Savannah Police Department vehicles
Credit: Savannah Police Department on Facebook

Two recently fired Savannah Police Department officers shoved a man’s face back, forced his jaw closed and tied a T-shirt over his mouth during the April arrest that led to their terminations, according to an incident report obtained by GPB News.

The police department declined to release footage of the incident, citing the active investigation and pending prosecution of Cpl. Daniel Kang and Sgt. Octavio Arango. Kang had been a member of the force for eight years; Arango had worked on the force for 15 years.

The officers’ firings were announced earlier this month, and District Attorney Meg Heap said she will present the case to a grand jury next month.

But the incident report written by Arango described his version of the encounter.

According to the report, the officers kicked down the door of an apartment while trying to serve a warrant. Inside, they encountered Darryl Faitele, who was not the suspect they were looking for.

In the report, Arango said he put his knee on Faitele’s upper back as Faitele lay face down before handcuffing him. After this, Arango described blood on Faitele’s chin and shirt.

The report said Faitele spit at the officers after which Arango “forcefully shoved Faitele’s face back with (his) gloved hand and took (Faitele) to the ground” and “forced his jaw closed.” Then, the report said, officers pulled Faitele’s T-shirt over his face and tied another shirt over his mouth.

Faitele was eventually transported to a hospital for treatment, the report said. GPB News sought comment from Faitele to hear his account of what happened, but we were unsuccessful in our attempts to reach him and his mother, who the police report said confronted Arango at the hospital.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, who has seen the video, said it “horrified” him. He characterized this description of the officers’ conduct as “some of the things I saw” in the video.

“For us it was just, you know, again: Did this officer act appropriately toward if this was my son, or my father, or my brother, or me?” Johnson said in an interview. “Was the amount of force that was exerted unreasonable to the amount of resistance, if any, that the subject was giving?”

Johnson said those are the “fundamental questions … that the public expects of their law enforcement officers.”

In this case, Johnson said, “Our internal systems worked.”

The mayor also clarified  the role of the new citizens task force, called Savannah Citizens Accountability and Review of Emergency Services, or CARES, in the case. The officers had already been fired following an internal affairs investigation of the incident, Johnson said.

The task force weighed in as Police Chief Roy Minter was considering whether to send the case to the district attorney for review and possible prosecution, according to the mayor. The group unanimously recommended that the incident go before the DA.  

“I think it was helpful to him,” Johnson said. “'Cause in the end, it’s about not only through the eyes of the law but through the eyes of John Q. Public.”

The task force came about after Johnson promised protesters calling for action police brutality that the city would review its policies on police use of force.

In the midst of the widespread protests, Johnson said, many people are more “sensitized” to the frequency of such incidents, and the tendency for officers to avoid serious discipline.

“When we have bad actors, or we have good actors that do bad things, we have to be quick enough to identify them and take the appropriate action,” Johnson said. “That’s a culture change for our police department, but we’ll be better because of it.”

DA Heap plans to take the case before a grand jury in the week of September 14.

At the news conference announcing the officers’ firings, Chief Minter said their actions "during this particular incident was totally unacceptable and egregious behavior on their part.” He added that when or if the body camera footage is released “there will be a better understanding of why certain decisions were made.” 

“I do not believe that their behavior during this incident is in line with our core values of the department, which is to protect, serve and to build trust in the community," the chief said. 

Heap acknowledged recent protests calling for social justice, telling reporters, “The best way I can assure justice is to put this case before a grand jury as quickly as possible."