‘I am deeply sorry.’ Ex-NC cop gets new prison sentence for slamming woman to ground

A former North Carolina police sergeant will serve three years in federal prison for body-slamming a handcuffed woman to the pavement after her 2013 arrest following a parking dispute.

Robert George, a one-time sergeant with the Hickory Police Department, received the new sentence Thursday from U.S. District Judge Ken Bell in Charlotte.

Bell’s decision comes two years after another federal judge sentenced George to probation — a ruling that was thrown out by a higher court late last year — after depicting George’s violent treatment of Chelsea Doolittle as “almost an accident.”

Robert George, a former police sergeant in Hickory NC, was arrested on federal charges of using excessive force during a 2013 arrest then lying about it. He faces up to 30 years in prison.
Robert George, a former police sergeant in Hickory NC, was arrested on federal charges of using excessive force during a 2013 arrest then lying about it. He faces up to 30 years in prison.

In fact, a video clip from a police surveillance camera shows the burly officer jerking the handcuffed Doolittle from the back of his patrol car, then slamming her face first onto the pavement outside the Hickory police building.

According to documents in the case, Doolittle suffered a broken nose, dental injuries that required multiple surgeries with more to come, as well as a concussion. She still suffers from memory loss, panic attacks and anxiety. George was arrested on federal charges 4 1/2 years after the incident.

An NC cop got probation after slamming a woman to ground. Now the courts get a do-over.

On Thursday, George faced the same sentencing range of 70 to 87 months as he did in 2019. Once again, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte called for a 71-month sentence, arguing that George had seriously injured a defenseless victim and had violated his public trust.

Assistant Federal Public Defender Myra Cause said her client still deserved probation or, at most, a year and a day in prison. She asked Bell not to let “four seconds of brutality” to overshadow her client’s years of public service.

George, who wore a blue police uniform for 16 years, chose a blue suit for court. He asked the judge for a chance to “move on.”

“I am deeply sorry of what happened to Miss Doolittle,” he said. “Everyday I think about it. Everyday I am reminded of it ... If I could go back eight years and do something to change what happened I would. But I can’t.”

In the end, the judge split the difference, telling George that his crime demanded prison time — “the conduct has victimized all of us” — but that the length dictated by the sentencing range would be “unjust.”

He also gave George credit for the 20 months of probation he had served under the 2019 sentence imposed by U.S. Senior District Judge Graham Mullen.

Allusion to George Floyd

While Bell said George had left Doolittle with long-term physical and emotional injuries and had tarnished the reputation of police nationwide, he described George’s act of violence as a “split-second” aberration on what had otherwise spotless police career and — in an allusion to George Floyd — “not a knee on a neck for nine minutes.”

Floyd was killed in 2020 by now-former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murder in state court and sentenced to 22 1/2 years. In December, Chauvin pleaded guilty to the federal charge of violating Floyd’s civil rights by using unreasonable force — the same crime George was sentence for on Thursday.

The cop says she fell. He's now accused of slamming her face to the pavement.

Bell acknowledged George’s expression of remorse — “I’m sure you do. How could you not?” But the longtime former federal prosecutor also noted that George had argued at his trial that the incident with Doolittle had been an accident and that the police sergeant simply “had lost his grip.”

“That’s not what happened ... It was still a violent act,” the judge said. “I have not heard yet an acceptance of responsibility for your conduct. I was expecting to hear it.”

George will self-report at a date to be determined by the federal Bureau of Prisons at a later date.

FBI agent: Video ‘sickening’

The case dates back to Nov. 11, 2013, when Doolittle, who court documents say had been drinking with another woman, was arrested in downtown Hickory after a dispute with police over a parked car.

During the drive to the police station, Doolittle “became verbally abusive to George,” according to the court documents. When they arrived at the station, George asked Doolittle to step out. She refused.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimlani Ford told Bell that George slammed the helpless Doolittle so hard into the driveway of the police station that she bounced.

In a statement after the sentence, FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert Wells of Charlotte described the video as “sickening.”

U.S. Attorney Dena King of Charlotte celebrated the verdict.

“A person’s constitutional rights do not cease to exist during or after an arrest,” she said in a statement after the hearing.

Doolittle, who later received a $400,000 settlement from the City of Hickory, did not attend the hearing.

But Ford read a letter from Doolittle to the judge in which she detailed her lingering injuries, called for justice against George while acknowledging that “I will never be the same person.”