Authorities in Birmingham, Alabama, are investigating after police shocked a high school band director with a stun gun in front of dozens of students after a football game Thursday.
The incident happened after police told a Minor High School band director to stop his band’s performance and clear the stadium approximately 20 minutes after the game ended. The band had been playing music as part of the game’s so-called fifth quarter, which is when performers continue to entertain audiences after a football game finishes, local outlets reported.
It remains unclear if band director Johnny Mims was lawfully arrested, attorneys in Birmingham told USA TODAY. It makes sense that police wanted to clear the stadium that night, said attorney Eric Guster, because Thursday’s game came just weeks after a teenager brought a gun to a football game in nearby Hueytown, Alabama, causing players to drop to the field to try to protect themselves.
“The police have the duty to protect the students and the parents who attend the football games,” Guster said. “The police have a duty to make sure they clear the stadium in a timely manner and make sure everyone gets in their cars and gets home safely.”
By ignoring police multiple times, Mims set a “horrible” example for the students, said Brian Higgins, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
Mims was charged with disorderly conduct, harassment and resisting arrest.
“It’s a shame it got to that point,” said Guster, who himself played saxophone in the band at Alabama State University, an HBCU or historically Black school, in the 1980s and ’90s, he said.
After being taken to the hospital for treatment, Mims was put in custody in Birmingham City Jail. He was later released after posting bail, police said.
The incident is under investigation by the Birmingham Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division.
“Chief Scott Thurmond is committed to maintaining a positive relationship with our community members through transparency and open dialogue,” the department said in a press release.
What does police body camera footage show?
Police body camera footage released by the department shows Mims ignored officers’ orders to cut the band’s song short, telling them the group was almost done performing.
It remains unclear if officers were under orders from school officials to clear the stadium at Jackson-Olin High School where the Minor high band was playing that night.
Superintendent Walter Gonsoulin said he was saddened by the incident and unable to “discuss specifics on the content of the video” until a team of school district officials complete their review of the material.
“My initial reaction is sadness. It’s extremely upsetting to me that our students, our children, had to witness that scene. Nothing is more important than their well-being,” Gonsoulin said in a statement.
Body camera footage shows Mims continued to conduct his students while multiple officers stood in front of him and told him the stadium needed to be cleared. Soon after, the stadium lights were turned off, and the band continued to play the remaining few bars of their song, at which point Mims motioned for the performance to conclude.
Shortly afterward, a “physical altercation ensued” between Mims, Birmingham City School system security personnel and Birmingham officers, police said in a press release.
In the release, police said that while they tried to take Mims into custody for disorderly conduct, Mims:
◾ Refused to put his hands behind his back.
◾ Allegedly “pushed” the officer who was trying to arrest him.
School officials on Monday said Mims is on administrative leave with pay, AL.com reported.
Police shocked Johnny Mims three times
Video footage shows police using a Taser or stun gun on Mims three times as he falls to the ground in front of his marching band, parents and other onlookers. Students began to scream and filed out of the stadium stands and toward the parking lot, footage shows.
Guster said police may have resorted to using their taser against Mims because they felt he escalated the situation. If someone escalates a situation and police can’t arrest them, then “the next thing they go to is their Taser,” Guster said, noting that police no longer use batons or chokeholds.
“If it was the duty of the police officers to clear out the field at that time, that band director has to comply,” Higgins said. “When an individual fails to comply,” police can continue to deploy a taser multiple times, he said.
But as a former police officer, “my wish would be that the officer could have found an alternative to address this,” he added.
Was Mims’ arrest lawful?
Guster and Rivell said, though, that it remains unclear if Mims’ arrest Thursday night was lawful. In order to convict someone of resisting arrest, which Mims is charged with, police would have had to have been making a lawful arrest, Revill said.
“Did the band director have a right to be there in the stadium at that time? The context of everything there matters to determine who was in the right and who was in the wrong,” Revill said.
Mims’ lawyer, state Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Ala., could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Givan told AL.com that Mims was doing his job Thursday night by conducting his band during their fifth-quarter performance.
“It is unacceptable for law enforcement to engage in home rule in the field of play or with regard to band activities unless there is a significant threat to the safety of the general public,” she told the outlet.
But just because Mims was conducting his band doesn’t mean that he could ignore officers’ orders, Higgins said.
“There’s more than just conducting students,” Higgins said. “He can’t go out in the middle of the highway, shut down a highway and direct his students,” for example, he said.
Contributing: Associated Press