A white Winston-Salem police officer was suspended for two days in May in connection with a November incident, caught on cellphone video, in which he tackled a 15-year-old Black girl, a spokeswoman with the Winston-Salem Police Department said Monday. The suspension was without pay.
The suspension came after an internal investigation by the Winston-Salem Police Department’s Professional Standards Division. But the investigation did not conclude that Officer Zacharie K. Jones used excessive force on the girl or that he racially discriminated against her, the officer’s attorney, David Freedman, said Tuesday. Jones is a five-year veteran of the police department. In an unrelated case in November 2919, he was given a one-day suspension in for violating the department’s policy on operating a motor vehicle.
Kira Boyd, the spokeswoman for the Winston-Salem Police Department, said Tuesday that she would not be able to provide additional information until Wednesday and that Winston-Salem Police Chief Catrina Thompson, who held a news conference on the Sunday after the incident became public, was out of the office and unavailable for comment. At the news conference, Thompson had pledged transparency but the police department did not acknowledge the May suspension until Monday, even though the Winston-Salem Journal had asked about the investigation’s status as recently as early June and this month.
A Winston-Salem police official said on June 3 that the case was an ongoing matter. By that time, Jones had served his two days of suspension and was back on active duty.
When this happened in November, the Ministers Conference of Winston-Salem & Vicinity condemned the incident as an act of police brutality, and Council Member D.D. Adams cited the incident as an example of racism, saying that this would not have happened if the girl had been white or the incident had happened in a white neighborhood like Buena Vista. Adams and a representative from the Ministers Conference did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
Earnest Anthony Sides, the girl’s father, has said he is considering a civil lawsuit and wants criminal charges filed against Jones and other officers he felt mishandled his daughter. In a brief interview Tuesday, he expressed surprise that Jones only received a two-day suspension and said it should have been longer. He indicated that the city had not notified him of the suspension. He later referred additional questions to Michelle Clifton, an attorney at the law firm Grace, Tisdale & Clifton P.A. She did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Sides’ daughter, Shakayla Davis-Sides, who is now 16, was among five teenagers walking in the 3800 block of Hartford Street on Nov. 7. Jones and other officers went to that block around 6:30 p.m. after receiving a report that several juveniles were trying to “gain entry” into a vacant house.
When they arrived, they found Davis-Sides and four other teenagers walking near the vacant house. In cellphone video taken by Peggie Dull, a neighbor, Jones is shown talking to Davis-Sides and asking for her name, which Davis-Sides refused to do.
“Why do you need our names?” she asked.
“Because I’m investigating a break-in,” Jones said loudly. Another girl pushes Davis-Sides away from Jones, who reached for something on his utility belt and then followed the two girls into a front yard. At one point in the video, Davis-Sides moves away, turns away and then runs from Jones, who goes to grab her and then appears to tackle her.
Police took all the teenagers into custody, but police have never said whether any criminal charges were filed against them. They were later released into their parents’ custody. Another part of the video shows a second officer forcibly putting Davis-Sides’ feet into a patrol car.
Sides has said his daughter is an honor-roll student at Reagan High School. He has said that his daughter had back and shoulder pain for which she was getting medical treatment. In January, he said he wasn’t allowing his daughter to go anywhere outside the house because he was afraid for her safety.
The video was shared on social media, and the Winston-Salem Journal published a story about the incident on Nov. 12. On Nov. 15, Thompson held a rare Sunday news conference during which she identified the officer and called for patience as the police began an internal investigation.
“Because it looks ugly, as most use-of-force incidents do, it doesn’t mean the officer’s actions are illegal or in violation of department policy,” Thompson said at the news conference. She added that the department has many policies in place to protect constitutional rights, require officers to practice de-escalation and otherwise follow the principles of community-oriented policing.
Part of the internal investigation would have been to review body-camera footage. Such footage has not been released publicly. Under state law, body-camera footage is not public record and can be released only through a court order signed by a superior court judge.
The Winston-Salem Journal asked Boyd a number of additional questions, including when the internal investigation ended and what policies and procedures did Jones violate that resulted in his suspension. The Journal sent several emails in January, March, April, June and this month to Capt. Jose Gomez of the Winston-Salem Police Department, asking for updates to the internal investigation.
On June 3, Gomez had this response via email: “As noted in my previous responses, the case is an ongoing matter and at the appropriate time, and when allowable by personnel, criminal, and juvenile law, an update will be provided.”
According to a memorandum obtained by the Winston-Salem Journal, it appears that the internal investigation likely ended in late April or early May. That May 24 memorandum was sent to City Manager Lee Garrity by Assistant City Manager Damon C. Dequenne and outlined the results of a grievance hearing. That means Jones appealed the two-day suspension. The memorandum indicates that Jones had been suspended without pay for multiple violations under the police department’s Rule of Conduct for unsatisfactory performance. After the hearing, the suspension was upheld.
“Officer Jones displayed the utmost integrity, professionalism and character during the hearing,” Dequenne wrote. “The records and documentation provided by the department also reflected these qualities in his performance and participation in the investigation with the Professional Standards Division.”
Dequenne said that Jones “readily acknowledged his mistakes and shortcomings regarding several of the violations and took proactive steps to seek out assistance to improve his skills in those areas to better serve the department and our community.” He later said that Jones showed “steadfast devotion to duty” in how he handled the situation and “brought great credit upon himself and the department.”
Freedman said that Jones is back to active duty as a patrol officer.
“This has been very troubling for him,” he said. “He has always been a great professional police officer. Any shortcomings that the police department had found, he has done everything he can to rectify that.”