Police in Virginia are investigating one of their own for apparently using a Taser on a suspect who appeared to be complying. At least, that’s what a cell phone video of the incident seems to show.
The video was shot by a 22-year-old man, who asked news outlets that he remain anonymous. The cop — who hasn’t been identified by his name — used his Taser on a man outside a shopping center in Fairfax County.
The videographer told the Washington Post that he watched the man walking down the sidewalk; then a cop “pulled up, blocked his way.” So he got his cell phone and starting filming, returning to the scene just as the cop took out his Taser. Another cop forced him to stop taping the interaction. Afterward, he posted it on Facebook.
In the witness’ opinion, there didn’t appear to be any immediate reason for the cop to use his stun gun on this man, telling Fox 5 “He told him to turn around. He turned around he complied. And boom he popped out his Taser and he shot at him …”
The video depicts the following scene, the Post and WUSA9 recounted: a man wearing jeans and a baseball cap turns around and puts his hands on the cruiser, a cop nearby with his Taser drawn. The man then falls to the ground and rolls over; the cop is shouting “On the ground!” and then “Roll over!” The cop stands over the man with the weapon. By the end of the video, the man is lying on his stomach, a weapon pointed at his back.
One witness described what he saw of the incident in person.
“A gentleman just happened to be walking down the sidewalk and the cop pulls up in front of him and tells him to turn over. And as soon as he has his back turned toward him, he Tasers him. He didn’t see it coming. He did not try to run or nothing. That was wrong. How the police, unless he was wanted. But if he was wanted, the guy didn’t have to Taser him like he did.”
Spokesman Capt. Ed O’Carroll told the Associated Press that the officer was investigating a complaint of theft at the nearby shopping center. The suspect “refused treatment,” WUSA9 added, and was arrested. The man has since been charged with larceny.
Law enforcement still doesn’t know the cause of the incident, beyond the officer’s investigation of the suspect for stealing. As soon as the video was posted online and then brought to the attention of the Fairfax County Police Department, an Internal Affairs investigation began; authorities worked over the weekend, spokesman, Capt. Ed O’Carroll said.
Now, authorities are reaching out to other witnesses to fill in the blanks.
“They’re trying to find all the witnesses they can to determine what happened prior to this event and what happened after the event,” said Lt. Brooke Wright. “And it’s very hard to tell from a video when you have a very short snap shot in time, what events all occurred.”
The videographer spent the weekend speaking with Internal Affairs about what he saw Thursday afternoon.
But police may have a challenge on their hands as they try to piece together exactly what led up to the Taser incident, whose culmination was captured in only a brief snippet of video. Officers in Fairfax County don’t have body cameras and while all police cruisers have dashboard cameras, it’s not clear whether the officer involved in this incident had switched his on.
While O’Carroll said the Taser is a “useful tool,” he added that IA needs to figure out why it was used in this incident. For now, all authorities will say is that the interaction does “appear concerning,” Lt. Wright added.
“And that’s why we’re looking into it. The community has a right to be concerned. We’re concerned anytime something on its face in that way looks like it’s an unjustified use of force and that’s to be determined. If the officer is wrong he’ll be held accountable.”
[Photos Courtesy Graeme Robertson / Getty Images, YouTube Screengrab]