CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — A video circulating on social media shows a North Carolina police officer repeatedly striking a Black woman during an arrest while several other officers hold her down, and although the department contends that the officer was “intentional” about where he hit the woman to get her to comply, the police chief acknowledged Wednesday that he understands “the outrage.”
At a news conference Wednesday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Chief Johnny Jennings said that when officers approached a man and woman who were smoking marijuana at a bus stop Monday and began arresting the man, the woman interfered, an officer tried to stop him and a struggle ensued.
The woman hit an officer multiple times, according to Lt. Kevin Pietrus. During the struggle, an officer who responded as backup struck the woman several times to get her to allow police to take her into custody, which is consistent with his training, Pietrus told reporters.
“After several repeated verbal commands, an officer struck the female subject seven times with knee strikes and 10 closed fist strikes to the peroneal nerve in the thigh to try to gain compliance,” police said in a statement Tuesday. “The officer was intentional about where the strikes were made.”
One bystander video posted online shows four officers kneeling and holding the woman down as a fifth repeatedly strikes her with a closed fist. As it is happening, bystanders shout at the officers to stop. After a few seconds, the officers stand up and lead the woman to a squad SUV with her arms behind her back.
“I get it. I understand the outrage. I understand the emotions that come when you look at a video that involves an officer who is punching a female” police are trying to subdue, Jennings said at the news conference.
Jennings said he has been involved in similar physical struggles during his 32 years of policing.
“I can tell you that I’ve never been involved in using force that has looked pretty and has looked good to the public,” he said. “So these are difficult situations. And all I ask is we continue to let this investigation internally play out.”
The department’s internal affairs bureau is investigating, said Jennings, who speculated that other agencies might eventually conduct their own probes. The officer, identified as Vincent Pistone, has been reassigned temporarily from the patrol division to investigations, Jennings said. A department spokesperson said the department does not release information about officers’ races.
Police contend that the woman, identified in court documents as a 24-year-old Black woman from Charlotte, assaulted an officer. Neither the video that shows the officer striking the woman nor two other videos shot from a different angle by someone else show the beginning of the encounter between police and the people they arrested. The woman’s attorney, Lauren Newton, did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.
Jennings noted Wednesday that the body camera of the officer who he says was hit by the woman was knocked off during the struggle.
The chief said the public has the right to see the bodycam footage and that he believes it will, but that it could take a couple of months because North Carolina law requires a court order to release such video. He said his department has already petitioned the court to allow the release.
As officers took the man into custody, they found a loaded handgun in his bag, police said. The man was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and the woman was charged with assault on a government official. Both were also charged with resisting officers and marijuana possession.
The Bojangles restaurant chain confirmed that the man and woman work at its location near the scene of the arrest. But it said they had already finished their shifts and were off the property when they were approached by police, news outlets reported.
“Like many other Charlotteans, we were shocked and saddened by the video of an incident between Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police and a Bojangles employee,” Vice President of Communications Stacey McCray said. “While we wait to learn more of the details of what led to the incident, we plan to cooperate fully with any investigation.”
Jennings acknowledged at the news conference that the “optics are bad.”
“It shouldn’t have happened,” he said. “But whose responsibility is the question, right?”
The chief questioned whether the officers should have initiated arrests for marijuana use “even though we can,” and whether the woman should have interfered with the man’s arrest and struck officers.
“None of that should have happened,” he said.
Brumfield reported from Silver Spring, Maryland, and Schoenbaum reported from Raleigh, North Carolina.