RACINE — After a four-day trial, a jury Friday found Brinelle Nabors not guilty of using excessive force against a Park High School student in 2015.
Brinelle Nabors, 38, faced charges of felony misconduct in public office and misdemeanor counts of battery and disorderly conduct. He was found not guilty on each of the counts.
Following the verdict, family and friends of Nabors stood outside the courtroom they had sat in the past four days, hugging each other and crying. Racine Police officers, who during the trial visited the courtroom regularly, also reacted, shaking hands and expressing relief.
Nabors and his father, Maurice Nabors, a retired Racine police officer, left the courtroom smiling. Both refused to comment following the verdict. As a juror walked past, Maurice said "Thank you, brother."
Special Prosecutor James Kraus also refused to comment on the verdict.
Nabors' attorney Patrick Cafferty, who was assisted by attorney Jillian Scheidegger during the trial, commended the jury for doing its job. "This jury worked really hard and did their job, and they should be commended for doing their job," Cafferty said.
The trial looked at the incidents that occurred on Nov. 20, 2015. Witnesses included the alleged victim and Nabors, as well as other Racine Police officers and a use of force expert that the defense brought in.
Nabors, who was working as an off-duty security officer, was told that a 14-year-old student had “lean,” a mixture typically containing codeine-based cough syrup, soda, candy and sometimes alcohol.
When the student was confronted, Nabors reportedly took him to the lunchroom floor and handcuffed him. As the student, Nabors and Officer James King headed to the principal’s office, Nabors allegedly struck the student in the face and pushed him against a locker, according to the criminal complaint.
Nabors said the student was showing signs of resistance, which prompted Nabors’ response.
Nabors has been on paid leave since the time of the incident. Racine Police Chief Art Howell has said he was waiting on the court case to play its course. The Journal Times has reached out to Howell to ask if Nabors will be returning to the force and what is next.
The case was referred to Kenosha County to avoid a conflict of interest and it was delayed there while the district attorney waited for a civil case to play out.
A 'bad day' at work
During closing arguments, Special Prosecutor James Kraus from the Kenosha District Attorney's Office said that Nabors made a bad decision that day with the student, stating that Nabors hit the student for "no real reason."
"Just because someone has a bad day at a certain job, doesn't mean they should be held to any greater or lesser standard than any citizen that walks in here," Kraus said.
Kraus said there was no reasonable basis for the strike and that Nabors made a mistake that day against the student.
"He (Nabors) struck him (the student), he put him into some lockers, he realized he made a mistake and had to take actions to make it seem as though he was justified in what he did, and that's not OK and he needs to be held responsible for it just as anyone else would when they do a criminal act and they make a mistake," Kraus said.
Kraus brought attention to the video, which he said showed that the testimony of Nabors and the second officer who assisted Nabors, James King, were not consistent with video footage.
"If they wanted to come up with a better explanation for why the strike happened, they should have checked the video," Kraus said.
Kraus took issue with the expert witness Robert Willis, stating that although Willis faulted the video from the incident as lacking sophistication, he still was able to break the video down frame-by-frame and present evidence that supported the officers.
He also noted that Willis was paid by the Racine Police Department and the defense to appear, and therefore his testimony reflected that.
"I am sure you are all familiar with what is good for the goose is good for the gander. In Mr. Willis' world, it is all for the goose, cause whatever is missed is good for the officers, and what it shows is good for the officers," Kraus said.
Cafferty criticized the state for not providing its burden of proof and said that Kraus had only poked holes in the defense’s case.
"The government is required to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, their theory of prosecution. Their theory as to why Officer Nabors should be found guilty of these three things," Cafferty said "What the state has spent it's entire time doing is attempting to poke holes in the evidence that has been presented by the defense."
Cafferty said the only way the jurors could find Nabors is guilty is to believe that the state's main witness, the student, was telling the truth.
He also went through the student’s version of events, calling his testimony false. "From start to finish, everything that (the student) says is contradicted by other people, by physical evidence and by the video," Cafferty said.
Cafferty also said his own client’s testimony was consistent from the time of the events and complimented Nabors’ character. “Brinelle Nabors is a decent guy,” Cafferty said.
Cafferty also took issue with Kraus' criticism of the expert witness's conclusion, and their lack of producing its own expert witness.
"If I understand the state's theory, this (Willis' testimony and report) is bought and paid for, so it should not be listened to. It should be discarded," Cafferty said.
"The reality is, the prosecutor asked all kinds of questions like 'Hey, aren't there other experts out there who maybe could provide a different opinion?' Well, maybe. They didn't call one, and it is their burden of proof! So don't get up here now and say maybe someone could have said something different. If someone was gonna say something different, bring them in here and let me cross-examine them."