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Waffle House choking wasn't racist, NC mayor says: ‘This officer did what he had to’

The mayor of Warsaw, North Carolina is defending a police officer he says is being threatened after a video showed him choking and slamming a man to the ground at a local Waffle House.

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Wall, who lives in Fayetteville, said he was at the Warsaw Waffle House with a group after taking his 16-year-old sister to prom. He said he and his sister argued with Waffle House employees and the police were called.

The argument began when a Waffle House employee cursed at people in his group after they sat at a table that had not been cleaned yet, Wall told The News & Observer in an interview. Then, Wall said, a waitress called the police.

Mayor A.J. Connors said Wall started a fight and he needed to be arrested, but said it was not a racially-motivated incident.

"...we must understand that this young man had broke the law. He was there, he started a fight," Connors said in a video statement posted to Facebook on May 11. "An officer’s job is to make an arrest if they see fit or there’s a reason to. This officer did what he had to do to make sure.

"Now I want the public to understand that this is not a racially-motivated issue. This was just a young man who had broken the law, and a law enforcement officer arrested him. And unfortunately physical contact took place because he refused to cooperate or follow the — or obey the law. "

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The Warsaw Police Department has received calls and social media messages, some of which were threats against the officer in the video, said Glenn Barfield, an attorney representing the officer.

The officer has not been suspended, Barfield said, but “I believe the officer is maybe not assigned to patrol duty because of those threats.”

Mayor Connors said Wall "became disruptive" at the Waffle House and when the Warsaw police officer arrived, Wall was "irate and doing things and threatening employees," according to Connors.

Connors said the officer approached Wall and "made an effort to have him come out" of the Waffle House.

"He put up a struggle and eventually he was brought outside, gotten outside and in the midst of things more physical contact took place," Connors said. "The officer made every effort to secure him so that the public would be safe. And in the midst of it, unfortunately, when there is physical contact, individuals were grabbed and was placed on the ground."

Connors said Wall was arrested and taken before a magistrate, who charged him and then he bonded out of jail.

Wall was checked by emergency medical services, Connors said, "to make sure there was no harm or danger to him."

The Warsaw Police Department and District Attorney Ernie Lee are investigating the May 5 incident, Chief Eric Southerland said. Lee said he has asked the State Bureau of Investigation to assist.

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The video of the arrest — which features strong language — does not show anything before the physical altercation. Wall had his arms raised above his head before the officer began to choke him.

Southerland said that is not how his officers are trained to behave.

In the video, Wall can be heard demanding the officer's supervisor.

It’s still unclear whether or not the officer in the video – or any Warsaw police officers – are equipped with body cameras. Barfield said he couldn’t say whether or not officers have them in Warsaw.

“I cannot answer that. I think that it is likely there will be sufficient video to illustrate what actually occurred,” Barfield said. “I think the department will address that issue at the conclusion of the investigation.”

When asked if the officer's behavior in the video reflects what Warsaw officers are trained to do in such situations, Southerland said "no."

"It's not what you're trained to do in incidents like this but when you're dealing with someone fighting and resisting against an officer, you try to use proper tactics and go for one move, but that might not work because that person is moving or the officer is moving," Southerland said. "In real versus training situations, moves don't always work out like you want them to."

The video of Wall being choked and slammed to the ground is out of context, Barfield said.

“A 32-second excerpt from a bystander cellphone video of an incident that was 5-10 minutes long, edited to that 32 seconds, in my view, for maximum dramatic effect, making it look like an innocent man being jumped, essentially, by a police officer because of a verbal disagreement,” Barfield said.

Connors asked people to "eliminate the prejudging" and allow the justice system to operate. He also asked that people stop calling the police department "and making threats and calls and tying up the lines."

"We have a judicial system that works," he said. "Let the system work."

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