Former Veterans Affairs police officer pleads guilty to excessive force

Nicholson faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison. A sentencing hearing is currently scheduled for June 24.

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Recorded on surveillance video assaulting a handcuffed veteran, a former police officer with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Bay Pines, Florida, recently pleaded guilty to one count of depriving an individual of his Fourth Amendment right to a reasonable search and seizure under the color of law and one count of knowingly making false entries in a report with the intent to obstruct an investigation within the jurisdiction of a federal agency.

At approximately 8 p.m. on June 15, 2018, a U.S. army veteran identified only as “B.H.” entered Bay Pines VA emergency department seeking treatment. Due to the fact that B.H. did not have an appointment, he was instructed to return the next day.

A few hours later, at approximately 12:57 a.m. on June 16, 2018, B.H. returned to the hospital. He was recorded on surveillance video checking in at the front desk before taking a seat in the waiting room.

A few minutes later, VA Police Officer Norman Nicholson approached B.H. and ordered him to leave. According to surveillance footage and the recent plea agreement, B.H. complied with Nicholson’s orders and exited the facility.

Surveillance videos recorded B.H. walking away from the hospital as Nicholson followed behind him on the sidewalk. Despite the fact that B.H. was leaving the premises as ordered, Nicholson arrested him three minutes later.

In doing so, Nicholson swung the veteran around, and placed both of the veteran’s hands behind his back. The veteran did not resist the arrest and moved his left arm behind his back on his own.

After B.H. was already handcuffed and in custody, Nicholson used his left hand to shove the veteran’s head against the fence. He then used his right hand to pull the veteran’s legs apart, causing him to fall face first into the fence and then to the ground.

Nicholson then forcefully grabbed the veteran from the ground, and lifted him up by his face. While lifting him up, Nicholson used his right hand to grab the veteran by his face and nose using what is often referred to as an “infraorbital move.”

According to Nicholson’s arrest report, B.H. was arrested for disorderly intoxication and resisting arrest. The veteran was detained at the Pinellas County Jail for approximately eight days. The state later dismissed all charges against B.H.

Nicholson authored two arrest affidavits and a police report in which he made numerous false statements regarding the incident. Specifically, Nicholson stated that the veteran “refused to leave the property…became resistant…pulled away…raised his hand in an aggressive posture…did not obey commands to stop resisting…resisted on the ground…and buckled his knees in an attempt to make himself dead weight.” According to the Justice Department, those statements were false, and were made with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence a matter that was within the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

In October 2019, Nicholson was charged with one count of making false records in a federal investigation and one count of depriving an individual of their rights under color of law. On Tuesday, the former police officer pleaded guilty to both charges.

Nicholson faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison. A sentencing hearing is currently scheduled for June 24.

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