TUPELO • Almost a week after the detention by local police of civic figure and businessman Wesley Wells launched a renewed round of scrutiny aimed at local law enforcement, newly released body camera footage provides a nearly complete record of the incident.
Mayor Jason Shelton’s administration released Tupelo Police Department body camera and car camera videos on Monday, which combined show the entire interaction between Wells and TPD officers near the Mall at Barnes Crossing, though some audio is missing.
The release of the footage follows an investigation into a failure by two officers to follow body camera policies. A microphone inside a patrol car also malfunctioned, but officials say this was a technical malfunction and not officer error.
The footage confirms some points of concern raised by Wells, who posted a recording of himself to his personal Facebook page immediately following his detention on Tuesday, March 16. His broader claim that police “robbed” him of his “dignity” will likely remain contentious.
Officers initially failed to wear face coverings, and some officers ignored Wells’ concerns about COVID-19.
Of three officers involved, one, Blake Hudson, does don a face mask upon Wells’ request. Another, Roy Noe, repeatedly and pointedly refused to do so.
“I’m not required to. I don’t have to,” Noe said, then added, “I don’t give a sh-t what you think.”
The video also partially confirms officer accounts that Wells declined to fully identify himself, but the written incident reports overstate this part of the interaction between Wells and police.
Two reports implied Wells did not provide his full name until after he’d been handcuffed and transported to Belk. Video shows Wells offered his full name as he was being handcuffed a few minutes into the event. Wells, who was on foot, didn’t have identification at the time.
Throughout the encounter, Wells sought to highlight his personal relationships with prominent figures, including Mayor Jason Shelton, Police Chief Bart Aguirre and Mall at Barnes Crossing manager Jeff Snyder.
As captured by Hudson’s body camera, here’s how Wells’ detention occurred:
• Hudson drives toward Wells, who is on foot, and dispatches that he is about to approach “a white male in front of Dick’s Sporting Goods.” Wells is Black.
• Hudson exits his car and asks Wells to stop: “If you don’t mind me asking, where did you just come from?”
• Hudson is not wearing a mask at this time. Wells puts his own face mask on as Hudson approaches.
• “I’m just walking,” Wells tells the officer as he cuts off a phone call. Hudson says he is seeking a shoplifting suspect wearing a white shirt and a white hat. Wells is wearing dark pants, a white long-sleeved shirt and a white hat.
• Wells tries to back away and end the encounter, prompting Hudson to ask for his name. Wells says, “I’m not going to give my name” because “I haven’t done anything … I’m well known in this town.” Hudson replies, “I don’t know you. If you’re well known, I don’t know who you are.”
• Officer Dan Porch arrives. Porch is not wearing a body camera or a face mask.
• Wells says he does not have an ID. Since he was not pulled over driving a car, he is not legally required at this point to have or to produce identification. He finally provides a name: “OK, I’m going to complain to Chief Aguirre about this, but my name is Wesley. And I’m going to call the mayor.”
• Hudson reiterates that Wells has a resemblance to the stated description of a suspect. Wells again tries to end the encounter, stating that he knows the manager of the Mall at Barnes Crossing, Jeff Snyder, and insisting he’s in a hurry.
• Porch asks Wells to put his hands on Hudson’s car. Wells asks Porch not to approach him without wearing a face mask. “You get over there and put your hands on the car right now. I’m not going to ask you again,” Porch responds. Wells complies.
• As Hudson approaches to pat down Wells, Wells again raises concerns over COVID-19, says he is diabetic and asks Hudson to put on a mask. Hudson produces a mask at this point and puts it on.
• Wells continues to assert his prominence in the community as Hudson pats him down, directing his comments toward Porch. “You need to speak to me better. I do so much to support this city … I’m going to call Jeff (Snyder) and the mayor.”
• Porch directs Hudson to handcuff Wells. At this point, Wells provides his full name. Porch says Wells is being “uncooperative.”
• Hudson places Wells in the back of his patrol car and transports him to the parking lot outside Belk.
• Outside Belk, a third officer, Roy Noe, questions Wells while he is sitting in the back of Hudson’s vehicle. Wells asks Noe to put on a face mask. “I’m not required to. I don’t have to,” Noe says. Wells continues to insist. “I don’t give a sh-t what you think,” Noe says.
• Wells asks law enforcement to confirm his identity with Jeff Snyder. Noe mocks that idea. “Let me just tell you something, I don’t care about Jeff Snyder, I can tell you that right now,” Noe says, as he slams a patrol car door shut.
• A Belk loss prevention officer initially misidentifies Wells as the suspect.
Relevant body camera footage ends at this point, though a car camera with no audio continues to roll. Police incident reports relay that, after reviewing Belk security footage, the store’s loss prevention officer determines Wells is not the suspect.
By this time, incidents reports indicate that Noe had already ordered Wells released from handcuffs.
Beyond disciplinary action taken last week over body camera policy violations, Shelton said Monday he does not anticipate any additional disciplinary measures related to the incident.