Initially sentenced to four years of probation after slamming a handcuffed woman face-first onto the pavement, a former North Carolina police sergeant was resentenced Thursday to three years in federal prison and one year of supervised release.
On November 11, 2013, Chelsea Doolittle was arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting an officer after refusing to take a breathalyzer test. After Doolittle was placed in handcuffs, Hickory Police Sergeant Robert George drove her to the police station in his patrol car.
Recorded on surveillance video, Sgt. George parked the patrol car before pulling Doolittle out of the backseat and slamming her face-first onto the ground with her hands cuffed behind her back. The forceful impact with the pavement caused Doolittle to suffer serious injuries that included a broken nose, severe dental trauma that required multiple surgeries, and facial lacerations.
On January 17, 2019, a federal jury convicted George of deprivation of rights while acting under color of state law. He was initially sentenced to four years of probation and ordered to pay $20,492.92 in restitution, but the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case for resentencing.
After determining that George’s probation sentence was procedurally and substantively unreasonable, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Bell resentenced George on Thursday to three years in federal prison and one year of supervised release. Judge Bell also gave George credit for the 20 months of probation he had served under the 2019 sentence imposed by U.S. Senior District Judge Graham Mullen.
“Police officers who violently and unlawfully assault people in their custody, causing severe physical injuries and trauma, are not above the law and will be held accountable,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This sentencing sends a strong message that the Justice Department will continue to aggressively prosecute officers who abuse their power by using unlawful force on people in their custody.”
“A person’s constitutional rights do not cease to exist during or after an arrest,” U.S. Attorney Dena King of the Western District of North Carolina stated in a press release on Thursday. “A federal jury rightfully decided that former police sergeant George used excessive force against an individual in his custody, and today’s resentencing reflects the seriousness of his unlawful conduct. As federal prosecutors, we have a duty to protect everyone’s civil rights and to investigate and prosecute federal law violations involving police misconduct. We owe it to the people living in the Western District and to the thousands of law enforcement officers who serve and protect the public with honor and dedication.”
“The security video of George’s actions that day in 2013, is sickening,” noted Special Agent in Charge Robert Wells of the FBI Charlotte Division. “We are grateful to our partners at the Hickory Police Department who immediately began an internal investigation and requested state and federal assistance.”
The charges against Doolittle were later dropped, and she filed a civil lawsuit against the city and police department for use of excessive force. In December 2019, the City of Hickory agreed to pay a $400,000 settlement.