The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Loudoun deputy who body-slammed handcuffed man is convicted of assault

Surveillance cameras from both the Loudoun County jail and the cruiser of Loudoun sheriff’s Deputy John W. Gregory captured the deputy slamming a handcuffed prisoner to the floor after an arrest in June 2015. Gregory was convicted of misdemeanor assault, but appealed and was acquitted. (Video: Loudoun County Sheriff's Office)

From every camera angle, it appears to be a routine arrival at the Loudoun County jail, with a deputy opening the back door of his cruiser for a handcuffed man to climb out. But then Deputy John W. Gregory suddenly slams his prisoner to the floor, loudly curses him and grinds his knee into the man’s back.

The man, Lyle M. Grenoble, was charged with being drunk in public, and even though he was sent to the jail’s infirmary and later the hospital for his injuries, he did not file a complaint against Gregory. But when Loudoun authorities saw the video from the jail surveillance cameras and the deputy’s two in-car cameras, they prosecuted Gregory for misdemeanor assault. The Washington Post obtained and reviewed the video this week, several weeks after the deputy was found guilty.

“In my opinion, it was vile,” said Jerry Phillips, Grenoble’s attorney, “because he’s a law enforcement officer. He’s supposed to protect, not assault, someone.”

Loudoun Sheriff Mike Chapman said he was disturbed by what he saw. “I knew something had to be done,” he said.

Chapman and Loudoun Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman referred the case to the Virginia State Police, who investigated and obtained a warrant against Gregory in August. A Fauquier County prosecutor and a retired Clarke County judge handled the trial after Loudoun prosecutors and judges recused themselves. Gregory was convicted Nov. 17, and the judge fined him $500.

Chapman said he fired Gregory on Dec. 7. The 32-year-old, who was a deputy on the Loudoun force for 10 years, has 20 days to appeal his dismissal. He did not return a message seeking comment.

Gregory has appealed his conviction, and a trial is scheduled for next month.

His attorney, Caleb Kershner, said that Grenoble made a threatening move toward Gregory, as well as facial gestures indicating aggression, and that Gregory’s takedown was appropriate. He said Gregory had worked for years in the county jail and had been “assaulted multiple times. So he is going to notice these indicators more quickly than other people. . . . The guy gets out and immediately squares off on Gregory. He feels the guy push into him, and that’s when he takes him down.”

Grenoble’s attorney did not permit his client to be interviewed for this article, citing Gregory’s pending appeal in Loudoun General District Court and a possible lawsuit by Grenoble.

Phillips said that Grenoble, a 36-year-old welder who lives in Sterling, suffered bruises from being thrown to the ground by Gregory and that his hands were numb and he could not work for a week because he was kept in tight handcuffs for an hour after his arrest.

After Gregory was convicted of assault, Grenoble went on trial Dec. 1 for the public intoxication charge. Gregory did not appear for the trial, although another deputy did. A Loudoun District Court judge found Grenoble, who didn’t take the witness stand, not guilty.

At Gregory’s trial, according to Phillips, Grenoble testified that on the night of June 13, he had been drinking beer and shooting pool at Mighty Mike’s Bar and Grill in Sterling. Sometime after midnight, Grenoble stopped drinking and went outside to his pickup truck. “He was waiting for his friend to drive him home,” Phillips said. “He didn’t want to drive.”

But someone reportedly notified police of the man sitting in the truck, and Gregory and Sgt. Brett Phillips went to check it out.

Gregory testified that he could smell alcohol and that Grenoble had bloodshot eyes, Jerry Phillips said. Grenoble testified that the deputies were questioning him and then told him that he was under arrest for being drunk in public.

“Why? I’m just sitting here,” Grenoble testified that he told the deputies, according to Phillips. Gregory later wrote in his report that Grenoble was giving “sarcastic answers” and was “verbally abusive.”

A camera focused on the back seat of Gregory’s cruiser shows Grenoble inside in cuffs at 1:28 a.m. He spent the next half-hour there while the deputies arranged to have his truck towed.

Shortly after 2 a.m., Gregory drove to the Loudoun jail on Sycolin Road in Leesburg, his in-car cameras showed. During the ride, Grenoble periodically yowled in pain and complained about the handcuffs, at one point saying he couldn’t feel his hands. Gregory told him: “It takes 45 minutes to an hour of no circulation before a limb loses function. You’ll be fine.”

During the trip, Grenoble did not curse or argue or exhibit any disrespectful behavior toward the deputy, the video footage shows. Gregory’s cruiser pulled into the jail’s covered receiving area at 2:21 a.m. There were five surveillance cameras in the area recording.

Gregory opened the front-passenger door, obtained latex gloves, closed the door and then opened the right rear-passenger door. Grenoble is shown sitting quietly, and then the video shows him turning and climbing out of the cruiser without speaking.

Almost immediately, Gregory threw him to the ground and shouted: “You want to square off with me, I will f--- you up. Understand me?”

Grenoble is then heard moaning. Phillips said this is when Gregory placed his weight on Grenoble’s back. He said Grenoble testified, “He put his knee on my back and pounded me like a stuffed animal.”

Gregory wrote in his report that he “observed Mr. Grenoble staring at me through my vehicle’s window with an aggressive look on his face. I opened the rear door. Mr. Grenoble quickly exited the rear of my vehicle, squared his shoulders toward me and charged at me. Mr. Grenoble was placed in a prone position on the ground next to my vehicle.”

Grenoble hired Phillips to defend him on the drunk-in-public charge and told the lawyer that he had been roughed up in the jail. Phillips said he requested the jail video recordings, and that’s when Plowman reviewed them and notified the sheriff’s office, who called in the Virginia State Police. The state police investigator wrote in his complaint that “no aggressive movements towards the deputy were made by the arrestee.”

Assistant Fauquier Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Walther prosecuted Gregory’s case, with retired Clarke County District Court judge Norman deVere Morrison presiding. Phillips said that Gregory testified that he took down Grenoble “for his own safety and the safety of Grenoble.”

Kershner, Gregory’s attorney, presented a police expert who testified to the split-second decisions that police officers must make and said that “these guys get assaulted all the time, that’s why it’s a felony to assault a police officer. Officers often have to take fast and critical action.” Kershner argued that Grenoble had exited the car quickly and then moved his shoulders as if to attack Gregory.

Morrison disagreed, noting that Grenoble was still handcuffed. The judge said that “he didn’t feel [Grenoble] made any aggressive moves toward the officer.”

Morrison did not impose any jail time or probation and ordered the $500 fine.

In addition to not filing an internal complaint against Gregory, Phillips said that Grenoble had not planned to file a lawsuit either. “But after hearing the testimony and he was vilified” by Gregory, Phillips said, Grenoble “changed his mind. To him, it was like covering up a really ugly assault.”