An Arkansas sheriff’s deputy was seen on film hitting and kneeing a man in the head several times before seizing his hair and smashing him on the pavement. At the same time, another officer was keeping the man down as a third repeatedly kneed him.

After a bystander’s video of Randal Worcester’s arrest on Sunday in the small hamlet of Mulberry was shared online, it prompted uproar. All three cops were later suspended, and criminal investigations into their behavior were launched by state and federal authorities. It’s the latest instance in which increasingly ubiquitous cameras have resulted in consequences for officers and highlighted questions about when and how much force police are justified in employing.

Russell Wood, a lawyer for the two Crawford County sheriff’s deputies and a Mulberry police officer, claimed the 34-second video doesn’t show everything that transpired and that Worcester had previously attacked one of the deputies, causing him to suffer a concussion. Wood stated in a statement that the deputy’s “pain compliance strikes” caused no “damage” and that Worcester’s violence authorized the cops to use “all necessary force.”

According to policing experts, blows to the head are a potentially lethal use of force and are only permitted in an arrest when a suspect poses an immediate and significant threat. They believe a thorough investigation is required, but the video raises evident “red flags” regarding the police’ tactics, as they had Worcester pinned to the ground by the time the witness began filming from a nearby car.

“Depending on your level of resistance, (officers) could use defensive strikes or what they call pain strikes to get compliance, but that’s not a blow to the head,” said Geoffrey Alpert, a criminology professor at the University of South Carolina who studies police use of force. “He had to be up to something serious to get hit in the head like that.”

Carrie Jernigan, an attorney for Worcester, said the officer who assaulted him, Levi White, used excessive force on two other persons she represents in the last month. “There’s something going on, and we just need to get it addressed,” she said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Worcester was apprehended after police received complaints of a guy making threats outside a convenience shop in Mulberry, a town of about 1,600 people located about 140 miles (220 kilometers) northwest of Little Rock, near the Oklahoma state line. On Sunday, he was treated at a hospital before being arrested on accusations including second-degree violence and resisting arrest. He was released on a $15,000 bond on Monday.

When cops arrived at the convenience store, Worcester turned over an undisclosed “weapon” but then became belligerent, according to Crawford County Sheriff Jimmy Damante. The three cops involved have been identified as deputies Zack King and White, as well as local police officer Thell Riddle, by the sheriff’s office.

Worcester, according to Wood, had been threatening a woman with a knife and, when confronted, grabbed White by the knees and pushed him to the ground, shocking the deputy. Worcester leapt upon White and “began striking him on the back of the head and face,” according to the attorney.

Wood demanded that Mulberry police provide dashboard-camera video, which he claimed showed more of what transpired, and argued that in such a case, the culprit “must be taken off the streets at all costs.”

The use of force by officers is governed by both the law and department policy. Philip Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University, called Worcester’s detention “completely unwarranted.” Worcester’s earlier attack on one of the cops, he argued, would explain their behavior — implying their latter beating of the man was punitive — but it wouldn’t provide them with legal justification.

“The force was excessive and, in my opinion, criminal,” said former officer Stinson.

Police officers are rarely prosecuted for using excessive force on the job, and body-worn and dashboard camera footage frequently demonstrates that officers’ actions were lawful. However, the rising prevalence of police cameras and bystanders with cellphones has revealed evidence that sometimes undermines officers’ explanations for using force.

A state trooper in neighboring Louisiana justified his use of force during a 2019 arrest as “pain compliance.” After his bodycam footage showed him beating a Black motorist 18 times with a flashlight while the victim sobbed, “I’m not resisting!” the trooper resigned and was arrested and charged with state and federal charges.

According to Stinson, ubiquitous cameras have not changed policing as much as they have shown it.

“This kind of thing happens with a lot of regulation,” he explained.

Source: AP News

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