A former Department of Veterans Affairs police officer was sentenced to two years in federal prison for depriving a veteran of his Fourth Amendment rights and for a false report in the brutal arrest of an Army veteran, the Department of Justice announced.
Norman Nicholson, 57, was a police officer at the Bay Pines, Florida Veterans Affairs Medical Center. One day, while on duty, Nicholson told an Army veteran to leave the premises, court documents show.
The veteran left, but Nicholson followed him outside and arrested him, swinging him around and placing both of the veteran's hands behind his back. The veteran did not resist arrest, but after he was already handcuffed and in custody, court documents say Nicholson "rammed the veteran's head on the fence" and used his right hand to pull the veteran's legs apart, causing the veteran to fall face-first into the fence, then to the ground.
Nicholson then "forcefully grabbed the veteran from the ground and lifted him up" and "used his right hand to grab the veteran from his face and nose."
Nicholson wrote two arrest affidavits and a police report in which the Justice Department said he "made numerous false statements regarding the incident."
Specifically, Nicholson said the veteran "refused to leave the property ... became resistant ... pulled away ... raised his hand in an aggressive posture ... did not obey commands to stop resisting ... resisted on the ground ... buckled his knees in an attempt to make himself dead weight."
Those statements were all false, the Department of Justice said, and "were made with the intent to impede, obstruct or influence a matter that was within the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs," according to a news release from the DoJ June 24.
The veteran spent several days in the Pinellas County jail because of the wrongful arrest.
“The right of individuals to be safe and secure against unreasonable searches and seizures is at the very cornerstone of our democracy,” U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez said in a statement. “Officers who violate their oath to uphold that Constitutional right, and falsify facts to impede or obstruct an investigation will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
"Nicholson’s sentence today demonstrates VA-OIG’s commitment to ensuring that VA’s law enforcement officers are held to the highest standards and that all veterans are afforded their constitutional rights," David Spiker, special agent in charge at the VA Office of the Inspector General said in a statement. "Veterans should never be subjected to excessive force and false statements by sworn law enforcement officers, whose mission is to safeguard veterans, VA employees and facilities."
Nicholson pleaded guilty on March 24. U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew sentenced Nicholson June 24.
In a Congressional hearing a year ago, lawmakers heard horror stories of VA police misconduct, including DUIs, domestic abuse, arrests, brutality and even murder plots. That hearing followed an Inspector General report that showed that VA's police force of more than 4,000 not only lacked leadership and oversight but had also wasted millions of dollars in overtime and created security gaps. Members of Congress said they were concerned the lack of governance may have led to criminals on the force.
At the time, VA leaders told Congress the department's officers undergo 30 hours of de-escalation and conflict management training. Lawmakers described incidents of VA police brutality, or even murder, in their home districts.
About 85 percent of the VA police force is made up of veterans.
At the hearing, Veterans Health Administration leaders told lawmakers that a new VA police policy was in the works, but said they were unsure when it would be ready.