Northampton police constable captured on video dragging handcuffed man's face along road
A Northamptonshire Police officer has been given a final written warning after he dragged a man facedown along a road because he was trying to protect fellow officers.
PC Nathaniel Foster has been facing a misconduct hearing relating to two occasions when he is accused of using abusive language and excessive force.
The constable, who now works in the control room at police HQ in Wootton Hall, intervened on two separate occasions in 2017, once in a Kettering custody suite and a second time in a street in Corby.
During the Corby incident just after midnight on November 19, 2017, he was helping detain a suspect - 'AJ' - who had knocked out his girlfriend and who had just thrown a bin at PC Foster's fellow officers.
What happened next, chair of the panel Jane Jones described as an "act of gratuitous violence" by PC Foster.
AJ had been sprayed with police pepper spray when PC Foster arrived, and between them the officers managed to handcuff the suspect behind his back and lie him facedown in the road at the junction of Dunnock Road and Jay Road.
The misconduct panel heard PC Foster on body-worn camera footage being abusive to the man during the restraint - swearing at him, calling him a 'prick' and saying words to the effect of "it's a shame you can't breathe".
PC Foster then warned AJ he would drag him, saying: "You won't do that again, boy. I'll drag you round the floor."
Footage from another officer's camera then records AJ screaming in pain as PC Foster grabs the handcuffs and pulls him along the road for about two seconds. AJ later presented with grazing to his face, which the panel found was probably caused by the dragging.
Presenting solicitor Elizabeth Briggs said PC Foster's actions, which he forgot to include in his statement the following day, were born of frustration.
She said: "It was just a form of punishment for the behaviour of this individual.
"There was no need for it. He was incapacitated by spray, handcuffed to the rear and he had three officers around him.
"At what stage could your actions ever have been justifiable?"
Responding to Miss Briggs' cross-examination, he admitted the incident looked "disgraceful" but defended the dragging, saying he believed AJ was dangerous as he had just knocked someone out and had also reportedly punched through a car window. The other two officers were also feeling the effects of the windblown pepper spray.
He said: "My colleagues just step off him and leave me holding this violent, crazed individual.
"They are going to be effectively useless to me.
"This guy is a nutter and I'm going to possibly have to deal with him on my own."
Further body-worn camera footage from just over a month earlier, showed PC Foster intervene when six officers are helping to take an abusive prisoner, 'CS', to a cell at Weekley Wood Justice Centre in Kettering.
The footage records PC Foster swearing at CS as he pulls him towards the cell in a headlock, saying words to the effect of 'I hope you choke' and calling him the C-word.
Walking backwards down a corridor, PC Foster slips to the floor with the CS still in the headlock.
One of the other officers later said that PC Foster's sudden intervention caused him to lose control of the situation, and a police restraints expert called as a live witness told the panel the manoeuvre had risked injury to CS's head and neck.
Once in the cell PC Foster, with the help of two other officers, lifts the man to turn him round and the man's head dangles just above the floor before depositing him firmly and facedown on a soft mat.
PC Foster pushes his shoulders and chest to the floor by raising CS's handcuffed arms high behind his back.
Again, the suspect complains he cannot breathe but is told to shut up by PC Foster. When, wheezing heavily, CS repeats himself, PC Foster lowers his arms and abruptly leaves the cell.
PC Foster, who has been a police officer for 15 years with an unblemished record, maintained his actions were appropriate to secure compliance against resisting suspects. He said he did not initially hear CS saying he couldn't breathe because of the loud talking of other officers in the small cell. And PC Foster said he believed AJ was lying during the second incident when the suspect said the same thing, because he was shouting at the time.
The swearing he described as 'tactical communications', using harsh language to get through to suspects, particularly those who were high or drunk.
He did, however, admit that he could see now how members of the public would look at the footage and apologised for it, saying he had gained insight into the use of appropriate language during his time in the force control room.
He said: "I accept it sounds absolutely horrendous.
"[The footage] is making me quite ill to be honest and I shouldn't have done it.
"If I was a member of the public seeing that, I wouldn't want that to be happening either."
Mrs Jones said that, although PC Foster's intentions in intervening were initially good, the use of force and inappropriate language meant the officer was guilty of gross misconduct.
She said: "Both incidents showed frustration, loss of patience and desire just to get the job done.
"The comments you made not only showed scant regard for CS's welfare but they were inappropriate and degrading."
Turning to the dragging incident, Mrs Jones said it was an "unusual and deliberate" act, which ended up with AJ pulled in an arc and back towards the officers.
She said: "This cannot be viewed as anything other than gratuitous violence that was degrading to the subject."
However Mrs Jones said the panel would give the officer one last chance.
To a tearful PC Foster, and to the sounds of sobs from family members, Mrs Jones said that the "headlines of this case could sound outrageous" but that the public would understand their decision if they heard the full facts.
She said: "There is a balance to be struck between a loss of control over a few minutes and a 14-year unblemished career.
"We have taken the exceptional step that we have decided to issue a final written warning."
Mrs Jones said PC Foster should in future keep his body-worn camera on at all times while on duty.