It all started out as a joke, or at least that’s what Lavonte Douglas said while recounting the events that led to campus police pepper spraying, and later arresting him.
Douglas, a power forward on the basketball team from 2010-2012, was arrested on Feb. 27 in Blum Union, and was later taken to the St. Joseph Police Department by campus police for booking. He was subsequently charged with obstruction and assaulting a law enforcement officer.
The Missouri Western case report stated that at 3:10 p.m. campus police approached Douglas and his friend for causing a disturbance in Blum’s lobby.
Prior to that contact, Douglas said he was “just playing around” when he swiped a friend’s earmuffs after she had jokingly stolen his phone. During this exchange Douglas and his friend were approached by Cpl. Robert Bidding. Douglas’ friend was told by Bidding to ‘watch the vulgar language,’ and Douglas suggested he and his friend leave.
“We walked over towards the bathroom area, and then I was messing with her to get my phone back,” Douglas said. “I had her earmuffs so we was just going back and forth and then I finally gave her her stuff and she walked towards the exit and I was walking going into the food court.”
Bidding then asked Douglas to identify his friend, but he refused. When asked by Bidding for his Missouri Western ID, Douglas failed to comply. According to the Western Student Handbook, students must present and surrender their ID upon the request of a university official.
Douglas entered the food court, followed by Bidding and Officer Travis Fulton who, according to Douglas, had been radioed by Bidding for back up. Douglas said he has had negative interactions with Fulton during the past year.
“So I’m walking and his partner [Fulton], I just see him running up to the door with a real foul look, so I just went the other way and walked the other way,” Douglas said. “He came bossing in all real tough like, like he was going to do something, so then I put my hands up.”
Douglas, who has long, dreaded hair, said Fulton first grabbed him by his sweater and then his hair. The situation escalated from there.
“That’s when I spinned this way to get him off of me and he fell… that’s when he started to mace me,” Douglas said. “So as I was turning away from him I see the other officer pulling his Mace out so I turned again and I ran out of there and I ran upstairs to Judy Grimes.”
Chief of Police Jon Kelley and members of the administration, including Grimes, Cale Fessler, Kurt McGuffin, and President Robert Vartabedian, all declined to comment while the case remains under investigation.
Synthia Tunnell, a student in the food court at the time of the incident, shared her account.
“When they went to grabbing at him he threw his hands up and kind of bounced back a little bit like he didn’t want to be touched, and he looked really surprised that they were trying to grab at him,” Tunnell said.
Tunnell said the officers unsuccessfully tried to lower Douglas to the ground, and that’s when the officers tried to pepper spray Douglas.
“I don’t know if he pushed the officer or the officer was knocked down into one of the booths, but from my perspective he was not trying to harm the officers; he was just trying to get away from them,” Tunnell said.
Louis Erby, another student present during the incident, said Douglas reacted “as anyone would when someone attacks you for no reason.”
“When the officer grabbed him, Lavonte put his hands up,” Erby said. “His hands went in the air and the officer couldn’t put him down after he was grabbing around his neck, and then that’s when I believe he kind of was weaving around trying to get out of the choke hold he was in, and then after he got free he stood there. He didn’t try to run away. He didn’t try to flee or anything until the police officers sprayed the Mace.”
Erby added the police officer lost balance when trying to detain Douglas and fell into a booth in the food court.
According to Douglas, after running out of the food court, he went upstairs to Student Affairs to speak with Grimes. There, he was arrested. At the time of his arrest, Douglas said it was unclear why he was being detained.
Campus police have security footage of the incident, which was given to the administration. The campus police denied a Griffon News request for the footage because the case remains under investigation.
According to the St. Joseph Police Department Douglas was booked at 4:15 p.m., and was held until he was released on bond at 8:05 p.m. His preliminary hearing is set for April.
Douglas is a senior majoring in sport and recreation management, attending Western on a fifth-year athletic scholarship. He was a 2011-2012 MIAA all-confrence selection, and averaged 13.6 points per game and 8.1 rebounds per game during that season.