Brandon Skinner needs round-the-clock care for a brain injury that he claims came at the hands of an overly aggressive Columbia Heights police sergeant early this month.
Sgt. Matt Markham, in his report on the incident, said that Skinner was drunk and belligerent, and that when a cuffed Skinner tried to grab Markham's hands, the sergeant pulled him to the ground, with Skinner's head striking the street and knocking him unconscious.
Skinner's version disputes the police reports. He said that Markham, nearly twice his weight, picked him up and body-slammed him, causing the head trauma. Police waited at least 15 minutes before calling an ambulance, said Skinner's fiancée, Jennifer Seelig. Toxicology tests at the hospital showed no drugs or alcohol in his system, the couple said.
Skinner, 27, was in a coma for nearly a day, and doctors will have to wait six months to know the extent of his brain damage.
The couple, who planned to be married this month, have filed a complaint with the police department, and the department is investigating. Chief Scott Nadeau wouldn't comment on the case, as is standard with a pending inquiry, but he said Markham has no disciplinary history and is one of his best supervisors.
Nadeau said his department takes excessive force complaints seriously and has called Seelig and Skinner to get their statements.
Markham will remain on duty during the investigation. The sergeant, a member of the department since 1998, had one complaint filed against him, but it wasn't sustained, Nadeau said.
The chain of events that brought Markham and Skinner together started early Aug. 2 when Markham spotted a pickup truck that he knew had a felony warrant, according to his report. He was following the vehicle, being driven by a white female, when he noticed a commotion in a yard on the 4200 block of NE. Quincy Street about 2 a.m. The driver was Seelig, who parked near the yard. She said that Markham did not confront her about the warrant and that one doesn't exist.
According to Markham's report, he found Skinner wrestling with a good friend, whose yard it was. They told the officer that they were fine and that they planned to go to sleep. Markham entered the house, saying Skinner was very intoxicated and now yelling and swearing at everybody, according to his report.
In their interview with the Star Tribune, Seelig said that her fiancé was calm and that Markham exaggerated what happened. Skinner said he'd had a couple of beers but wasn't drunk.
Skinner "whipped" open a bottle of pop, splashing some on Markham's uniform, the officer's report said. Skinner was arrested, and Markham said he was belligerent and combative when searched by another officer. Seelig said she was right behind Skinner as Markham took him to the squad car because he had a broken foot and she wanted to put on his soft cast to help him walk.
At the squad car, Markham's report said, Skinner repeatedly swore at him as the sergeant bent him over the trunk. When the sergeant asked another officer to get an instrument to test Skinner's blood-alcohol level, Skinner squeezed and bent Markham's fingers and pushed off the car, the report said. Skinner denied he resisted arrest but said he did swear at Markham and questioned what he was doing.
"I told Skinner to get down as I pulled him by his arms to get him off balance and put him on the ground," Markham said in his report.
Skinner lost his balance and went down faster than anticipated, the report continued. Markham wasn't able to slow down Skinner's weight, which caused his head to hit the street, it said.
Reports from two other officers on the scene backed up Markham's report.
Seelig took pictures with her cellphone, screaming at Markham to stop hurting her fiancé. Several neighbors called 911 after Skinner was lying in the street.
"I was hysterical and crying," Seelig said. "I was told by the other cops that Markham was just doing his job."
Taken to hospital
Skinner was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. A hospital label that he and Seelig showed the Star Tribune said "unidentified." Markham filled out a citation with Skinner's name dated Aug. 2, the night of the incident.
Seelig, meanwhile, was arrested and held in jail for 12 hours on suspicion of drug possession, but she was released without charges. Skinner remained hospitalized for a week.
Officers told doctors that Skinner was intoxicated and became combative during the arrest, according to a hospital report. Force was used and a fall caused his trauma, police said. Skinner's injuries were caused by an assault, doctors said in their report, and he was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury.
Skinner said that he has dealt with substance abuse problems in the past and has a few arrests but that he has been sober since January. What took place Aug. 2 is a real life-changer, he said.
"I just can't believe this turned out this way. I wasn't a physical threat," he said. "I want to see him lose his job."
Skinner worked as a welder before the incident, which left him with fractures in his neck and face and damage to his lower spine. Since then, he can't live on his own and has moved into his parents' home. He can't work or drive and has frequent dizzy and fainting spells. Seelig said he went for a walk last weekend and was found unconscious four hours later in a nearby park after she called police.
David Chanen • 612-673-4465