© 2024 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Akron police auditor challenges decision to clear officer of wrongdoing for body slam during arrest

Akron police auditor Anthony Finnell (right) discusses his review of a use-of-force incident from January 2024.
City of Akron
Akron police auditor Anthony Finnell (right) discusses his review of a use-of-force incident from January 2024.

Akron’s police auditor is challenging the Akron Police Department’s decision to clear an officer who body slammed and arrested a woman in her home earlier this year.

Anthony Finnell released a report Thursday morning disagreeing with the police department’s investigation of the January incident involving 24-year-old Dierra Fields in the city’s Kenmore neighborhood.

Officer Thomas Shoemaker’s use of force was “objectively reasonable” because Fields was resisting arrest, according to the district supervisor who investigated the incident to determine if proper procedures were followed.

But after reviewing body camera footage and other materials, Finnell said he disagrees.

“I did not concur with the assessment and review of the APD internal affairs unit,” Finnell told Akron's Citizens' Police Oversight Board Wednesday evening.

In an interview Thursday with Ideastream Public Media, Finnell said he doesn't think Fields resisted arrest.

“In fact, when she was standing there being placed in the handcuffs, she was not doing anything. She was standing there questioning, as anybody has a right to question," Finnell said.

Finnell is recommending that the department change its ruling from “objectively reasonable” to “not objectively reasonable” because Shoemaker did not use proper techniques to de-escalate the situation, he wrote in the report.

“Officer Shoemaker lost his patience with the situation and used force that was not justified against Dierra,” Finnell wrote. “Officer Shoemaker failed to use non-confrontational verbal skills, empathy, or active listening, but instead used the opposite, to include vulgar profanity during this incident. This was a source of the continued chaos throughout this incident.”

Signal Akron first reported on the Jan. 11 incidentin which the officer slammed Fields to the ground. That night, officers were called to a domestic violence dispute, according to Finnell’s report. Body camera footage shows people arguing and yelling at each other when officers arrived.

“I believe that the officer just lost patience with the situation. It didn’t really look like officers had control of the scene from the beginning,” Finnell said.

During the argument, Fields’ family members asked her to leave. She tried to leave and was told she’d be arrested if she did, according to Finnell’s report.

Shoemaker cursed at Fields and at one point pushed her onto the sofa as she yelled and asked why she was being arrested, Finnell said.

Shoemaker eventually began to handcuff her. Fields “talked back” to the officer and asked if she could instead be detained outside where her kids were, Finnell said.

Fields lifted her left wrist and Shoemaker then “grabbed both of her arms, lifted her up and threw her face first towards the ground in an abrupt and aggressive manner,” Finnell wrote in his report.

Akron’s policies state officers should focus on the aggressor and de-escalation when responding to incidents of domestic violence, Finnell added. In this case, Fields was not the aggressor, Finnell wrote. She told officers that her father pushed her out of the house while she was calling 911.

Bodycam “footage clearly shows that Dierra was not the primary aggressor. She simply wanted to remove herself, and her two young children, from that environment,” Finnell wrote.

Finnell added that proper de-escalation would have prevented the use of force.

“That’s why the police are called to domestic situations, is to regain control of the situation or determine if there’s a crime that’s been committed and affect an arrest" Finnell said. "I just don’t believe the force was necessary.”

Fields was eventually charged with resisting arrest and obstructing official business, according to Akron Municipal Court records. Finnell doesn't think the charges are valid, he said.

Finnell and the CPOB are requesting that the department change the ruling to “not objectively reasonable” and investigate Shoemaker and another responding officer, Timothy Shmigal, for violating procedures, including failing to report a second use of force - when Shoemaker pushed Fields onto the couch.

Finnell is nearly one month into the job. He is responsible for reviewing complaints into police misconduct and use-of-force incidents after internal investigations have concluded.

Updated: April 18, 2024 at 4:21 PM EDT
This story has been updated to add comments from an interview with Anthony Finnell.
Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.