An Anchorage police officer was charged with assault Friday after he punched and kicked a man he cited for a bicycle violation, according to court documents.
Officer Cornelius Aaron Pettus, 32, faces two counts of fourth-degree assault and is on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation, the Anchorage Police Department said Friday.
He is the third Anchorage police officer to be charged with criminal behavior in the past three months.
“As I have stated before, APD has absolutely no tolerance for misconduct by its officers," Anchorage police chief Justin Doll said in a written statement. “We will unequivocally maintain the high standards that our community expects of us, and that we expect from ourselves.”
On the night of Sept. 30, Pettus contacted a man who was biking in the Fairview neighborhood without reflectors or lights, according to the charging document in the case. The man cursed at Pettus, and when Pettus asked for his identification, the man — who was recording video of their interaction on his phone — asked why Pettus was stopping him, the charging document says. The man then “biked a short distance away” and Pettus drove past him without trying to contact him again.
Later that night, Pettus and another officer went to the man’s house and left the biking-related citations with him. The man then followed the officers, “taunting them” as they headed back to their patrol cars, according to the charging document. In video recorded by a patrol car camera, Pettus “snatched” the man’s phone from his hand, claiming it was evidence.
The document says that as the man pressed for his phone to be returned, Pettus punched him in the jaw. In the footage, the man “appeared to be in a ‘neutral’ stance at that point” — with one hand at his side and the other holding the citation papers. Then Pettus kicked the man in the groin, saying, “What’s up, what’s up, what’s up, you want some more?" according to the charging document.
As this happened, the footage showed that “instead of rushing to help, (the other officer) stood in one spot, looking on without a change in his expression,” the document states.
At some point, Pettus used pepper spray on the man and the other officer helped put handcuffs on the man, who “was arrested for assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest," according to the document. Those charges were dismissed Monday, according to court records.
Police said an “automatic review of the use of force” was conducted after the man’s arrest, which led to a criminal investigation into Pettus’ conduct.
Detectives interviewed Pettus, who claimed that the man “was in a fighting stance” and that he believed the man “was about to assault him at the time,” the charging document says. That echoes what he wrote in his police report on the incident: The man “then challenged me to a fight by balling his fists and assuming a fighting stance.”
When asked why his story didn’t match what was recorded on video, Pettus said “... that’s how I remember it," and added that he did not recall kicking the man in the groin, the charging document says.
APD said that after it concluded its criminal investigation, the case was referred to the state Office of Special Prosecutions, which decided to charge Pettus on Friday. As of Friday afternoon, Pettus had not been arrested, according to police spokesman MJ Thim.
The man Pettus is accused of hitting appears to be the same person who live-streamed footage of an Anchorage officer dragging a police dog by its leash last month. That video sparked an animal cruelty complaint that is being reviewed internally by police.
APD chief Doll told reporters Friday that he believes the man had previously interacted with police, but it was unclear whether he had ever come into contact with Pettus or the other officer involved before Sept. 30.
Pettus has been with the department since 2015, according to police, and he has no prior convictions in Alaska. Fourth-degree assault is a Class A misdemeanor.
Doll said Friday that police officers receive an extensive amount of training in use of force, conflict management and de-escalation.
"It’s unfortunate that in this case, none of those skills were used,” Doll said. He added that Pettus and the other officer didn’t follow "normal training guidance and policy guidelines.”
The police car footage will not be released due to the investigation, Doll said.
The charges announced Friday are the latest accusation of criminal behavior by an Anchorage police officer. In early August, officer Andres Ornelas, 28, was charged with sexual abuse of a minor related to accusations that he sexually abused a 14-year-old relative of his girlfriend in May. Officer Jeremy See, 25, was arrested on a DUI charge in mid-August after police say he drove with a blood alcohol level 1 1/2 times the legal limit.