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Crime & Courts

Anchorage police officer charged with federal civil rights violation in alleged 2019 assault

An Anchorage police officer already facing multiple state charges for an alleged on-duty assault in 2019 was charged with a federal civil rights violation related to the incident, prosecutors said Friday.

Cornelius Aaron Pettus Jr., 33, was indicted and now faces a federal felony charge of deprivation of civil rights under color of law, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska said in a statement.

According to federal prosecutors, the indictment alleges that Pettus, while on duty as an officer, “assaulted and injured another person, thereby violating that person’s United States Constitutional rights to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer.”

Pettus remains on unpaid administrative leave from the Anchorage Police Department, according to police spokeswoman Kendra Doshier. APD put both men on unpaid leave after they were indicted in July 2020.

Charging documents in the federal case were not immediately available Friday.

Court documents in the state’s case against Pettus say that on the night of Sept. 30, 2019, Pettus and another officer went to the home of a 49-year-old bicyclist to deliver citations from an earlier encounter that the man had recorded on his phone. After he received the citations, the man taunted the officers and followed them down his driveway to the sidewalk, according to charging documents.

Pettus grabbed the man’s phone and claimed it was evidence, according to charging documents. While the man stood in a “neutral stance" with his hands by his sides, Pettus punched him in the jaw and kicked him in the groin, according to charging documents, which also described dashboard camera footage of the incident.

Anchorage police officer Cornelius Aaron Pettus at his arraignment on assault charges in Anchorage on November 15, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN archive)

Pettus then said, “What’s up, what’s up, you want some more?” according to the charging documents. The other officer was nearby, standing in one spot and watching without a change in his expression, the charges said.

After moving the man up the driveway, Pettus used pepper spray on him and with the other officer’s help, handcuffed him and arrested him for “assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest,” according to the assault charges against Pettus.

The Anchorage Police Department began a use-of-force investigation and detectives interviewed Pettus. He claimed that Allen had been in a fighting stance with his fists “balled up and slightly raised," according to the charging documents.

The video footage differed significantly from Pettus’ police report and when questioned, Pettus said, “I don’t know, that’s how I remembered it,” according to the charges. He also said he did not remember kicking Allen in the groin.

Pettus pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanor assault charges, two counts of tampering with public records and one count of interference with constitutional rights in state court for the same incident. State prosecutors also charged the other officer with public records tampering, though court records appear to show that charge was dismissed.

The federal deprivation of civil rights charge announced Friday comes with a maximum prison sentence of up to 10 years.

The FBI led the investigation that resulted in the federal indictment with help from the Anchorage Police Department, federal prosecutors said. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney James Klugman.

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