An Oklahoma City police officer was charged Friday with assault and battery, accused of chasing down a passing motorist who yelled at him during a January traffic stop.
The latest alleged incident occurred about 10:35 a.m. Jan. 26, when Sgt. Matt Downing stopped a driver for failing to move forward at a green light at NW 36 and May Avenue. According to his police report, the sergeant turned on his emergency lights and tried to speak to the driver to determine the problem. The driver wouldn’t roll down her window, and Downing had to yell to communicate with her.
That’s when another motorist got involved, leaning out of his pickup window and yelling “Road rage sucks,” according to reports from police and the department’s internal affairs unit.
The passing driver, Robert John Biegler, 50, of Oklahoma City, was yelling at the officer, he said.
Downing left the traffic stop in pursuit of Biegler. He followed the pickup to a convenience store at 3653 N May Ave. where he sounded his siren while Biegler walked inside. Downing followed and asked Biegler to leave the store with him. Biegler yelled for the clerk to call the police, according to Downing’s report.
Downing, claiming he thought the 5-foot-6-inch, 140-pound man was “mentally unstable,” grabbed Biegler’s left arm, escorted him out the door and took him to the ground before before placing him under arrest and putting him in handcuffs, according to reports.
Downing tried to arrest Biegler on complaints of failure to devote full time and attention to driving, interfering with official process by obstruction and interfering with official process by failing to obey a lawful order, according to his report.
Biegler was in the back of a police car when Downing’s supervisor arrived. The supervisor disagreed with Downing’s use of force and subsequent arrest and released Biegler, according to the internal affairs report.
Monday, Biegler said he heard the police officer swearing at the other motorist before he yelled his comment.
Inside the store, Biegler said he was putting cream and sugar in his coffee, when Downing approached him and said, “You think you’re pretty smart,” and that he was taking him to jail.
“The guy was totally irrational,” Biegler said.
Police Chief Bill Citty directed the department’s office of professional standards to conduct a criminal investigation into the incident.
On Feb. 25, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater accepted a charge of assault and battery against Downing after internal affairs detectives presented the facts of their investigation.
Downing, 39, who has been a police officer 15 years, has been suspended with pay, police Capt. Dexter Nelson said.
Allegations in the past
It isn’t the first time Downing has been accused of misconduct.
Downing, along with three Oklahoma City police officers, also faced allegations of excessive force, according to a 2004 civil rights lawsuit.
Harold Henager fled police before being stopped with a tire-puncturing device at NW 4 and Villa on Sept. 18, 2003. According to a civil rights complaint Henager filed the following year, he stopped the vehicle and placed his hands on the steering wheel.
The suit accused Downing of spraying Henager’s face with pepper spray and pulling him from the truck by his hair.
While he was handcuffed on the ground, officers kicked Henager in the head, jumped up and down on the back of his knees, “destroying his knee joints forever,” choked him and hit him in the ribs with a flashlight, the suit alleged.
Henager pleaded guilty to criminal charges stemming from his arrest, including possession of heroin, eluding the police and driving under the influence of alcohol. He sued for more than $2 million in damages for the alleged beating.
A jury sided with the officers and awarded Henager nothing.
Downing also has been commended for his police work, including receiving an award in 2011 for traffic safety enforcement from the Oklahoma Buckle Down Awards, a program created to recognize officers for DUI and seat belt enforcement.
Downing has never been fired, demoted or given days off without pay as discipline, Nelson said.