SC officer fired after body cam video shows confrontation

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A South Carolina police department on Thursday announced the firing of an officer involved in the arrests of two brothers last month that prompted several days of protests after Facebook video showed police wrestling and throwing punches at the men.

Jonathan Moreno, the now-fired investigator with the Rock Hill Police Department, also has been charged with misdemeanor assault and battery, Solicitor Kevin Brackett said at a news conference.

City officials previously said police conducting a drug investigation on June 23 had pulled over one of the men after he made an illegal turn, and the man called his brother to say he was stopped at a gas station. Police said the driver tried to run when officers removed his handcuffs so he could take off some jewelry, and his brother bumped officers and refused to move back when ordered.

However, Brackett said Thursday that an investigation and review of newly released body camera footage show Moreno confronted the brother, who was standing near officers to receive the jewelry, and proceeded to push and eventually force him to the ground while other officers tried to get Moreno’s attention.

“By laying hands on him without legal cause, (Moreno) broke the law,” Brackett said.

The body camera footage released by police Thursday added more detail to the incident, which was also documented by a bystander in a Facebook video showing officers wrestling with both men and forcing them to the ground. That video led to three days of protests outside the city’s police station, where demonstrators blocked several nearby streets.

“You ain’t pushing up on me,” Moreno can be heard yelling in the body camera video as he shoves the man to the ground. “Stop crying,” Moreno says later while handcuffing the man.

Moreno himself appeared at the news conference to apologize to the man before leaving to be booked into the detention center.

“I’m here to be held accountable for my actions,” Moreno said. “I hope the community will accept my apology.”

Rock Hill city solicitor Chisa Putman said she was also dropping the hindering police charges against the man Moreno confronted.

Rock Hill police Chief Chris Watts defended a different officer who struck the driver twice in the thigh before punching him in the face, saying the officer’s actions were within the department’s use of force policy as the driver was fighting officers with a loose handcuff.

A police dog brought out by another officer at the scene also fell under the use of force policy, Watts said, though the dog — which did not bite anyone — was “not the best option.”

A lawyer for the brothers said Moreno, who was searching the driver’s car during the June 23 stop, is no longer reliable as the officer listed on warrants for the two men. The driver still faces charges related to the incident.

Attorney Justin Bamberg called on authorities to drop those charges, financially compensate the men and make policy changes in the Police Department.

Liu is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.