Rock Hill Officer Fired, Charged With Assault After Bodycam Video Released
A Rock Hill police officer has been fired and charged with third-degree assault and battery. Charges have also been dropped against one of two men involved in the physical struggle with police that was caught on a Facebook Live video two weeks ago, York County officials announced Thursday.
Officer Jonathan Moreno spoke at a news conference Thursday just before he was officially charged with assaulting Travis Price, who had arrived at a gas station where his brother, Ricky, was in the process of being arrested on June 23.
“I just wish my emotions didn’t get the best of me,” Moreno said, reading a prepared statement. “My choice of words do not define my character. I sincerely apologize for what you have experienced. What occurred is out of my character.”
Moreno did not take questions.
York County Solicitor Kevin Brackett showed four separate videos combined and synced into one frame Thursday – the Facebook Live video that has drawn more than 127,000 views thus far, a gas station surveillance video, and two body camera videos from Rock Hill police officers.
The videos all showed different angles of a single event: Rock Hill police had pulled over Ricky Price on Willowbrook Avenue in June, after he made an illegal turn and changed lanes unlawfully.
Police say a search of Ricky Price's car turned up two bags of marijuana and an illegal handgun. Officers say they had handcuffed Ricky Price when his brother, Travis, arrived on the scene. Price was there to collect jewelry from his brother, police said.
The video shows Travis Price approach Moreno, who had been searching Ricky Price’s car. Moreno, Brackett said, was not aware that Travis Price had been asked to come to the scene, and confronted him – leading to a physical skirmish where Moreno can be heard yelling, “You wanna fight?”
“You ain’t pushing up on me,” Moreno can be heard yelling in the body camera video as he shoves the man to the ground. “Stop crying,” Moreno says later while handcuffing the man.
“By laying hands on him without legal cause, (Moreno) broke the law,” Brackett said.
Originally, police said Travis Price had used his body to "bump" officers and did not comply with orders to move away from the scene. When told he was under arrest for interfering and physically contacting officers, Travis Price refused to place his hands behind his back and shoved an officer, leading to the scuffle, according to the police account.
Price was charged with hindering police, but those charges have now been dropped.
Rock Hill Police Chief Chris Watts said Moreno’s actions went against department policy to attempt to de-escalate situations.
“In fact, he escalated the situation,” Watts said. “Investigator Moreno’s actions were not in accordance with the police department’s values or expectations.”
Watts defended a different officer who struck Ricky Price twice in the thigh before punching him in the face, saying the officer's actions were within the department's use of force policy as the driver was fighting officers with a loose handcuff. His drug charges and unlawful possession of a firearm remain.
A police dog brought out by another officer at the scene also fell under the use of force policy, Watts said, though the dog — which did not bite anyone — was “not the best option.”
Asked if such attention would have been drawn to an arrest had it not been captured on video by a bystander, Brackett said, “I never, ever have said I wish I had less evidence. Obviously, the more evidence I have, the better my decision is going to be.”
View three police bodycam videos released by Rock Hill police below:
The Associated Press contributed to this story.