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Black councilman tased by police in city where Sandra Bland was arrested

Black councilman tased by police in city where Sandra Bland was arrested
Prairie View police released the body camera video of the arrest of City Councilman Jonathan Miller. Warning: Video contains objectionable langauge. (Youtube)

A 26-year-old African American City Council member was tased and arrested in Prairie View, Texas, prompting the mayor to convene a special City Council meeting with the police chief in the same college town where Sandra Bland's arrest and jail-cell death ignited national controversy.

The meeting was called Monday after council members demanded more information about the incident, including an explanation of body camera video that shows police confronting Councilman Jonathan Miller.

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One witness said Miller was tased while he was on his knees with his hands at his side.

The encounter began when police stopped to question several of Miller's fraternity brothers gathered outside his house Thursday. When Miller attempted to intervene, police ordered him to step back, then tased and arrested him for reportedly interfering with police duties and resisting arrest.

A grainy body camera video released by police shows Miller calmly talking to the officers, explaining that his friends had come to celebrate homecoming at Prairie View A&M University, their alma mater.

As the confrontation escalated, one of the officers' body cameras fell off. But the zap of the taser and Miller's pained scream were captured. Police released images from a second officer's body camera showing the end of the encounter.

The incident has drawn national attention, coming only three months after the July arrest of Sandra Bland.

Bland, 28, also African American and a Prairie View graduate, was pulled over by a state trooper for failing to signal a lane change. The two argued and she was arrested and jailed. Days later, she was found dead in her cell, hanged with a plastic bag in what was later ruled a suicide.

Bland's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in August against state and county law enforcement officials after the case sparked questions about racial profiling, police use of force and the circumstances surrounding the death of a woman who had taken to social media to protest police brutality as part of the "Black Lives Matter" movement.

Prairie View Mayor Frank Jackson announced Monday that he would convene a special City Council meeting at 12:45 p.m. Thursday for the police chief to update council members about Miller's case.

They had just done community service and two hours later he's being tased in the back. I have some definite concerns about that.


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Council Member Marie Herndon, who picked Miller up from jail, his shirt bloodied from the taser, said police had failed to brief the council about the incident, share videos and other evidence.

"The entire council wants to see all of the footage. Don't give me part of it. If we keep things transparent, then we can have the citizens' and the community's trust," Herndon told The Times on Monday. She said Miller has supported local police, recently voting to give them a raise and volunteering with friends to clean up a local subdivision the day he was arrested.

"They had just done community service and two hours later he's being tased in the back," Herndon said, "I have some definite concerns about that."

She was hopeful Thursday's meeting would yield more information.

"I think there will be enough residents there to demand answers," she said.

Miller, a native of Pittsburg, Calif., appeared at the mayor's briefing Monday and spoke out in his own defense.

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"I don't feel like I did any of the things that I'm accused of," Miller told NBC News, saying he approached the officers to "lessen the tension."

"I don't feel like I should have been detained, or you know, arrested or anything," he said.

Prairie View Police Chief Larry Johnson, who is African American, announced Monday that he had turned the case over to the Waller County District Attorney's office. Johnson did not return calls Monday. Mayor Jackson, who is also African American, also could not be reached.

Police have posted the officers' body camera video on YouTube.

In the first video, a female African American officer can be seen pulling up outside Miller's house to question several black men, Miller's fraternity brothers.  They were practicing a step dance routine after staging a volunteer cleanup at a neighboring subdivision.

"There's been drug activity, little girls and little guys in the car doing whatever, so when we see this, we come investigate," Officer Penny Goodie can be heard telling the group.

Miller appeared and tried to explain, saying the men had been at his house.

"I don't know that pulling up," the officer said.

"OK, that's fine, I'm not trying to be combative or anything," Miller responded.

"I'm not either," the officer said.

His friend then told the officer that Miller was a City Council member.

"I know who he is," she said.

A second officer, Michael Kelly, who is white, then told Miller to step away.

"Go over there before you go to jail for interfering," Kelly said.

Miller stepped back, but apparently not far enough.

"Go back there to the end, man. You always starting problems, so go back over there," Kelly said.

"I live here," Miller muttered.

"I'm gonna tell you one more time to go back over there and get out of this scene before you go to jail for interfering," Kelly said, then stepped toward Miller, reaching out.

Miller retreated.

"I'm not saying nothing, get your hands off me! I'm not saying nothing!" he said.

Goodie then told Miller to "quit resisting," but added, "Don't tase him," as the officer grappled with Miller.

Then she appeared to change her mind.

"He's going to have to tase you, you're not doing like you're supposed to do," she concluded, and the taser can be heard zapping Miller.

The second body camera captured what happened next, as Miller yelped in pain.

"What's the issue? What did I do?" Miller can be heard shouting.

"You were not following the instructions the officer gave you," Goodie said, noting, "Even your frat brothers told you not to get involved."

But Miller's friend Brandon Wilson, who shot a separate video posted on KTRK, said his friend was not resisting police.

"Usually I would think if you're tasing somebody, it's somebody that's running from the cops, somebody that's trying to inflict harm on somebody, not somebody that's on their knees with their arms by their sides," he told KHOU.

Wilson and the other men police had stopped to question were not arrested.

The police chief has said they are investigating whether the officers involved, who have remained on duty, did anything wrong.

Miller and his supporters say police overreacted.

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"I feel like it escalated to a situation where I was tased and it shouldn't have come that far," Miller, who graduated from Prairie View last year and has been teaching at local public schools (the City Council job is unpaid), told CBS after he was released from jail on his own recognizance.

Miller's arrest upset many already angered by Bland's death in custody.

Among those leading protests outside the sheriff's office since Bland's death has been the Rev. Hannah Bonner of Houston's St. John's United Methodist church. She called Miller's arrest "a sign that law enforcement is continuing in a pattern that led to the Sandra Bland unjust arrest."

"It is sad to see that the pattern has not changed," Bonner told The Times as she headed to a protest outside the Texas Department of Public Safety headquarters in Austin on Monday, "And that is why we are continuing to demand a Department of Justice investigation" into Bland's case.

She recently visited Washington with Bland's mother and other families who suffered police brutality, and said the Justice Department has yet to respond to their pleas.

"We are dealing with an issue of police policing police. People just want answers they can be confident in, and we're being asked to trust them," Bonner said.

She called Miller "a gentle, compassionate man who has a great reputation in the community" and said it was "very upsetting to see him treated that way."

Herndon, the City Council member who helped Miller home from jail, said he was "kind of traumatized because he's never been in trouble, never been in jail – the man works hard for the city of Prairie View. He's very interested in moving the city forward and is one of the hardest working members of the City Council."

She said the videos posted online appeared to exonerate Miller.

"He wasn't trying to flee, he wasn't trying to do anything. He was on his knees with his hands to his side and they tased him. And they knew him, both of them knew that he was a City Council member. He wasn't being belligerent."

She said Miller's arrest was "unnecessary and uncalled for."

Herndon said Miller was back at work this week and had no intention of leaving office.
"He's not discouraged," she said. "He told me he's going to keep trying and do the best he can to work for this city."

Follow @mollyhf on Twitter for national news.

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