Crime & Courts

'Stop! Don't choke me!': Video shows arrest under investigation for excessive force

Note to readers: The attached video contains graphic and abusive language.

Body camera footage tied to the potential excessive force investigation of a McHenry County sheriff’s deputy shows the deputy putting his arm across the throat of a 31-year-old woman before handcuffing her on the ground.

A criminal investigation by the McHenry County State's Attorney's Office into whether the officer used excessive force was ongoing Tuesday, officials said. The deputy, whose name has not been released, has been placed on paid administrative leave in the meantime.

A sheriff's deputy wearing a name tag that read "T. Bengtson" can be see on another officer's body camera footage restraining the woman during her arrest. A McHenry County Sheriff's Office incident detail report obtained through a public records request listed Timothy Bengtson as one of five responding sheriff's deputies that day.

Reached by email Monday and Tuesday, the McHenry County Sheriff's Office declined to provide further confirmation of the officer's name, citing an ongoing investigation. Bengtson is the only sheriff's deputy listed with that last name on the county's 2019-20 salary compensation report.

In Illinois, police are prohibited from using a chokehold unless deadly force is justified. According to state law, a “chokehold” is defined as “applying any direct pressure to the throat, windpipe, or airway of another with the intent to reduce or prevent intake of air” – the key word being intent.

“’Chokehold’ does not include any holding involving contact with the neck that is not intended to reduce the intake of air,” according to Illinois law.

McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally declined to comment Monday on the state of the investigation.

Woodstock police provided the McHenry County Sheriff's Office with body camera footage of a sheriff's deputy who assisted on the call, after noticing "actions that we felt were worthy for the McHenry County Sheriff’s administration to be made aware of," Woodstock Deputy Police Chief Jeffrey Parsons said in July when the McHenry County Sheriff's Office announced it was placing the deputy on leave.

The deputy's actions occurred during the June 17 arrest of Andrea Nielsen, which began as an investigation into a burglary at the Woodstock Blain’s Farm and Fleet earlier that day.

According to a police report obtained by the Northwest Herald through a public records request, Woodstock police officer Thomas Nickels was investigating the burglary when he learned the suspects’ white 2003 Chevrolet Tahoe was traveling south on Route 47.

Shortly after, the vehicle was spotted west of Harmony Hill Road in Marengo and a McHenry County sheriff’s deputy was sent to check the area, according to the police report. Nickels, whose actions are not under investigation, was given direction from his sergeant to assist the sheriff’s deputy at the scene where the vehicle was stopped, according to the report.

As he approaching the Tahoe, Nickels saw three men, later identified as Cody Shambo, Benjamin Holden and William Culley.

“I exited my vehicle and requested the subjects to put their hands up and to start walking to my vehicle,” Nickels wrote in his report.

Shambo and Holden followed the officer’s orders, while Culley went to the back of the vehicle in an alleged attempt to hide from Nickels, according to the report. After again demanding the man come out with his hands up, Culley did as the officer said, according to the report.

“I asked them if anybody else was in the vehicle and they said a female was in the Tahoe,” Nickels wrote. “I observed in the front passenger seat of the vehicle, a female which appeared to be sleeping.”

On video footage recorded by Nickels’ body camera, a sheriff’s deputy can be seen approaching the Tahoe, and speaking with someone in the front passenger seat before pulling her out of the vehicle. The video, released by the Woodstock Police Department through a public records request, includes redactions that at times obscure officers' faces.

"In this instance, the material was redacted to protect the identity of certain undercover agents and certain related investigative matters," the city of Woodstock said in its Freedom of Information Act response letter.

Because the McHenry County Sheriff's Office does not use body cameras, the deputy's point of view is not available.

Shortly after removing Nielsen from the vehicle, the sheriff’s deputy placed his arm across the woman's throat as she struggled and yelled “Stop! Don’t choke me!” Only brief moments of the interaction were caught on Nickels’ body camera; the Woodstock police officer was positioned further down the road where the three men were in handcuffs.

Throughout the remainder of Nielsen’s arrest, the woman accused the sheriff’s deputy of choking her and calling her a derogatory name.

“That was [expletive] excessive force and it’s not [expletive] funny because I’m suing you,” Nielsen said while seated in the back of a police vehicle.

According to Nickels' report, Nielsen complained of a hurt ankle but refused medical attention.

Nielsen’s attorney, McHenry County Assistant Public Defender Kim Messer, declined to comment, noting that she hadn’t yet received all the evidence tied to her client’s arrest.

In an email Monday, the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office also declined to comment while the investigation is ongoing.

“We are currently waiting on the results of the criminal investigation from the State’s Attorney’s Office,” McHenry County Sheriff’s Deputy Sandra Rogers said. “Due to this being an ongoing investigation, just like in past practice, we are unable to comment at this time.”

Attempts to reach the deputy Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Culley, Holden, Nielsen and Shambo were taken to the Woodstock Police Department and later transferred to the McHenry County Jail on felony charges tied to the burglary investigation.

Culley and Shambo were charged with burglary, theft, possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia and criminal damage to property totaling less than $300.

Holden was charged with burglary, theft and possession of a controlled substance, while Nielsen was charged with burglary, theft and criminal damage to property totaling less than $300.

She remained at the McHenry County Jail Tuesday on a $50,000 bond.

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