Residents accuse police of racial bias in civil rights suit

Two men were arrested while sitting in a vehicle at the Rainbow Softball Center listening to loud music and drinking beer.

Three police officers pointed guns at two men sitting in their car listening to music while in possession of alcohol, and arrested them on charges of suspicious behavior and failure to follow verbal command.

The two men, both of whom are black, said they believe the incident was racially motivated. They announced plans to file a civil rights lawsuit against the Columbia Police Department at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Phillip Porter, 32, and Joshua Williams, 30, were sitting in a silver Ford parked in the parking lot adjacent to the Rainbow Softball Center at Columbia’s Cosmopolitan Park at about noon Oct. 13 when the incident occurred.

"I feel like if that was a couple of white men out here, this wouldn't have happened," Williams said.

Attorney Stephen Wyse, the lawyer of the two men, said his clients did nothing suspicious and nothing wrong. He added they were having beer and listening to rap music. Although it is illegal to carry open containers of alcohol in most public places, Missouri’s open container law does not apply to the sports facility.

Williams said he first noticed a flash of light about 25 feet from his car but didn’t recognize what it was. He opened his door and heard faint voices so he turned down the music and saw three cops standing about 10 feet away holding guns. The light was from their motorcycles.

Williams and Porter said they heard the cops shouting phrases like “Don’t move! Hands up! Don’t do it! It’s not worth it!”

According to Williams, the officers asked them if they possessed weapons and they acknowledged they had a 40-caliber gun in the car. The police also asked about whether they had previous records of felony conviction and they said they didn’t.

Officers Jeff Forck, Matt Stephens and Scott Decker pulled both men from the car and handcuffed them. Williams said the officers also questioned him about a felony conviction he said he didn't have.

Williams said one of the police officers broke his wrist while handcuffing him. He was detained for about an hour, he said during a press conference at the Rainbow Softball Center.

Williams said he told the officers about his wrist when he was handcuffed because he had had surgery on the wrist last year. He said the police didn’t pay attention.

“Now I probably need another surgery to stop the pain,” Williams said.

Wyse said CPD freed his clients without charge.

The officers explained the incident as part of their training, Wyse said. He said the officers cited suspicious behavior and failure to follow verbal command. He said the police didn’t mention loud music and beer.

According to previous Maneater reports, the police department has been working with the Bias-free Coalition to reduce racial profiling within the department.

Wyse said he thinks CPD Chief Ken Burton is trying hard to make changes at this point of transition, but his department doesn’t want to turn the corner.

“But you have to acknowledge the problem,” Wyse said.

Wyse said he has plans to file a Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit against the Columbia Police Department. He said the officers used excessive force and violated the Fourth and the Fifth Amendments.

CPD could not be reached for comment.

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