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Officer suspended for arrest

A tape shows him body-slamming a suspect.

Published June 22, 2007

St. Pete cop suspended

ST. PETERSBURG -- A police officer who body-slammed a belligerent prisoner, breaking a bone in his face, will be suspended for five days without pay for using excessive force, the department said Thursday.

John Dittmar Jr., 40, was arrested March 31 on charges of trespassing after being warned and drinking within 500 feet of a liquor establishment after he became argumentative with security and refused to leave Jannus Landing, police said.

Officer Kenard Belle, 35, arrived with a prisoner transport van to haul Dittmar to jail. But as Belle began preparing Dittmar for transport by emptying his pockets and handcuffing him, Dittmar shouted obscenities at him and other officers.

A videocamera at the back of the prisoner transport van captured what happened next. Dittmar walked into the van, but was pulled back by Belle, who was still securing his handcuffs. Then, after Dittmar turned back and yelled at Belle, Belle picked him up from behind by the waist and slammed him to the ground.

Dittmar hit the pavement face down and was knocked unconscious. He had a fracture to a bone in his face and an abrasion to his right knee. Paramedics took him to a hospital.

On Thursday, Chief Chuck Harmon ruled that Belle had used unnecessary force and exhibited conduct unbecoming an employee. He was given a written reprimand in addition to the suspension.

"While the force committed against Mr. Dittmar was but a single act, the manner and execution of Officer Belle's takedown constituted a serious violation of the Department's Response to Resistance policy," Harmon wrote in explaining his decision.

Belle was not available for comment Thursday. He told department investigators that he lost his footing and slipped while taking down Dittmar, and had used a similar move several times before without injuring anyone.

[Last modified June 22, 2007, 03:32:48]

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