The city police chief said Friday that he has asked the FBI to investigate possible federal civil rights violations by two officers who face state charges in the beating death of a 34-year-old man.
Chief Billy Riggs said he requested that the Justice Department look into the case because of the lack of witnesses. He also said it was necessary because the officers had decided not to speak publicly on the incident.
Undercover officers Stephen Lee Rollins, 35, and Glen Thurlow, 34, were indicted Thursday on charges of second-degree murder and aggravated battery in the Nov. 24 slaying of Robert Russell Jewett, a 5-foot-7, 170-pound plasterer who suffered a crushed Adam’s apple, nine broken ribs and ruptured testicles.
The incident has attracted greater scrutiny in the wake of the videotaped beating of unarmed motorist Rodney G. King by Los Angeles police officers.
Thurlow and Rollins surrendered and were released from Palm Beach County Jail on $10,000 bond about an hour after the grand jury decision. Both officers, who had been on leave with pay since the incident, were suspended without pay Friday, Riggs said.
Defense attorneys Scott Richardson and Barry Krischer also held a news conference Friday to give the first public account of what happened when they stopped Jewett on his way home from McDonald’s. The officers did not attend the briefing.
Thurlow and Rollins were wearing T-shirts and jeans and were in a Cadillac when they stopped Jewett on South Dixie Highway in front of the building housing the Palm Beach Post newspaper.
The attorneys said the officers stopped Jewett to find out whether he was drunk or drug-impaired because he was walking in the middle of the street. An autopsy showed that Jewett had cocaine in his system.
When the officers got close, Jewett began hitchhiking and started to get in the back of their car, the attorney said.
They ordered him to get out or be cited for illegal hitchhiking and he started to reach in his pocket, said Scott Richardson, who represents Thurlow.
“Rollins pulled his hand out of his pocket twice and the guy turned around and hit Rollins. Thurlow got out of the car to help and he grabbed Jewett and pulled him back and all three of them went tumbling,” Richardson said.
The one witness, a Post employee, said Jewett did not appear to be threatening the officers.