An attorney in Greenville will ask the United States Department of Justice to investigate the arrest of a police officer who put his knee on a woman’s neck to keep her from breathing, the attorney said.
Attorney Fletcher Smith described the arrest of his client by former Gaffney Police Officer Johnny Wayne Miller as unnecessary and violent for a situation that included nothing more than an argument.
“Black, white people, whatever their color, shouldn’t be exposed to this,” Smith said, adding that he believes police brutality across the country has an economic element. “That probably wouldn’t happen to the Speaker of the House.”
The state reached out to Miller but did not associate with him.
Miller, a white man patrolling public housing, arrested the 26-year-old black woman in mid-December 2020 after an argument with a family member, Fletcher said.
The woman went to a relative’s nearby home after being asked to pick up a child, Fletcher said. When she got to the apartment, an argument started. The police showed up and told the woman to leave.
“She wasn’t going fast enough for him (Miller),” said Fletcher.
The woman was going home, which was nearby, said Fletcher. Miller tried to stop her in his patrol car, court records showed. Miller claimed she didn’t stop, according to the indictment and court records. She went to her house to check on her children and wanted to come out to speak to Miller, Fletcher said. An officer kicked her door before she could get out.
Miller put his knee on the woman’s neck to submit her for an arrest. It is unclear whether the woman was injured.
Chris Skinner, Gaffney Police Chief, fired Miller on December 30th for misconduct. Miller repeatedly used “excessive violence in dealings with the public”.
Miller “has shown wanton disregard for the well-being of citizens by (a) performing maneuvers he was not instructed to use,” his police record read.
The South Carolina law enforcement agency is investigating but has not charged Miller.
The woman was charged with not stopping for blue lights. The charges are pending, but when an officer is released after an arrest, the charges are often dropped.
The woman is considering suing the arrest, Smith said.
Miller had been with the Gaffney Police Department since 1998. In 2014, he was charged with domestic violence and a gun offense and suspended from the division. The charges were dropped and he was reinstated the next year.
The Gaffney woman’s case follows the murder in 2020 of George Floyd, a black man, while he was held with one knee to his neck by a white Minneapolis police officer. That officer, Derek Chauvin, was charged with second degree murder. His trial was covered extensively in the news.
Putting one knee on your neck isn’t a maneuver that police instructors teach at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy.
In a similar incident, a Colombian police officer arrested a man with a knee on the suspect’s neck while authorities tried to enforce a curfew on protests following Floyd’s death, which led to an internal investigation. The investigation found that the knee-to-neck behavior was random and did not cause injuries, Chief Skip Holbrook said at the time. The officer did not breach a policy and received refresher training.
David Travis Bland won the 2017 SC Press Association Judson Chapman Award for Community Journalism. He joined the state in 2018. He writes on crime, law enforcement, and the criminal justice system. He graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2010.
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