NILES — Questions have been raised over the actions of a Berrien County Sheriff’s Department deputy during an arrest in early May in Eau Claire. The man arrested, Daniel White of Eau Claire, was sentenced to prison Monday for resisting and obstructing police.
White, 38, of Fifth Street in Eau Claire, pleaded guilty to resisting and obstructing police as a habitual offender and second offense domestic violence. He was sentenced to 18 months to three years in prison for the resisting and obstructing charge, plus credit for time served, 103 days, on the domestic violence charge. He must pay $248.
The incident occurred May 2 on Main Street in Eau Claire. Police said he first assaulted his girlfriend, including pulling off her wig (she’s suffering from cancer) and then resisted and obstructed Berrien Springs-Oronoko Township police officer Donald Divis by fleeing from him, according to testimony.
Another officer, Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Haskins, was also on the scene and apparently Tased, kicked and punched White during the arrest, according to video from Divis’ body camera.
The video was brought up during White’s sentencing Monday during a dispute over sentencing guidelines. Defense attorney Carri Briseno raised the video issue as she argued that White fled the scene but did not show a threat of force when Haskins and Divis tried to arrest and handcuff him.
Assistant Prosecutor Jane Wainwright disagreed, saying that White raised his hands toward the officers. Berrien County Trial Judge Charles LaSata watched the body cam video before agreeing with Wainwright that he saw a number of instances in which White had raised his hands towards the officers, and that White fled and did not obey their commands.
Gwen Swanigan of the Benton Harbor-based SHARP (Society Harmonizing Against Racial Profiling) Foundation was in court Monday and said she was concerned about what she saw on the video. Swanigan said she delivered an excessive force complaint, signed by White, regarding Haskins’ actions to the sheriff’s office last week.
Sheriff Paul Bailey on Monday said Swanigan made him aware of the situation but he had not personally received the complaint. “I haven’t gotten it personally, I haven’t seen it, she (Swanigan) did not give it to me,” he said.
Bailey said he was out of the office Monday at a fundraiser and would check into where the complaint is today. He said he will look into the matter once he’s in possession of the complaint.
“Right now, there is no investigation,” he said. “The deputy used the force he felt was necessary to take him into custody.”
As for the sentencing, LaSata noted that while he was sympathetic that White and his longtime girlfriend had lost a child to cancer in 2015, White had a number of assaultive convictions before that. “This time you put multiple people in danger,” he said. “This could have been a misdemeanor if you had not fled.”