OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma police officer who appeared in court Monday to face criminal charges for hitting a man with the butt end of a shotgun during a June arrest was previously accused of using excessive force on a jail inmate.
Prosecutors allege Owasso Police Lt. Michael Dwain Denton 49, used a shotgun to beat 25-year-old Cody Mathews "without justifiable or excusable cause" after Mathews was stopped June 14 following a police pursuit that spanned two counties. The arrest was captured by a dashboard-mounted camera in Denton's squad car.
Denton's attorney, Patrick Hunt, acknowledged his client used a shotgun to help subdue Mathews but said the use of force was justifiable.
It's not the first time Denton has been accused of using excessive force. The veteran police officer was fired in 2011 for allegedly using excessive force on someone in custody, but he was later reinstated by an arbitrator. Video from that case shows Denton stepped on a jail inmate's head and struck him in the face with his elbow or back of his arm three times, according to court records.
Denton appeared with his attorney in a Nowata County courtroom Monday on a felony charge of assault and battery with a deadly weapon and a misdemeanor count of reckless conduct with a firearm. Denton was then booked into the Nowata County Jail and released on $5,000 bond.
The use of the shotgun to beat Mathews created "a situation of unreasonable risk and probability of death or great bodily harm" to both Mathews and another officer involved in the arrest, according to the charges filed by Nowata County prosecutors on Friday.
Denton's attorney, Patrick Hunt, said Mathews was armed with a knife.
Denton "certainly hit him, but that's not assault when a police officer has a good reason that the fellow is dangerous and needs to be handcuffed," Hunt said. "He was using reasonable force in the scope of his duty."
If convicted of assault and battery with a deadly weapon, Denton faces up to life in prison.
He has been suspended with pay since June while the Owasso Police Department investigates whether he violated its use-of-force policy, said Deputy Chief Jason Woodruff.
As for the previous excessive force allegation, the court record states that Denton said "he struck the arrestee because he believed the arrestee was going to spit on him."
Denton challenged his firing, and an arbitrator found that because there was no evidence of an injury, a written reprimand was the appropriate level of discipline. The arbitrator's ruling was upheld last year by the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals, and Denton was reinstated.
Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy