, it was unnecessary, unwarranted and it saddened me.”

The Columbia Fraternal Order of Police, an organization that represents a vast majority of Columbia police officers, expressed its outrage in an April letter asking for Burton's resignation. Burton violated law enforcement policies by being untruthful or knowingly making false, misleading statements and by failing to meet the department’s safety, performance and public-trust needs, according to the organization's statement.

At the time of the assault, Burton said his department should not be in the business of housing inmates.

“Since I arrived, I said bringing people here is not efficient,” Burton said. “When bringing them here, we were not monitoring them properly. Officers would bring them, book them and then leave. The only thing monitoring them was the front desk (through video surveillance). That’s not good enough.”

The department’s goal is to make sure the department is reliable and accountable to the general public, CPD spokeswoman Jill Schlude said.

“In any situation where attention is brought to the department for a negative reason, there will be negative effects,” Schlude said. “Our job going forward is to reassure the public that as a police department, we are committed to integrity and accountability at every level.”

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