ROCK HILL, S.C. — A jury has found former Rock Hill police officer Jonathan Moreno not guilty of misdemeanor assault and battery after a full day of deliberations. Moreno was caught on video making a violent arrest last June.
Wednesday afternoon, the jury announced they had failed to come to an agreement, prompting the judge to ask the jury to continue deliberating. Hours later, the jury announced they found Moreno not guilty.
The jury had previously returned to the courtroom around 2:30 p.m. with a question about the charge. The jury asked, "how do you define when a suspect is considered under control?" Magistrate Judge Michael Scurlock told the jury that was not for them to consider and read the statute and how it should be applied before they returned to deliberate.
Following the verdict, Justin Bamberg, attorney for Travis Price, released the following statement:
"While Travis Price is disappointed by this verdict, he respects the jury process. We appreciate the efforts of Kevin Brackett and the Solicitor's office but we are concerned about many things that came to light during trial.
Former Rock Hill police officer Jonathan Moreno admitted the official police report and use of force report were mostly inaccurate. Everyone testified that Travis was innocent, and that nobody escalated the situation that day aside from law enforcement. Given the high-profile nature of this incident, we can only imagine what might happen on a day-to-day basis with the Rock Hill Police Department regarding the truthfulness of their reports and record keeping.
Our concern is that other citizens don't suffer the same mistreatment that Travis Price endured. We will continue to fight for those who have been wrongly accused or subjected to excessive force and will push back against this department and any other who attempts to take advantage of those they are entrusted to protect and serve.
We will continue to fight for Mr. Price through our civil action against the Rock Hill Police Dept. and Congressman Ralph Norman. With clear testimony that nothing that was said about Travis was true, we wonder how much longer it will take for them to do the right thing.”
Some community activist also expressed their disappointment in the not guilty verdict saying this case highlights a continuing problem in America -- the division between Black and white.
“For me, the jury decided not on the law in my opinion, but decided the case do we reward a Black man or a white-looking man," Norma Gray with Get Clear Social Justice said.
On the other hand, Moreno's defense attorneys say they believe the right decision was made.
‘We’re relieved and glad that both sides got the opportunity to tell their side and we’re just very fortunate and want to thank the jury," attorney Creighton Coleman said.
Moreno was fired for his confrontation with Travis Price and later charged with misdemeanor assault and battery.
Moreno's defense and the prosecution each offered remarks for the record before jurors left the courtroom Wednesday. The jury began deliberation Wednesday morning on whether Moreno committed his own crimes during the incident.
Prosecutors argued that Moreno broke the law when he arrested Price, who was just standing by officers getting some of his brother's belongings. This happened after drugs were found in Ricky Price's possession during a traffic stop. The original charge against Price, which stemmed from his arrest by Moreno, was dismissed last July, and the City of Rock Hill apologized to him despite a later statement in October that called Price "negligent."
On Monday, Travis Price testified that he had officers' permission to get those items when he was assaulted by Moreno. The incident led to unrest, protests and riots in Rock Hill. Price filed a lawsuit against the city in July.
Moreno and Kevin Brackett, the solicitor for the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit, argued over whether Price, who was unarmed, posed a threat to Moreno during the incident. Moreno also claimed that Brackett forced him to publicly apologize due to concerns of riots and the safety of his fellow officers.
“I de-escalated with my words and obviously with my empty hands," Moreno said in the courtroom on Tuesday, "That was just a choice I had. I didn’t decide to grab a weapon or anything like that.”
In closing, the defense and prosecution each made their final points to the jury as they prepare for deliberation.
"How hard would it be? How hard would it be to simply walk up and say, 'sir, you need to stand back?" Brackett said.
Moreno's defense argued that the prosecution was misrepresenting the situation the former office found himself in when the arrest took place.
"And to come in here and say that this was some calm scene, where everybody should've had a moment to take and deliberate, is disingenuous and it's not true," Paul Reeves, Moreno's defense attorney, said. "And it's to lead you to a false conclusion."
Flashpoint is a weekly in-depth look at politics in Charlotte, North Carolina, South Carolina, and beyond with host Ben Thompson. Listen to the podcast weekly.
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