WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — A Monday night meeting in Waterbury hoped to add transparency after a video showed officers punching a man while taking him into custody.
“I gasped,” Athena Wagner, who lives in Waterbury, said. “I literally gasped when I saw it.”
The video shows 37-year-old James Thomas being taken into custody, with officers punching Thomas and wrestling his arms to get them behind his back. Police said that Thomas kept reaching for a loaded handgun on his hip.
In the video, police can be heard ordering “Don’t reach,” and a bystander saying “He’s not doing anything, he was just standing there.”
Waterbury Police Chief Fernando Spagnolo said that he’s committed to transparency.
“We came out within hours of the TikTok video,” he said. “It was presented that same day. we provided video to the media from beginning to end of the call. We provided the 911 call to the community.”
Police said the 911 caller said that Thomas had a gun and had been fighting with a woman who had a restraining order against him. Authorities also said Thomas was involved in two shootings before the arrest, and that after his arrest, they found 30-round magazines and almost 1,500 bags of heroin he intended to sell and four ounces of raw drugs. They said he is also a convicted felon.
Wendy Tyson-Wood, the president of the Greater Waterbury NAACP, said the meeting needed to build trust.
“It appeared to be violent,” Tyson-Wood said. “After we delved down into the situation, we realized it was warranted. But you are still left with those perceptions vs. reality feelings.”
Spagnolo said the department takes the community’s input, “because ultimately it’s their needs that we are trying to care for.”
The goal was to talk more about the video and bring similar issues to the forefront.
“We’ve been here before in this city,” Wagner said. “We have been here before in policing issues, police brutality. This is not the first time.”