A former Loudoun County deputy charged with assaulting a handcuffed prisoner was exonerated by a Circuit Court jury Wednesday.
John Wayne Gregory, a 33-year-old Sterling native, was a 10-year Sheriff’s Office veteran handling a routine Saturday night drunk-in-public arrest when 6 seconds changed his life.
That 6 seconds was recorded on video by several cameras and at several angles. They show Gregory removing Lyle Murphy Grenoble from the back of his Dodge Charger cruiser in the secured sally port of the Loudoun County Adult Dentition Center and then body slamming the man to the ground, the suspect’s head bouncing off the concrete floor.
Sheriff Mike Chapman called the video “very disturbing.”
Two months after the June 14, 2015, incident, Virginia State Police Special Agent C.E. Blosser filed a misdemeanor assault charge against Gregory and a special prosecutor, Culpeper Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Walther, was brought in.
Last November, Gregory was found guilty of assault in Loudoun County District Court and fined $500. Gregory and his attorney, Caleb A. Kershner, had argued that Grenoble made an aggressive move toward the deputy, who then responded appropriately to the threat. “I think Deputy Gregory overacted,” Judge Norman deVere Morrison said in making his ruling.
Gregory appealed that conviction to the Circuit Court and on Wednesday those 6 seconds were parsed by law enforcement officers and expert witnesses before a seven-member jury. Over the course of the trial, the videos were shown at full speed, slow-motion, side-by-side and even in a set of 120 single frames printed out in a stack of paper. Then the jury reached a different conclusion.
The incident started around 1:30 that early Sunday morning. Sgt. Brett Philips was on patrol when he was waved down by a woman in front of Mighty Mike’s Bar and Grill in Sterling. She said she was worried about an inebriated man sitting in a pickup in the parking lot. Philips found Grenoble slumped behind the wheel of the truck, in a condition described as obviously intoxicated and possibly passed out.
Grenoble, who had been drinking beer and playing pool at Mike’s for several hours, said he was waiting for a roommate to pick him up. The keys were not in the ignition. As Philips pressed him for information on when his friend would show up, Grenoble became agitated and then aggressive. Gregory joined Philips, his supervisor, on the scene and they made the decision to arrest Grenoble, charging him with public intoxication.
He was handcuffed and placed in the back of Gregory’s cruiser. Grenoble became more agitated as he waited for officers to complete the search of his pickup, complaining frequently that the cuffs were too tight even after they two deputies got him out of the car to loosen them.
The altercation happened in the secure garage at the Loudoun Adult Detention Center in Leesburg. When Gregory opened the door to let Grenoble, who was still handcuffed, get out, the two stood together and then the deputy suddenly forced the suspect to the ground on his back and held his head down with his hand, shouting at him.
Grenoble said he wasn’t sure what happened or why. “Before I could regain my footing, he grabbed me and slammed me on my back,” he said. “I was simply lying on my back in a daze.”
Gregory said he saw an “I want to kill you” look in Grenoble’s eyes and felt the Grenoble push his body toward him. The deputy said he feared he was about to be attacked. The take-down maneuver was an instinctive action that came from years of training, Gregory said.
Two expert witnesses said that Gregory acted appropriately. One was Bryan Patterson, a former trainer at the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Academy who taught Gregory defensive tactics and other police skills during the two training courses he attended. The other was Tammy Yard-McCracken, an expert in violence dynamics, a multi-discipline field that studies the logistics of the use of force. Both said Grenoble’s movements and body language in the videos show multiple indicators of “pre-assaultive” behavior that deputies are trained to recognize.
During his testimony, Gregory said he had no doubt Grenoble was attacking him.
“He was rushing, charging me. That’s when I knew I had a problem,” Gregory said. “This was an adult man trying to bull rush into me.”
Among the questions facing jurors was whether a deputy could claim he was acting in self-defense after body slamming a handcuffed prisoner.
“The video speaks for itself. It speaks volumes,” Walther told jurors.
Kershner said Gregory reacted to the threat as he was trained to do.
“You have a split second when someone is in an assaultive mode until you are in trouble,” he said. “He’s not trying to hurt this guy. He is just trying to protect himself.”
After about an hour of deliberation—11 and a half hours after taking their seats in the courtroom—the jury unanimously agreed with that assessment.