• 43°

Oakboro police chief, sheriff candidate defend actions

A controversial photo making its rounds on social media prompted the Oakboro Police Department to post a video to its Facebook page defending one of its officers, who is also a candidate for sheriff.

A screenshot from the app Mobile Patrol posted to Facebook stirred the debate. The photo shows a mugshot of Marcus Sturdivant, 44, closing his eyes and turning his face slightly away from the camera.

An officer whose face can barely be seen holds both hands around Sturdivant’s neck, and the arm of another law enforcement officer appears to hold Sturdivant’s hand flat on Sturdivant’s torso.

Oakboro Police Department identified Officer Jeff Crisco as the one with his hands around Sturdivant’s neck. Some individuals online were outraged when they saw the photo.
Crisco and Oakboro Police Chief T.J. Smith said they know the Sturdivant family and deal with Marcus on a near-daily basis, adding that neither Marcus nor his family had any hard feelings from the incident. Crisco said he did not apply much force for the photo and simply held Marcus still.

“I didn’t think anything of it because all of us here know Marcus,” Crisco said. “We basically either deal with him in an enforcement action or in a non-enforcement action daily, and I’ve detained him before. So, me holding his head — and that’s all I was doing; I just put the back of my hand on his head and my hand under his chin — because Marcus was moving around. He said, he was like, ‘You all got my picture. You don’t need to take another one.’ And he would close his eyes and turn his head. So, all I did was tell him we were going to take his picture. I just held his head. I never choked him.”

Smith said he opened an investigation into the matter, interviewing both Marcus and Crisco, speaking to the Sturdivant family and jail staff, and checking Marcus for any concerning mannerisms or injuries, of which he found none.

“I really did not have to apply a lot of force,” Crisco said. “Marcus just did not want his picture taken.”

The incident began with Sturdivant intoxicated in the street, Crisco said. Officers told him to go home, and he instead went to Food Lion.

“According to the manager, he was following people around, using vulgar language, just belligerent,” Crisco said.

Crisco said he did not want to charge Sturdivant and simply detained him in jail.

After the screenshot of the photo began circulating online, the department made a video posted to its Facebook page on Thursday night. With Smith filming, the video shows Crisco, Marcus and his uncle, Harold Sturdivant, all laughing and talking about the incident.

“I think the community’s a little bit upset,” Harold says. “Was you hurt by the police department?”

“No,” Marcus answers.

Crisco adds, “I didn’t choke you,” and Marcus agrees, “No.”

Harold follows up with further questions.

“Was you hurt in any kind of way?”

“No,” Marcus says, adding that he was resisting Crisco “a little bit.” He and Crisco agree that they have “no problem” with each other and shake hands.

“We need to end this thing,” Harold says. “We need to end it.”

Marcus goes on to joke with both men.

A few online commenters criticized the video, hinting at coercion.

Crisco denied any coercion, saying Sturdivant wasn’t arrested, only detained.

While there were a few criticisms, the majority of the comments on the video thanked or expressed support for the police department. Some thanked Sturdivant for his honesty, as well.

Smith said he spoke with Marcus’ family members, including his mother, Phyllis, and his uncle Harold, who wanted to help clear up the situation and asked what they could do to help. Smith then suggested filming the video.

“Because not only do we, but the family want complete transparency through this thing. Nobody’s trying to hide anything,” Crisco said.

“When all of this went down, his mom and I are friends and she called me, and I said, ‘Let’s go get him,’ ” Smith said, adding he did an investigation and had Phyllis with him when he picked up Marcus.

Marcus has a disability, according to Smith, so Phyllis asked him questions in various ways.

In the video, Harold also repeats questions.

Crisco said Sturdivant fully understood the command to look at the camera for the photo and was simply uncooperative. Smith said he believes Sturdivant likely understood the questions he and his family asked him after he was picked up.

The video also takes place as Crisco, a Republican, prepares to run for the sheriff’s seat in the general election against Democrat Oscar Banks “Sonny” Hinson Jr.

Crisco took home just over 51 percent of the votes in the Republican primary in May, defeating incumbent Sheriff George T. Burris and three other candidates.

Smith said he would have filmed a video clearing up the situation for any officer in his department, saying it had nothing to do with Crisco being a political candidate.

“It’s Oakboro as a whole,” he said. “We’re a very family-friendly atmosphere no matter who it is … this is a wonderful community, a very diverse community, so yeah, I’m all about setting the record straight on anything.”

Smith said if the investigation shows Crisco did anything wrong, he will take appropriate action.

Crisco said the jail asked him for help holding Sturdivant still for the photo and that he’s never held another suspect in place for a mugshot before.

“It was not my idea,” he said. “When they asked for help, I know Marcus, and I thought talking to him would get him to come over to take the picture, and then he kept moving his head.”

Crisco said the lack of cooperation was due to alcohol, and said he made an effort to verbally gain cooperation before physically taking action.

“We’re close to the family,” Smith said.

Smith said his investigation will conclude after he reviews video of the incident from the district attorney. As of early Friday afternoon, he was still waiting for a copy of the footage.

“Until we get our hands on the video to show exactly what transpired, we’ve got to go off of his mannerisms, how he answered the questions, obviously look for any kind of injury, which there wasn’t any, and the good faith of Jeff, who’s been doing this for over 20 years,” Smith said. “And so that’s where we’re at.”

The video of Smith, Crisco and Harold and Marcus Sturdivant can be seen on the Oakboro Police Department’s Facebook page.

Imari Scarbrough is a freelance contributor for The Stanly News and Press.