A former Columbia police officer who faced up to a year behind bars for shoving an inmate into a holding cell wall was found not guilty Tuesday.
Rob Sanders had been charged with third-degree assault for the 2011 holding cell incident involving Kenneth Baker. Then in 2012, Chief Ken Burton fired Sanders for using excessive force.
Sanders told ABC 17 News all he wants to do now is to get back to work. He said it has been a long process, but always knew it was going to turn out in his favor.
Sanders said all he could do after the verdict was read was turn to his wife and cry with her. He said he always believed there was no way he could be found guilty for the incident.
He, co-workers and almost every expert called to the stand, including the police department's Internal Affairs commander, agreed there was nothing wrong with the way he acted in the holding cell.
“All the evidence was in my corner, you heard (Tuesday), you heard everybody involved, I did what I was supposed to do,” Sanders said.
Sanders testified saying he tried three separate times to calm down Baker in his holding cell. But Baker was upset because his eyes were burning from being pepper sprayed even after Sanders washed them out for him.
Sanders said according to procedures, if an inmate doesn't settle down, they need to go into the cell and handcuff him. He claims he went into the cell and pushed Baker. Sanders said he's had to do that before, but never had an inmate fly back the way Baker did.
Prosecutors believe Baker wasn't trying to fight and didn't deserve the push.
“This is a case that deserved a public trial based on the video evidence that existed and the public's had the trial, the judge has made the ruling, and of course we accept the judge's ruling,” special prosecutor Mark Richardson said.
Sanders said now that he's cleared his name criminally, he wants to get back to work with his dog, Fano, in the K-9 unit at the Columbia Police Department.
“I explained to the Chief of Police the day he fired me that we could use this as a teaching tool and go to the public and explain what I did was just and it doesn't look good, and we could have stood together as a united front, but he chose not to do that,” Sanders said.
Sanders said he still has to go through the personnel advisory board. According to him, there are a lot of people who support him and he is fairly confident he will get his job back.
Baker is currently in the Tipton Correctional Center in Moniteau County for not paying child support.