Minute by minute: Anatomy of a use of force incident

Image 1 of 4

In evaluating the video from the Ramsey County Jail incident, the FOX 9 Investigators enlisted the help of three nationally recognized use of force experts whose experience includes law enforcement, scholarly research, and providing expert testimony at trials. Other experts were consulted who spoke to the FOX 9 Investigators on background.  

A retired Senior Detective Supervisor with the Los Angeles Police Department, Williams who worked in the Robbery-Homicide Division. During his nearly 30-year career with the LAPD he worked and supervised robbery, sexual assault, and narcotics investigations. He testifies frequently in use of force cases across the country. 

Executive Director of the Crime and Justice Institute in Boston. CJI provides nonpartisan policy analysis, consulting and research on public safety issues. CJI also evaluates case studies in the use of force. Cole has worked in two police agencies as a community liaison/policy advisor and served as Chief of Staff at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety. 

An Associate Professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law. Stoughton’s research focuses on the regulation of police and he has written for a number of national publications. He is a former officer with the Tallahassee Police Department.


What follows is an analysis of the April 13, 2016 video from the sally port of the Ramsey County Jail. The video is shot by a deputy with a small video camera. This is standard operating procedure when a combative inmate is brought in for booking. The St. Paul Police Officers who arrested Terrell Wilson had radioed ahead to the jail that Wilson was combative and spitting. Wilson had been pepper sprayed by officers during his arrest.  

0:00-1:30 Extraction From Squad Car

In the background you can hear St. Paul police explain that it took 5 to 10 minutes to get Terrell Wilson into the squad after his arrest.  

Ramsey County Corrections Officer Travis Vandewiele is heard asking Wilson to get out of the squad car. Wilson is complaining about his ability to breathe from the pepper spray, and the condition of his legs from being dragged across a parking lot and into the squad during his arrest. Vandewiele said to Wilson: “You can either step out, or I’m going to drag you out. That is your option.”  

But Vandewiele also appears frustrated by the inaction of his fellow officers. “Don’t be afraid to step in here, guys,” said Vandewiele.  

1:30-2:30 From the Floor to the Transport Chair

Wilson leaves the squad feet first and collapses on the ground. To the experts, it is unclear whether Wilson is unable to stand because he is injured or whether he is passively resisting, by "going limp." Officer Vandewiele tells Wilson, “If you don’t get up I’m going to drag you.”  

A spit guard is placed on Wilson. But the experts point out that at no time does Wilson appear to be spitting in the direction of the officers. The experts believe he is simply spitting out the pepper spray.  

2:30-3:00 “Sit back in the chair!”

Wilson is told repeatedly to sit back in the chair, but the experts say this would be extremely difficult with his hands handcuffed behind his back.  

“If you ever had the experience of being handcuffed behind your back, it’s extremely hard to sit up,” said Tim Williams, a former Senior Detective Supervisor with the Los Angeles Police Department. 

“You have three or four people doing three or four different things, wanted him to do something he can’t do and therefore you are not getting the task done,” said Williams. 

In separate incident reports written by the Ramsey County corrections officers, they will write that they were unfamiliar with the transport chair Wilson was placed in, especially how the leg straps work. The officers say the transport chair is much less stable than another device they use called a restraint chair. 

A supervisor is heard to say: “If he doesn’t sit back, use pain compliance on him.”

But the experts note that at no time does Wilson seem to be resisting during the process by kicking, or bucking. The officers, the experts say, seem to be reacting to their own frustration in how to use the transport chair. 

3:00-4:00 “You Ain’t Seen Excessive Force…”

The experts say this is the minute where the officers appear to be working at cross-purposes in applying pressure points and so-called "pain compliance."  

Officer Vandewiele is pushing up on a pressure point behind Wilson’s jaw known as the “mandibular angle.” But Wilson’s natural physical response is to raise his hips out of the chair, the exact opposite of the intended response. To make matters worse, the officers seem unaware of the impact of their separate actions.  

“You will see one deputy who is pushing the subject in one direction and another pushing in another direction,” said Seth Stoughton, a professor at the University of South Carolina Law School and a former Tallahassee Police Officer.  

“It can give the deputies a perception of resistance when there is not any actual resistance,” said Stoughton.

Vandewiele will deliver two knee strikes to the Wilson’s abdomen. Wilson will scream profanities at the officers and accuse them of excessive force. In response, Vandewiele said: “You ain’t seen excessive force yet.”  Vandewiele then delivers four closed fist strikes to Wilson’s abdomen. 

“This wasn’t pain compliance trying to get someone under control,” said Christine Cole, Executive Director of the Crime and Justice Institute in Boston. “This was violence perpetrated by a police deputy.”

Cole believes the corrections officers are responding to Wilson’s cursing, more than any actual physical resistance resistance they may be encountering.

“I don’t understand how the response could be reasonable, necessary, or justified,” said Cole.  

The experts said it is also concerning that the other officers, or a supervisor, did not intervene and pull Vandewiele back when it appeared he had lost control of his emotions.

“None of them said, ‘Cool it. We got this.’ It’s speculative, but I have to wonder if this is SOP (Standard Operating Procedure),” said Cole.  

“This was a lose-lose proposition all the way around,” said Williams, the former LAPD Detective, who believes the lack of response from other officers indicates this may be ‘business as usual’ at the Ramsey County Jail.

“They have gone off the skids and they are doing what they normally do when they have arrestees that come in. You come to my house and this is what we are going to do,” said Williams. 

4:00-5:30 “Please don’t kill me.”

Wilson said, “Please don’t kill me. Please don’t kill me. I’m sorry.” But the most harrowing part is still to come.  

Vandewiele is seen forcing Wilson’s head down to his knees, while wearing a spit guard, and still recovering from the effects of pepper spray.

“All those things can potentially inhibit someone’s breathing,” said Stoughton. 

They said it was a recipe for "positional asphyxiation," when a suspect can suffocate and die.  

“There are things you can’t do in law enforcement because people have died, and this is one of them,” said Williams. 

They experts said it was natural for Wilson to resist and push back, because he likely felt like he was suffocating.

“I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe,” screams Wilson, who can be heard weeping, snorting, and begging the officers to stop. 

The corrections officers and deputies are still struggling with the straps to the transport chair. 

5:30-13:30 “God won’t let me die.”

“God won’t let me die,” Wilson can be heard saying. “God will not let me die.”

Blood has now appeared on Wilson’s spit guard. It is unclear where the blood is coming from. It appears Wilson may be slipping in and out of consciousness. 

Finally strapped into the transport chair, Wilson is taken out of the sally port, down a hallway, to a solitary holding cell.  

Before entering the cell, Wilson is moved into a different kind of chair, a restraint chair.  

Wilson is still handcuffed, and he complains that his hand is broken. He is also complaining about his knees, which appear to have abrasions. 

“All you have to do is be cooperative and nothing will be done to you,” an officer said. “Nothing at all.”

Wilson is placed into a cell, and the spit mask is removed. As the door closes, a corrections officer said, “When he is cooperative enough, we’ll get the nurse to check on him.”  

The experts point out that Wilson was completely compliant by this point. The experts said a nurse should have been called the moment Wilson complained of shortness of breath, 13 minutes earlier.