Cottage Grove police beating a man as they arrest him

‘Not a Very Just System’

Police investigation into beating by Cottage Grove police exonerates officers

 “They were most definitely in the wrong and they know it,” says Claudia Harrelson, the mother of Alex Harrelson who was beaten in September by several Cottage Grove police officers. Alex Harrelson lost two teeth in the incident.

She continues. “They should receive consequences for their abuse of power. They’re bullies of the worst kind, ones who know they can get away with it.”

Claudia Harrelson is responding to the release, just days before Christmas, of the investigation into the Sept. 1 beating, which caused an outcry from those who witnessed it and other Cottage Grove citizens. The investigation of the officers, done by a Eugene police officer currently serving in Cottage Grove, exonerates them of using excessive and unreasonable force.

Alex Harrelson was playing with a sword, dancing around with it, while music played loudly at 2:40 pm on a Thursday afternoon in September, behind a building in downtown Cottage Grove. His actions were reported to the police, not because Harrelson was being threatening, but rather because the music was loud and the caller said she was worried that the sword, secured to Harrelson’s wrist by a strap, might come loose

Security footage of the incident that was provided to Eugene Weekly by people who work in a nearby building shows Harrelson and a companion first hanging out behind the building while Harrelson dances with the sword. Then, after Harrelson has already put down the sword, the police arrive. Harrelson walks toward one of the officers with his hands above his head.

“The video shows clearly that my son Alex was complying with the officers up until they jostled him,” Claudia Harrelson says, she says Officer Brady Dunlap “overreacted and started being violent and using excessive force. Then you can see Alex start fighting back.” 

She asks,”Should he have fought back? Obviously not, though if two people were on me punching the hell out of me when I hadn’t given them reason, I also would have tried to get to my feet and leave.” 

According to a press release from the city of Cottage Grove, Interim Chief Jeff Groth reviewed the investigation and found that “the investigation was complete and thorough,” Harrelson “actively resisted attempts to place him into custody,” the force used during the arrest “was reasonable and justified under department policy,” and finally, in all caps: “the officers are EXONERATED in this matter.”

Groth has been interim chief due to the resignations earlier this year of the former chief, Scott Shepherd, and Capt. Conrad Gagner, who were both under investigation for unrelated incidents that were never disclosed.

The press release also says that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) notified the Cottage Grove Police Department that its independent investigation has been completed. The release quotes the FBI as saying, “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.”

Nelson, who conducted the investigation for Cottage Grove, is a Eugene police officer currently serving as interim police captain in Cottage Grove.

The Cottage Grove Police Department says in the release that it understands “the impact incidents like these have on the community, and takes seriously the trust the community places in them. Because of this, the Cottage Grove Police Department uses every incident as an opportunity to review our tactics, policies and training and will constantly strive to improve when necessary and possible.”

On Dec. 12, the Cottage Grove City Council “authorized a contract with Axon to provide body-worn cameras and that program will be implemented as soon as possible. We hope to have the cameras deployed within a few months,” the police department says. 

It also says in the release that it will immediately begin making improvements to the type and amount of use of force training and tactics it provides officers and that it has already started sending officers to enhanced use-of-force training.

And lastly, the police department says that its “use of force review process must be current with industry standards and best practice, and include thorough review process through the chain of command, up to and including the police chief.” Also on Dec. 12, Cottage Grove Police Department implemented a “use of force report” and “directed that it be completed, in addition to an incident report, any time an officer uses force.”

Alex Harrelson is currently in jail for disorderly conduct and violating his probation, The Chronicle newspaper reports.

 His mother says, “I have been emotionally and physically ill since this all started from the stress of it all. I have an illness where stress can cause me to go into adrenal crisis and have been doing what I can to remain calm.”

Yet, Claudia Harrelson says, “if I could make them have consequences, I would. Just as Alex must handle the consequences of his not using good judgment, he has none, they too should have to handle consequences.”

She adds, “Not a very just system if the bullies are told it’s okay for them to be bullies.”