The Duluth police officer who was videotaped punching a presumably intoxicated man in a wheelchair at the Duluth Detoxification Center was charged Thursday with fifth-degree assault and disorderly conduct.
Richard Jouppi, 35, has been summoned to appear in State District Court in Duluth in connection with the Sept. 21 incident. The date for his appearance has not been scheduled. The crimes are misdemeanors, each punishable by a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Duluth Deputy Police Chief Mike Tusken said last week his department would seek the fifth-degree assault charge after reviewing video showing Jouppi attempting to restrain a belligerent Anthony Jon Jackson and then punching Jackson repeatedly after Jackson struck Jouppi once in the face.
Jouppi's attorney, Fredric Bruno of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association Legal Defense Fund, said he doesn't think the case can be settled short of trial.
"I believe this officer did his job and acted appropriately. When police officers subdue people it's very unusual for somebody to strike a police officer and, frankly, extremely dangerous," Bruno said. "He (Jouppi) responded according to his training and experience and did what he had to do."
Bruno said reports indicated that Jackson, 50, claimed he had two pistols that night, but none were found.
"He attacked a police officer, and when somebody punches a police officer, it's not always pretty," Bruno said. "Police officers are supposed to win. It's not pretty to watch.
"He (Jackson) was subdued and taken into custody. If an officer needs to be accountable for that it's ultimately up to a jury of citizens to determine that."
Shawn Reed, a Duluth attorney who serves as the Hermantown city prosecutor, was assigned as independent prosecutor to make the charging decision in the case. Reed declined to comment on his decision Thursday afternoon.
"I can't comment on the record as to the motivations or the thought process that went into the determination of the charges," he said. "I try to avoid trying the cases out in the public. I'm going to let the charges speak for themselves."
Police placed Jouppi on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation.
Jackson initially was charged with felony assault of the police officer, but after the St. Louis County Attorney's office reviewed the detoxification center's surveillance video and accompanying police reports, the charge was dismissed.
The complaint states that Jackson is able to stand, but uses a wheelchair.
Jouppi and another officer were initially dispatched to the apartments at 10:09 p.m. Sept. 21. About 10:50 p.m., a surveillance video at the detoxification center appears to show Jackson swiping his hand into Jouppi's face and the officer responding with several punches before tipping the wheelchair over with Jackson in it. The complaint states that Jouppi threw five closed-fist punches to Jackson's head and face -- two right-handed punches, a left, a right and another left.
The officer did not give Jackson any verbal commands while delivering the punches, the complaint alleges.
According to the complaint, a clinical assistant told Jouppi, "That's enough." The officer responded by telling her to back up or he would arrest her as well. "You don't think that a person in a wheelchair can assault somebody?" Jouppi said. "Well, he just did."
Two officers interviewed Jackson. He said he could not recall the details of the incident. The officers said that Jackson had stitches on his head, a sore ankle, dark bruising around his left eye and bruising on his arms.
A police sergeant reviewed the security video for Jouppi's use of force and determined that "based upon a totality of the circumstances, it was determined that the defendant's use of force against Jackson was not objectively reasonable."
Job in jeopardy
The incident could cost Jouppi his job. Personnel records indicate that on March 12, he and the city reached a "Final and Last Chance Agreement" in which he signed a document that included the language: "Any future acts or omissions which violate public trust and/or violate (police policy) will be deemed an act of gross insubordination justifying termination."
Jouppi, a Duluth Central graduate, served with the Omaha (Neb.) Police Department from November 2001 to February 2008 and worked for the St. Paul Police Department from March 2008 to January 2010. He joined the Duluth force in January 2010.
St. Paul Police Sgt. Paul Paulos told the News Tribune that Jouppi took a one-year leave of absence in January 2010 and resigned from the St. Paul Department in January 2011. Paulos said that Jouppi was not disciplined while working for the St. Paul force.
A lieutenant with the Omaha Police Department told the News Tribune that officer discipline in her department is not public information under the terms of a union contract. She declined further comment.
Jouppi was one of four Omaha police officers honored for bravery and lifesaving in 2005 for risking their lives to rescue a family from a burning home. He has not received any honors or awards while a Duluth officer.
Officer Tom Maida, president of the Duluth Police Union, said he has some concern about the charges against Jouppi.
"One thing that concerns me is that Rich used force to protect himself and others after being assaulted; that's one thing that I think is being missed," Maida said. "I think it will take quite some time to determine if the level of force is excessive. We're not rushing to judgment on it. The video of it, in and of itself, isn't enough to determine whether or not his actions were appropriate. His story has not been heard yet."