PANAMA CITY - A former Panama City Police Officer is charged with battery for spraying a shoplifting suspect in the face with pepper spray.
Cpl. Bernie Willburn retired last month after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement launched an investigation into the incident that was caught on his dashboard camera.
Take a look at the video. The girl seen in the back seat is Veronica Bowles. According to the FDLE's investigative summary, obtained by Newschannel 7, she was arrested June 25 after she stole $3.55 worth of ice cream from the downtown marina's Ship's store.
Stanley Jones, the Marina Director, flagged down two officers on Segways after he says he watched Bowles take the ice cream, walk across the parking lot and start eating it.
When officers approached Bowles at the bus stop, she said you're here to "f**k with me" about the ice cream and then offered to pay for it. But it was too later. Jones wanted to press charges. Bowles said they would regret, then threw change and her sunglasses on the ground. She then stomped on the sunglasses, breaking them into pieces.
The officers placed her in cuffs and Bowles started kicking them.
Willburn arrived on the scene and placed Bowles in his patrol car. She started kicking in the back seat and then spit on Wilburn before he could close the divider.
Bowles continued to kick and scream, despite several warnings from Wilburn that he would pepper spray her if she didn't calm down. After four and a half minutes, Wilburn opened the door and sprayed her in the face.
Wilburn said that's how he was trained to handle the situation and that he followed PCPD policy.
But the FDLE determined Wilburn's actions were not justified and that there was enough probable cause to charge him with battery if Bowles filed a complaint.
Bowles filed a complaint September 30. Wilburn was later charged with simple battery.
Bowles was charged with retail theft and battery on a law enforcement officer.