Commonwealth’s Attorney: Tazewell, Va. officers will not be charged for use of force in Aug. arrest

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TAZEWELL, Va. (WJHL) – A special prosecutor cleared two officers with the Tazewell Police Department after an investigation into their use of force during an August arrest.

According to a release from the office of Chuck Slemp, Commonwealth’s Attorney for Wise County and the City of Norton, an investigation found that their “actions were objectively justifiable and not excessive under the law.”

The investigation centered around an arrest on August 11, 2021 at a business in Tazewell, Virginia. The release states an employee called 911 to report a customer who was reportedly threatening another customer.

Tazewell Police Sergeant M. Steele and Officer J. Stevenson were identified in the release as the responding officers. An employee of the business reportedly identified Anthony Fuller as the threatening customer. The employee told Stevenson and Steele that Fuller had left in a pickup truck and had seemed to be under the influence of something at the time, according to the release.

Slemp’s office reports Stevenson found the truck and approached Fuller. Steele joined Stevenson shortly after.

The release states Fuller refused to identify himself and “manipulated an object in his left pants pocket multiple times” while speaking with the officers.

“At one point, Fuller appeared to reach into the pocket as he turned away from the officers and leaned into the cab, blocking the view of his hand from the officers,” the release states.

After leaning into the cab, Stevenson and Steele reportedly tried to move Fuller away from the cab. Fuller refused, which the release states led to the officers attempting to grab his arms. The release states Fuller resisted the attempts to restrain him.

Slemp’s office reports at that point, Steele drew his taser and told Fuller to stop or he would use it. Fuller leaned back into the truck’s cab and did not comply, according to the release. After further warnings, Steele told Fuller, “I will not tell you again, turn around.”

The release states Steele used the taser after Fuller did not follow the last order. Fuller then reportedly “charged forward” in the direction of the officers, which resulted in him being up against a police vehicle.

Fuller and the officers then engaged in a struggle, during which Fuller fell to the ground and reportedly grabbed Steele’s taser and his pen. Slemp’s office reports Fuller stabbed Steele’s hand with the pen and broke the skin on the middle finger before it was taken from him.

“Ultimately, it took two police officers, one civilian, one department of corrections officer, and two Sheriff’s Department deputies over five minutes to finally bring Fuller under control,” the release reads.

According to the release, Fuller had a switchblade in his front left pocket, as well as several throwing axes and a machete in his vehicle. Investigators say a blood test found there was methamphetamine, marijuana and alcohol in his system.

“Our law has long recognized that police officers have a right to use some degree of physical force or threat of force when making a lawful arrest or investigatory stop.  The use of force must be reasonable and not excessive under the totality of circumstances.  A particular use of force is judged based on the perspective of the officer on the scene and the potential threat that a suspect poses to immediate safety of the officers or others.

“In this case, these officers were protecting the community from a person who was acting aggressively towards others and in a manner reported to be consistent with intoxication and driving under the influence.  The officer’s effort to locate this individual and detain him was made to prevent him from endangering others driving on our highways.” 

“It was Fuller’s actions, by refusing to comply with police orders, manipulating the knife in his pants pocket, and continuing to lean into the vehicle where he had weapons stored, together with his disorderly conduct at the public business and threats to customers, which necessitated the officers’ actions.  Therefore, I conclude that these officers acted appropriately and in accordance with the law of our Commonwealth.  I further conclude that it was because of their decisive action that day, training and experience, and excellent use of good judgment that innocent lives were not put in danger by the suspect’s erratic behavior.”

Charles “Chuck” Slemp, Commonwealth’s Attorney for Wise County and the City of Norton

Slemp was appointed as a special prosecutor in the case after an investigation into the arrest by the Virginia State Police.

Investigators reviewed body camera footage and other evidence while assessing the arrest, according to the release.

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