3 Arkansas officers suspended after video captures beating of suspect
(CNN) — Three Arkansas law enforcement officers have been removed from duty and are under investigation, their departments confirmed, after bystander video captured at least two of them punching and kneeing a suspect during an arrest Sunday.
At one point in the 34-second video, one of the officers also appears to lift the suspect’s head and slam it into the pavement.
A Crawford County Sheriff’s Office Facebook post identifies the law enforcement personnel involved in the arrest as sheriff’s deputies Zack King and Levi White and officer Thell Riddle of the Mulberry Police Department. CNN has reached out to the deputies and officer.
The video, which was posted on social media, shows the officers restraining an individual — identified by state police as Randal Worcester, 27, of Goose Creek, South Carolina — near a curb outside a business. One officer throws punches at the person’s face and slams his head to the ground, while another knees the individual in the side and back.
A woman who is not seen on the video says, “Don’t beat him! He needs his medicine!” One officer responds, “Back the f**k up!” while another orders her to get in her car.
Two CNN senior law enforcement analysts say, judging solely from the video footage, the use of force appears excessive.
Worcester is charged with second-degree battery, resisting arrest, possessing an instrument of crime, criminal trespass, criminal mischief, terroristic threatening and first- and second-degree assault, Arkansas State Police said.
Worcester allegedly threatened a gas station clerk in a neighboring town, Crawford County Sheriff Jimmy Damante told CNN affiliate KHBS. When he was spotted in Mulberry, Worcester was initially cooperative, but then tried to attack the officers, leading to the confrontation seen in the video, Damante told the station.
It was unclear if Worcester suffered any serious injury. The suspect was examined at a hospital and booked into jail, while a deputy received minor head injuries during the altercation, the sheriff told KHBS.
‘It doesn’t make sense’
For two CNN senior law enforcement analysts, there remain questions about what happened before and after the moment caught on video. Yet even if Worcester attacked the officers as alleged, the level of force with which they respond seems excessive, the analysts said.
“Especially the blows to the face and head,” said former Philadelphia police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. “At one point in time, you see one of the officers actually lift the head and push it down into the pavement. Obviously, that raises the level of force considerably.” It also heightens the risk of serious injury or death, he said.
Ramsey continued, “Certainly the blows to the head at the same time you’re trying to get a person to put their hands behind their back — think about it. It doesn’t make sense. If you’re getting hit in the face, you’re going to lift your hands to try to protect your face.”
Ramsey and fellow CNN analyst Andrew McCabe, former deputy director of the FBI, say it’s difficult to imagine what could necessitate the officers’ violent response.
“It is important to remember that this video only catches a portion of the interaction between this individual who was arrested and the three officers,” McCabe said. “Importantly, those officers maintain that before the video that he attacked one of them, punched him in the head, pushed him to the ground. So, there was obviously a scuffle here that led to the use of force.
“However, what we see on that video, it is very, very hard to argue that what you’re seeing — the sort of punches and the kneeing him in the back and slamming his head … on the ground. That is not acceptable, normal, standard police use of force under really any circumstances.”
It’s important to consider there are three officers on a single suspect, McCabe said, and the lawmen do not appear to be using any accepted techniques for handcuffing a suspect.
Rather, it appears to be an “incredibly violent assault seemingly on a person on the ground and under the control of three officers,” he said. “I’m finding it impossible to justify what you’re seeing on that video really in any way.”
If attacked, police have a right to respond with necessary, proportionate and objectively reasonable force, Ramsey said, but the Arkansas officers’ reactions seem neither proportionate nor reasonable. Being attacked “doesn’t give you permission to then use excessive force when taking the individual into custody, period. It just doesn’t,” the former police chief said.
Suspect held on $15,000 bail
The person who posted the video online said her sister witnessed the altercation outside the Kountry Xpress in Mulberry.
Crawford County jail records show Worcester is being held on $15,000 bail. CNN attempted to reach out to Worcester. A person answering the phone at the Crawford County Detention Center confirmed he remained in custody late Monday morning. It is not clear who is representing Worcester in court proceedings.
“In reference to the video circulating on social media involving two Crawford County Deputies, we have requested that Arkansas State Police conduct the investigation and the Deputies have been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation,” the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
The Mulberry police officer is on administrative leave pending the investigation’s outcome, his department said.
“The City of Mulberry and the Mulberry Police Department takes these investigations very seriously and holds all their officers accountable for their actions,” a Mulberry police statement said.
CNN is unaware of other footage of the incident.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson confirmed state police will be investigating, “pursuant to the video evidence and the request of the prosecuting attorney,” Hutchinson said in a post on Twitter.
Arkansas State Police issued a statement saying its investigation “will be limited to the use of physical force by the deputies and the police officer,” and its findings will be submitted to a local prosecutor who will decide if the use of force was consistent with state law. A spokesperson told CNN the statement was the office’s only comment on the case.
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