People react to video released of officer acquitted of assaulting teen

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY ) — The 2014 video that led to the assault trial of Wilmington police officer James Coley Johnson was released Friday after the officer was found not guilty by a judge.

In the video you can see Cpl. Johnson grabbing Tyrell Rivers, who was 16 at the time and handcuffed in the back of the police car.

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Officers later found heroin and marijuana on Rivers. He admitted in court to being a drug dealer. Rivers has been charged with felonies including drug trafficking and possession of a firearm.

The teen’s 2014 arrest escalated when he began kicking the inside of the police car. Rivers and Cpl. Johnson were yelling and cursing at one another during the incident.

“Keep busting my door, I’m going to break your head open, you hear me?” Johnson said. “Do you wanna die in my backseat? Stop.”



Rivers repeatedly called Johnson derogatory names and said curse words.

Stafford Brister, a retired Wilmington Police Officer, said he was there throughout Johnson’s trial because he has been through a similar situation.

“The facts are the facts, and justice prevailed,” Brister said.

Three years ago Brister was a Wilmington police officer, who was cleared of any wrongdoing for a police chase that ended with his K9 biting and hurting a suspect. He said even though he wasn’t indicted, he is still feeling the effects of the media attention and case today.

“It impacts your whole life,” Brister said. “Coley did his job. He arrested the heroin dealer.”

But people on the street who watched the video don’t agree with the job Johnson did.

“He did a crime, but you don’t have to overdo it like that,” Theo Packer said.

“It just makes me sick,” Sophia Schneider said. “It makes me want to cry to treat a human being like that because you have this power. You’re supposed to be the people who protect us.”

Brister said he wants to people to understand that the criminals aren’t the police. The criminals are the criminals.

“We’re starting to victimize gangbangers, drug dealers, robbery suspects, violent felons. We’re victimizing them and making villains out of the police officers,” Brister said.

We reached to the New Hanover County District Attorney’s Office, and they declined to comment.

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