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Videotape shows motorist beaten after seeking refuge at police station

February 20, 1997

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ A police camera videotaped 10 seconds of officers beating an unarmed motorist _ an encounter that a witness said went on for three or four minutes as onlookers pleaded with them to stop.

Three Hartford police officers involved in the encounter have been taken off patrol while authorities investigate their treatment of James Wilson outside a suburban police station. Wilson had led police on a three-mile chase that began in Hartford when he refused an order to pull over.

Wilson’s attorney, Christopher Bromson, said his client didn’t stop because a family member had a terrifying run-in with Hartford police recently. He drove to suburban Bloomfield seeking safe haven, Bromson said.

A witness said Wednesday about a dozen officers watched the beating of Wilson.

``It was awful,″ said Patricia Davis, who works across the street from the Bloomfield Police Department. ``We kept begging them to stop. He was on his knees, defenseless, but they wouldn’t stop.″

Wilson, 37, of Southwick, Mass., was hospitalized overnight after Bloomfield police intervened and took him into custody Friday. He had facial and head cuts that required stitches and suffered a swollen right eye.

``My client thinks he was kicked in the face, but he doesn’t remember much after they began punching him,″ Bromson said.

Hartford Deputy Police Chief James O. Berry said he was upset by what he saw on the videotape, which was shot by a camera inside a Bloomfield police cruiser.

``There’s a serious question in my mind of whether excessive force was used,″ Berry said. The tape’s precise contents have not been made public.

Wilson was arrested on reckless driving and other charges. He was told to appear in court March 3.

Bromson said Wilson believed Hartford police have a reputation for being violent. Bromson said Wilson told him he has a history of traffic arrests but was never arrested on a criminal charge.

Police said they followed Wilson as he was driving through a neighborhood known for drug activity, and then chased him. Wilson said he was lost.

The videotape was turned over to prosecutors. Bloomfield Police Chief Richard Mulhall said his department was investigating whether the officers should be charged with a crime. The three Hartford officers were placed on restricted duty while an internal probe is conducted.

The incident recalled the 1991 Rodney King beating, in which white Los Angeles police were videotaped beating the black motorist. In this case, however, the motorist is white.

Andrew Nelson, a Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles spokesman, said Wilson’s Connecticut driver’s license was suspended in 1992 as a result of a drunken-driving arrest, and it was suspended at least two more times before it expired in 1995.

He was stopped again in Connecticut in December of last year and failed a breath-alcohol test, Nelson said. Connecticut authorities suspended his right to drive in their state after that, he said. Massachusetts authorities said they were unaware of the suspension.

Update hourly