Cottage Grove, Public Safety

Cottage Grove police officers absolved in use-of-force investigation

A screen grab from video surveillance shows Cottage Grove Police Officers on top of the subject, Harrelson.

The Cottage Grove Police department concluded its internal investigation into the September use-of-force incident involving the beating of an unhoused man.

The result? “Reasonable and justified.”

The Sept. 1 incident involved a member of the unhoused community, 28-year-old Alexander Harrelson, who was captured on a downtown shop’s video surveillance holding his hands above his head before being beaten by CGP officers. 

The investigation found the use-of-force was “reasonable and justified” under department policy. The four officers are exonerated and will continue to work within the CGPD. 

“Police officers are routinely confronted with unique and dynamic situations that require unique and dynamic assessments and split-second decisions,” said a statement from the CGPD. “The CGPD understands the impact incidents like these have on the community and takes seriously the trust the community places in them.” 

In the police report obtained by The Chronicle through a public records request, the officers identified in the incident are CGPD school resource officer Cory Stevens, CGPD officers Jarrod Butler, Wendie Jackson and Brady Dunlap, as well as off-duty Eugene Police officer Danny Lane. 

The 33-page investigation was completed by Eugene Police sgt. Ryan Nelson, who is working alongside interim CGPD chief Jeff Groth after the resignations of former CGPD chief Scott Shepherd and Capt. Conrad Gagner – who were investigated on unrelated incidents earlier this year. 

Nealson said that throughout the length of the investigation, he interviewed witnesses, analyzed the calls to dispatch, interviewed Harrelson, audio from radio traffic control and analyzed police reports from both Eugene and Cottage Grove. He also watched the store’s video surveillance footage. 

“The investigation was completed by a trained and experienced investigator from an outside agency and the decision was made,” Groth said. “Our loyalties lie with the truth and the facts. Further, an additional independent investigation was conducted by the FBI that reached similar, if not arguably the same, conclusion.” 

The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) completed an independent investigation of the Sept. 1 incident and into violent threats against members of the community who spoke out against the police conduct. 

The FBI stated: “For an incident such as this to be charged as a federal civil rights crime officers, acting in an official capacity, have to willfully use unreasonable force. The evidence reviewed indicated this was not the case and therefore CGPD officers did not violate federal criminal statutes.” 

Sentencing documents obtained through a public records request show that, on Sept. 15, Harrelson pleaded guilty to three charges, including resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and assault. 

As Harrelson lay on the ground, held down by four officers, the security video shows at least two officers punching him. Harrelson was left with missing teeth and a bloodied face as a result of the force. 

Police officials say that prior to the arrival of additional officers, Dulap did not have control of Harrelson. 

Resident Duane Raley watched the scene from across the street, with Gail Hoelzle, owner of the Bookmine just off Main Street, who initially placed the call. Hoelzle said the verdict left her “sick to her stomach.” 

Raley says the officers instructed Harrelson to lay on his stomach at which point he began to howl “like a dog or a wolf.”

“As I recall it, I get passionate,” Raley said. “Given my witness to the event, I feel strongly as a result of the incident and the investigation and the excessive and unnecessary action that someone should be held responsible.” 

According to police officials, Harrelson resisted arrest for the duration of the incident and his sudden movement from his head to his waist while being restrained escalated the threat level to officers, resulting in the use-of-force. 

“Mr. Harrelson actively resisted attempts to place him into custody,” the statement reads.

During the Dec. 12 Cottage Grove City Council meeting, the council authorized a contract with Axon to provide body-worn-cameras for CGPD officers.

“Body-worn cameras are a necessity and a priority,” the statement reads. Police officials say that if body cams were present during the Sept. 1 incident, they would have helped “clarify” the video circulated widely online. 

“Our use-of-force training and tactics must constantly evolve and stay current with the latest available methodology and training. We have already begun sending officers to enhanced use-of-force training,” the statement reads. 

The CGPD has also begun implementing a “use-of-force review process,” to track and mitigate the impacts of uses of force, something Groth has called for in the past. 

Earlier this month, Harrelson was arrested for violating his probation on “disorderly conduct with menacing” from his Sept. 1 arrest. At the time of his arrest for probation violation, Harrelson was sleeping in his tent in the “overflow” unhoused shelter site behind the DariMart on Main Street in Cottage Grove. The arrest wasn’t violent, but witnesses say Harrelson was “freaked out,” “overwhelmed” and “confused.” 

Harrelson is currently serving 50 days in the Cottage Grove jail for disorderly conduct.