Police appear excessive in Arkansas beating video

By JAKE BLEIBERG, Associated Press

An Arkansas sheriff’s deputy was filmed repeatedly punching a man in the head before grabbing his hair and slamming him into the sidewalk. As this happened, another officer restrained the man while a third repeatedly brought him to his knees.

A bystander’s video of the arrest of Randal Worcester, 27, on Sunday in the small town of Mulberry sparked outrage after it was posted online. All three officers were later suspended, and state and federal authorities opened criminal investigations into their actions. It’s the latest instance in which increasingly ubiquitous cameras have taken a toll on officers and raised questions about what level of force police are justified in using and when.

Russell Wood, attorney for the two Crawford County sheriff’s deputies and Mulberry police officer, pointed out that the 34-second clip does not show everything that happened and said Worcester previously attacked one of the assistants, leaving him with a concussion. Wood said in a statement that the deputy’s “painful strikes” did no “damage” and that Worcester’s own violence empowered officers to use “all force necessary”.

However, police experts say blows to the head are a potentially lethal use of force and are only warranted in an arrest when a suspect poses a current and serious threat. They say a full investigation is needed, but the video raises clear ‘red flags’ over the actions of the officers, who had Worcester grounded by the time the viewer began recording from a nearby car.

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“Depending on your resistance level, (officers) might use defensive strikes or what they call pain strikes to get compliance, but it’s not a shot to the head,” said Geoffrey Alpert, professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina which studies the use of force by the police. “He’d have to do something serious enough to get hit in the head like that.”

Carrie Jernigan, a Worcester attorney, said the deputy who punched him, Levi White, had used excessive force over the past month along with two other people she represents. “Something is going on and we just have to fix it,” she said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Worcester’s arrest came after police received reports that a man made threats outside a convenience store in Mulberry, a community of around 1,600 people about 220 kilometers to the northwest of Little Rock, near the Oklahoma border. He was treated in a hospital on Sunday before being jailed for second-degree grievous bodily harm and resisting arrest. He was released Monday on $15,000 bond.

Crawford County Sheriff Jimmy Damante said when officers arrived at the convenience store, Worcester handed over an unspecified “weapon” but then became violent. The sheriff’s office identified the three officers involved as Deputies Zack King and White and local police officer Thell Riddle.

Wood said Worcester threatened a woman with a knife and, after being confronted, grabbed White by the legs and tackled him to the ground, stunning the deputy. Worcester then got on White and “started punching him in the back of the head and face,” the attorney said.

Wood called on Mulberry Police to release dash cam video, which he said shows more of what happened, and argued that in such a situation the suspect “must be removed from the scene. street at all costs”.

The use of force by officers is regulated by both law and departmental policy. Bowling Green State University criminologist Philip Stinson called what is shown in footage of Worcester’s arrest “completely unwarranted”. He said Worcester’s earlier attack on one of the officers could explain their actions – suggesting their subsequent beating of the man was punitive – but it would not provide them with legal justification.

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

Prosecutions against police for use of force at work are relatively rare, and videos from body-worn cameras and the dashboard often show that officers’ actions were justified. But the growing presence of police cameras and bystanders with cellphones has also provided evidence that sometimes undermines officers’ explanations of their use of force.

In neighboring Louisiana, a state trooper also explained his use of force during an arrest in 2019 as “pain compliance.” The trooper later resigned and was arrested and charged with state and federal crimes after his body camera footage showed him hitting a black motorist 18 times with a flashlight as the man moaned: “I can’t resist!”

Stinson said that, so far, the ubiquitous cameras haven’t changed policing as much as they’ve revealed.

“This kind of thing happens with great regulation,” he said.

Andrew DeMillo of Little Rock, Arkansas contributed to this report.

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