Tuscaloosa PD releases names of 3 officers on leave after arresting UA students

Tuscaloosa PD releases names of 3 officers on leave after arresting UA students
Source: Twitter
Source: Twitter
Matthew Gimlin Macia, Brandon James Williford, Caroline Elizabeth Giddis (Source: Tuscaloosa PD)
Matthew Gimlin Macia, Brandon James Williford, Caroline Elizabeth Giddis (Source: Tuscaloosa PD)

TUSCALOOSA, AL (WBRC) - Tuscaloosa police have released the names of the three officers who are on administrative leave after arresting three University of Alabama students in a case that sparked an internal investigation.

The officers have been identified as:

  • Officer James Kent
  • Officer Phillip Champion
  • Officer Gregory Pimm

"In our continuing efforts to ensure transparency and accountability regarding the incident which occurred on November 8, 2015 in the 500 block of Frank Thomas Ave Tuscaloosa, AL involving the arrest of three suspects in a loud noise complaint; the Tuscaloosa Police Department are releasing the names of the officers that were placed on Administrative Leave pending a complete and thorough investigation of their actions taken during that incident," Chief Steve Anderson said in a news release sent at 11:16 a.m. Tuesday.

The police department went on to say that for the safety and security of their officers and families, only their names are being released at this time.

A University of Alabama student Facebook group called Alliance for UA is organizing an event in support of the investigation. They plan to meet at Tuscaloosa City Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 11 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

On Monday, the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Office released the names and charges of three University of Alabama students arrested in case.

The names and charges are:

  • Brandon James Williford, 21, of Tennessee was charged with harassment, obstruction of governmental operations and resisting arrest
  • Matthew Macia, 22, of Johns Creek, GA, was charged with obstructing government operations and resisting arrest
  • Caroline Giddis, 22, of Tennessee, was charged with obstructing governmental operations and harassment

The sheriff's office says Williford was booked into the Tuscaloosa County Jail at 5:56 a.m. and released at 9:29 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 8. Giddis was booked into the county jail at 5:32 a.m. and released at 6:38 a.m.

There we no details available from the sheriff's office about the timing of Macia's arrest.

The first court date for the three students is set for Monday, Nov. 16 at 8:30 a.m. in Tuscaloosa Municipal Court.

UA spokesman Shane Dorrill says Brandon Williford is a senior from Collierville, TN. He is majoring in Metallurgical Engineering.

Caroline Giddis is a senior from Collierville, TN. She is working on a double major in Public Relations and Spanish, according to Dorrill.

Dorrill says Matthew Macia is a senior from Johns Creek, GA, He is majoring in Economics Arts & Sciences.

In a 2 p.m. news conference held Monday, Tuscaloosa Police Chief Steve Anderson said he was "deeply disturbed" when he watched the video, and added that he was disappointed in the way his officers responded.

"Needless to say once I started receiving the videos and watching what occurred, I was deeply disturbed by it and disappointed in the way our officers responded," Anderson said.

The video appears to show Tuscaloosa police officers dragging three students from an apartment while tasing one and beating another with a baton.

Caroline Giddis' father calls the video "troubling" and is interested in seeing how the investigation plays out.

Birmingham-based attorney Steve Shaw is representing Giddis, but not the other two students. He said he is in the process of investigating and has no further comment at this point.

Patrick Weaver, who walked in on the situation, said on Monday he saw one of the students being hit multiple times with a baton. Weaver and a number of witnesses say they feel the officers' actions were uncalled for.

"I'm very glad and thankful and grateful for all that our police forces do for us but however in this situation from what I saw it just seemed very unnecessary. The level of force that was used, I just didn't think was OK. I want to see that justice is served on both sides. I just want to make sure the right thing is done," Weaver said.

Tuscaloosa officers responded to a noise complaint of loud music at the 12th Avenue Place Apartments on Frank Thomas Avenue on Sunday, Nov. 8 shortly after 2 a.m. It was a few hours after Alabama beat LSU 30-16 at home in Tuscaloosa.

Chief Anderson said the reason that so many police officers responded to a noise complaint is that several officers were nearby working on the Strip and monitoring the bar scene, which was busy after the game. Several officers heard the initial responding officer's call for backup and showed up at the apartments.

"Shortly after arriving on the scene officers attempted to speak with the suspects and a brief struggle ensued which led to the arrest and charges of three University of Alabama Students," Tuscaloosa Police Lt. Teena Richardson said in a news release sent on Monday.

During Monday's news conference, Chief Anderson was asked what is required if a police officer knocks on the door and you answer. Does the officer need a warrant to enter?

"If a police officer knocks at your door and you come to the door, it become a consensual contact between you and that officer. Outside of any exigent circumstances that would require that officer to make an immediate entry into that apartment, no. No, the officer cannot just go in," he explained.

Chief Anderson said after he saw videos of the incident that were sent to him on Sunday night, he asked Internal Affairs to launch an investigation.

"We've got a long way to go in this investigation. Just because we've initially put three officers on administrative leave, by no means [does that] mean that we're at the end of the investigation we're doing. There are going to be probably hours of video that we have to review and in reviewing that video we're going to be taking a look at the actions of each and every officer that responded to that location to determine if those officers operated outside of our policies and procedures or outside of law," he said.

Chief Anderson said the officers who are on administrative leave are the officer who initially responded to the noise complaint, the officer who used a Taser and the officer who used the baton on a student.

The police chief said the initial responding officer has been with the Tuscaloosa Police Department for eight years, the one who used a Taser for 12 years and the one who used the baton has been on the force for two years.

Anderson asked for the public's patience while they review a lot of video taken during the incident, both cell phone video from people inside and outside the apartment as well as the body cameras on the police officers.

He said he believed almost every officer who responded, if not every single one, had a body camera at the time.

"What I'm asking people to do is be patient and allow us to do an investigation. We've already started and we've already conducted some interviews with some of the officers based on what we've been able to dissect from the video," Anderson said.

The police chief said he is taking this case personally and questions if he has failed his department in some way when it comes to training officers for stressful situations.

"I take it very personally because I've put a lot of effort over 21 years and a lot of other people have put a lot of effort in building a great reputation for the Tuscaloosa Police Department in our community and I don't want to see that reputation destroyed by a careless or senseless act," he said.

"And there are going to be changes made. Because ultimately I'm the one responsible for what happens with my department. And I take that very personally when something happens within my department with my officers. It creates a black eye on the department and on the city of Tuscaloosa," he continued.

Anderson said they will be looking at their training protocol and will offer extra training on de-escalating situations and Fourth Amendment search and seizure policies.

"I also want to say to everybody out there, do not be afraid of calling the Tuscaloosa Police Department. We are here to protect and serve and do our job. Do we always get it right? No. But there's no need to fear us or fear our officers," Anderson said.

He asked anyone with information that is relevant to the case to contact TPD's internal affairs office at 205-248-4510.

A University of Alabama official said they are also reviewing the actions of three UAPD officers who responded to the TPD officer's call for emergency assistance.

On Monday, UA spokesman Shane Dorrill issued this statement about the incident:

"We are aware of the incident, and we remain very concerned about the welfare of all of our students who were there, especially those who were arrested. We have reached out to provide support to them, and we will continue to provide services they need.

We can confirm that three UAPD officers responded to a TPD officer's call for emergency assistance that morning, and we are reviewing their actions to verify they acted appropriately.

We encourage other students who have been impacted by this matter to contact the university's Counseling Center at 205-348-3863."

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