After leading Nebraska state troopers on an hourlong chase that reached speeds of nearly 100 mph, the Colorado man was so intoxicated or impaired he could barely stand when ordered out of his van, falling back against it.
Following the troopers’ orders, he put his hands up, and he kept them away from his body the whole time he stood before the troopers. He did not, however, comply with more than a dozen other commands to “Get down on the ground!”
That’s when Trooper Lindsey Bixby took Brian Davis down himself — with the butt end of his rifle. A sharp crack rang out as Bixby leveled Davis with a strike to the side of the head, Davis crumpling to the ground.
The March 4, 2016, arrest in Nebraska’s far-west Sioux County was captured in a dashboard camera video that was recently obtained by The World-Herald — stark images that raise more questions about the Nebraska State Patrol and how former Patrol Superintendent Brad Rice policed conduct within the ranks.
Bixby was not fired. That despite a use of force that a criminal justice expert, a patrol veteran and a longtime Nebraska law enforcement official each said was excessive and questionable. And despite the fact Bixby wasn’t truthful about what happened, indicating in his report — and testifying under oath — that he did not strike Davis in the head.
Instead, Bixby months later quietly resigned his job — his resigned status increasing the possibility he could later be hired by another law enforcement agency.
A spokesman for Gov. Pete Ricketts confirmed that the Sioux County case — never publicly disclosed until now — and its handling was a factor in the governor’s decision Friday to remove Rice as leader of the patrol and put on paid administrative leave six other officers, including the agency’s No. 2 in command.
“On Thursday, the governor was fully briefed on the use of force on display in the video and the subsequent investigation,” spokesman Taylor Gage said in a statement. “The use of force on display in the video is egregious.”
He declined to answer other questions, saying the matter remains under review.
The deputy Sioux County attorney who reviewed the case as a possible criminal assault called the video “shocking” and said the blow at first blush “looked vicious.”
The prosecutor, though, declined to charge Bixby criminally. He cited no proof that Davis had suffered an injury and the trooper’s reasonable belief after the long pursuit that Davis posed a danger. Despite the prosecutor’s decision, Bixby still could have faced internal discipline for his conduct both during and after the event.
“That tactic is not taught in NSP academy,” one patrol veteran, who spoke on the condition of not being named, said of Bixby’s take-down technique.
The governor had announced a week ago he was launching an official review of personnel issues in the patrol. The review was prompted by a previous World-Herald report raising questions about patrol conduct and the truthfulness of reporting during another chase last year, that one ending in a fatality.
In that case, an internal investigator and others questioned why the narrative of what caused the Oct. 3 Sheridan County crash changed, from a tactical maneuver by the trooper to bump the suspect car into a spin to instead a sudden turn by the fleeing driver.
The governor’s decision to fire Rice and suspend the others came swiftly after Jason Jackson, the state’s chief human resources officer, returned from conducting interviews and collecting documents last week in the patrol’s Panhandle troop area in Scottsbluff. That’s the troop area where both of the incidents in question occurred.
The governor said Jackson’s preliminary review found “interference in internal investigations and violations of internal policy at the highest levels of the Nebraska State Patrol.” He said the administration had also shared its initial findings with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for further investigation.
The governor’s decision also came a day after The World-Herald made a public records request seeking documents related to the Sioux County chase. The paper had recently obtained dashcam videos of the incident from another source.
The two incidents under review, which occurred seven months apart last year, shared many similarities. Not only were they in the same Panhandle troop area, the two troopers at the center of the actions were supervised by the same sergeant and same troop captain.
Both incidents occurred after long high-speed pursuits. Both involved reviews of use of force. Both raised questions over the subsequent accuracy of reporting and whether officers had been held to account for their actions.
Bixby could not be reached for comment. Gary Young, an attorney for the troopers union said by others to have represented Bixby, declined to comment or even to confirm he had represented the former trooper.
Many of the details behind the internal handling of the Bixby case remain unclear. As of Saturday, the patrol had not yet responded to the newspaper’s records request.
The Ricketts administration offered few details, citing the ongoing review.
But through the videos, the transcript of a legal hearing, interviews with a patrol veteran with knowledge of the case and other sources, The World-Herald put together this account of the March 4 incident:
At 1:11 a.m., just south of Chadron, Trooper Kyle Kuebler clocked a silver van driven by Davis at 76 mph in a 55 mph zone.
Davis, of Aurora, Colorado, initially stopped. But then he pulled back onto the road and took off at high speed, Kuebler in pursuit. With Kuebler’s siren blaring, the pursuit over sparse rural highways reached near-triple-digit speeds.
About 20 minutes into the hourlong pursuit, Bixby joined in, putting out a set of “stop sticks” that deflated at least one of Davis’ tires. Even with his vehicle somewhat disabled, Davis continued to flee from the officers for nearly 40 minutes.
Davis finally reached the point where he was driving on the rims of his van, throwing off large amounts of sparks, and he swerved into the left side ditch. Both Kuebler and Bixby followed him in.
What happened next was caught on both troopers’ dashboard cameras. The audio on Kuebler’s microphone went out about 45 minutes into the chase. The view from Bixby’s camera was partially obscured by Kuebler. The World-Herald synced the video from Kuebler’s dashcam and the audio from Bixby’s to provide a fuller look at what transpired.
One trooper, believed to be Kuebler, calls out to the van’s driver, “Turn off the ignition and throw the keys out the window! Do it now!”
It appears Davis attempts to restart his vehicle and back up. Bixby yells, “Turn the vehicle off and get out of the vehicle!”
The troopers have their guns drawn, Kuebler holding a pistol, Bixby his patrol-issued rifle. The tension can be heard in their voices. They at that point did not know what kind of threat they faced from this subject who had been so intent to get away. They also had no way of knowing how many occupants were in the vehicle.
A check of Davis’ criminal history in his home state of Colorado shows he was cited for more than 20 misdemeanor or traffic offenses from 1999 to 2015, including driving under the influence, driving while impaired, careless driving and driving without a license.
The driver’s side door swings open, first propped open by Davis’ foot. He clumsily emerges, at one point falling back against the van.
He reaches down to his waistband — a move that at that moment could have been seen as a reach for a weapon, but it’s only to pull up his sagging shorts. He then complies with the officers’ repeated calls to put his hands up.
“Hands,” he says as he shows his raised open hands. His hands would remain up and away from his body the rest of the time he stood before the officers — more than 20 seconds.
But Davis did not comply with the officers’ subsequent calls to go down to the ground, a demand they repeat more than a dozen times. Davis shows some mild defiance, softly saying “F— you” to the officers, and then, “Shoot.”
The officers leave the cover of their vehicles and begin to approach. Davis slowly lowers his hands to waist level but keeps them away from his body, palms out and open.
“Guys,” he says in a plaintive voice to the approaching officers.
“Get on the f—ing ground!” one of the troopers yells one final time.
That’s when Bixby strikes Davis in the side of the head with the butt end of his rifle. Davis’ head recoils from the force, hitting the top of his van, and then he drops face-first to the ground.
Bixby quickly begins to cuff Davis. Kuebler starts to assist but Bixby indicates he has Davis under control, telling Kuebler instead to check the vehicle for other occupants.
Davis moans as Bixby works to get the cuffs on, Bixby yelling, “Get your hands back!”
Kuebler returns from checking the vehicle, assists Bixby in finishing the cuffing, and the tension quickly de-escalates.
Davis would later plead no contest to willful reckless driving and attempt to operate a motor vehicle to avoid arrest, both misdemeanors. A misdemeanor DUI charge was dropped, and he was sentenced to two years of probation.
But scrutiny would ultimately turn from Davis’ actions in the case to Bixby’s.
A source with knowledge of the patrol’s handling of the case said the incident was not red-flagged in the initial reports coming into headquarters from the Scottsbluff troop area. It wasn’t until Bixby’s use of force report was routinely reviewed by patrol internal affairs, a week after the incident, that concerns were raised. That review included viewing dashcam video. Bixby was then put on paid administrative leave, pending a review of his actions.
The source, who spoke on the condition of not being named, also said Bixby was not truthful in his report about where he struck Davis — something Bixby seems to indirectly confirm during subsequent legal testimony.
A state administrative proceeding was held weeks later in which Davis’ driver’s license was revoked. During the hearing, in which law enforcement officers typically testify by teleconference, Davis’ attorney asked Bixby where he struck Davis with the rifle butt.
“I believe that I’d struck him in the upper shoulder area,” Bixby testified under oath.
“You didn’t hit him in the head?” the attorney asked.
“I did not hit him in the head,” Bixby said.
Pressed again by the attorney, Bixby said, “To my knowledge, he was struck in the upper shoulder area. That’s what I based my report off of.”
Then the video is discussed and the attorney again asked Bixby if he hit Davis in the head.
“No. I struck — upon reviewing Trooper Kuebler’s video, I struck Mr. Davis. It appeared to be in the neck area.”
Once Bixby’s use of force was red-flagged within the patrol, it came under both internal review and an investigation into possible criminal charges.
The results of the criminal investigation were ultimately turned over to the Sioux County Attorney’s Office.
Click here to read more.