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Cottage Grove police in spotlight as witnesses recall beating of a mentally ill man

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COTTAGE GROVE, Ore. -- Witnesses recall the moments they watched as 27-year-old Alexander Harrelson, who is autistic and has schizophrenia, get repeatedly punched by Cottage Grove police officers.

Duane Raley said it was the afternoon of September 1; he was walking into Bookmine off Main Street when he saw Harrelson swinging a sword and being loud.

"One of the proprietors tell me that she had notified the police, not to file a formal complaint, but to alert them to the circumstance," Raley said.

Raley said the dispatcher told them they would send someone out to check it out.

"Then, very shortly after that, four police officers and four squad cars arrived on the scene. By this time, Mr. Harrelson was quiet. He was seated, at times walking around, he had set his sword aside," Raley said.

Raley said then the officers told Harrelson to get down on his stomach.

"At that point, one of the police officers, a burly man knocked Mr. Harrelson to the pavement, and the four officers jumped on top of him and began beating him severely in the head and both sides of his torso," Raley said.

Security camera footage captured the whole incident on camera.  Raley said a citizen even joined in, and eventually, an ambulance showed up.

"Mr. Harrelson was then brought to his feet, and I saw on the right side of his head and face bleeding, and the side of his head and his face looked like raw meat," Raley said.

Harrelson was handcuffed and taken to jail. According to court officials, Harrelson was charged with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, and assault. In his hearing on September 15, city officials said he pleaded guilty to resisting arrest.

"In my nearly 74 years, I have never seen anything so brutal in my life," Raley said.

Witnesses recall Cottage Grove police incident

In a statement, Cottage Grove city officials said: "The Cottage Grove Police Department takes all complaints seriously and immediately assigned an investigator to review and investigate the incident. That review and investigation is ongoing, and no additional comment will be provided regarding that investigation. Police officers are routinely confronted with unique and dynamic situations that require unique and dynamic assessments and split-second decisions. The Cottage Grove Police Department uses every incident as an opportunity to review our tactics, policies, and training and will constantly strive to improve when necessary and possible."

Witnesses like Venice Mason said that while she respects police, she's fighting for a change.

"We are looking for accountability. We all need their help. I personally do respect the police, and the work they do is very hard. But we need compassionate outreach, peer-supported services, and we need to spend the funding to create a mobile crisis unit, so this doesn't happen again," Mason said.

Senator Ron Wyden did announce earlier in the week that Oregon is the first state to earn federal approval for Medicaid reimbursement of community-based mobile crisis intervention services.

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