Did Americus officer use excessive force? - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Did Americus officer use excessive force?

August 23, 2007

Americus - - A complaint of police brutality in Americus and a call from a family and a civil rights group to fire an Americus Police officer. It comes four months after they say that cop used excessive force and wrongly arrested an innocent man from Plains.

55 year old Eddie Bridges was known as a good samaritan. Family members say he had epilepsy and was prone to seizures. In June, Bridges died in his home. Medical examiners say from a heart attack. Others in the community believe there's much more to the story.

In the Wheatley Shopping Plaza parking lot in Americus, 55 year old Eddie Bridge's life changed two months before he died in his Plains home.

"He was unable to work you know so he would just come and help people out," says Joann Dodson who manages the Goodwill Store in the plaza.

She often has problems with people harassing customers.

"I had called them several instances for people hanging out, begging for money, drinking."

Americus Police Officer Michael Middleton responded. But Dodson says he approached the wrong person.

"I thought the police department knew like I did that he hangs out and he would know who was doing things wrong."

Middleton says when he asked Bridges to leave, he became defensive and put up a fight. The officer says he felt threatened and started to handcuff the middle aged man. Middleton admits to "striking him one time in the face". That's when he "called for help."

Problem is...according to Americus Police policy, Middleton should've called for back-up before he approached Bridges.

"I'm here tonight because Eddie Bridges is dead and I'm here tonight because Michael Middleton is still a police officer," says human rights advocate John Cole Vodica.

He asked Americus City Commissioners to fire the officer. Americus police admit Bridge's suffered an eye injury so severe, Emergency Room doctors in Americus couldn't treat him. He had to be rushed to Albany.

Police Chief James Green has not disciplined Middleton for excessive force, but he says he conducted an investigation and called on the FBI to investigate. Now, he's leaving things in the hands of the District Attorney.

"I just miss him still," Dodson says.

She and many others feel Bridge's life was cut short needlessly.

The Americus cop was suspended for three days for not informing dispatchers that he was approaching Bridges.

Chief Green says his officers receive constant training and know when violent force is unnecessary. Americus Mayor Barry Blount told us he's waiting to find out if a grand jury indicts Middleton next week.

He said he thinks Middleton would be fired only if he's convicted of a crime.  

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