Antwan Wheeler remembers that he and two of his friends were walking along a residential street to a nightclub for teens in South Dekalb when he first spotted the police car slowing as it came over the hill. It was December 23, 2010, just after 8 p.m. A fifteen-year-old with an extensive criminal background, including two felony convictions, Wheeler had had run-ins with this particular cop before. And even though he says he wasn’t breaking the law at this moment, he was bracing himself for the usual hassle and interrogation.
But, according to the lawsuit filed on his behalf in Dekalb State Court last week, Wheeler got much more than a little harassment. He says there were four officers on the scene but he only recognized the one, whom the complaint lists as Dekalb County Police officer Q.D. Hudson, a defendant. The complaint claims Hudson cuffed and beat Wheeler before arresting him for stealing a car that had been left near where Wheeler and his friends were walking.
Today, sitting on the living room couch of his mother’s North Cobb condo, the nineteen-year-old Wheeler is quiet, scrawny, and slight, nervously rubbing a black tattoo on the inside of his right forearm that reads TRUST NOBODY. It’s hard to imagine him any more defenseless as a fifteen-year-old. He points to the lower lip that he says was fattened and bloodied in the wake of the beating. He says he showed that lip to the auto theft detective who interviewed him after his arrest. And according to court documents, the detective saw holes in Officer Hudson’s reason for Wheeler’s arrest. But under what the lawsuit calls “an unwritten policy,” the detective did not fill out a report of these findings or Wheeler’s claims of abuse to supplement the case file. Weeks later at Wheeler’s trial, when Officer Hudson testified that he saw the teen inside the stolen vehicle, Wheeler had no evidence to contradict him. “I knew deep down that I didn’t do it,” Wheelers says. “But I knew I wasn’t going to win.” Wheeler was sentenced to two years in a juvenile corrections facility.
But while he was silently serving his sentence, reading books and avoiding fellow inmates, Wheeler was unaware that his case was making waves in the outside world. In May 2012, three Dekalb County Police Officers, Anthony Robinson, Blake Norwood, and Arthur Parker III were indicted by the District Attorney Robert James for aggravated assault, battery, making false statements, and racketeering for two incidents of beating handcuffed teens, including Wheeler and friends that night in December 2010. In fact, Wheeler’s lawyer, Mike Puglise, was unaware until just this week, and he says that he intends to amend the complaint to include the names of all three.
None of the officers in question are currently with the Dekalb Police Department. Norwood and Parker resigned in lieu of termination in November of 2011. Robinson was terminated shortly after the indictment came out in May 2012. The case is still pending, and the Dekalb County DA’s office does not comment on pending charges or ongoing investigations. And while he was not named in the indictment, officer Hudson resigned in lieu of termination while under internal investigation in August 2012.
Wheeler says he’s happy those officers are no longer on the force. He admits that while he was innocent on this particular night; that with his single mom working so much as a babysitter taking care of other peoples’ kids, he had too much time to himself and had fallen in with people who didn’t help keep him out of trouble. There are no scars on his upper lip from the alleged beating, and his two years in juvie may have helped set him on the right path. But that doesn’t mean they should’ve happened. Wheeler says what this lawsuit is about is making sure it doesn’t happen to someone else. “I’m not the only one that had this happen to him,” he says. “I just want everybody to see what was going on.”