On the ten-second video, several officers hold down a suspect while one officer uses his fist to deliver blow after blow to the suspect’s back.
But as we’ve found out over the past week, what’s happening in that 10-second clip is increasingly in the eye of the beholder.
Readers, commenters on charlotteobserver.com and people who’ve written into the Observer’s opinion section have said it appears officers are beating a man who could have been subdued by other means – especially because officers outnumber the suspect 8-to-1. Race plays a part in many opinions. All of the officers trying to subdue Malcolm Elliott – including the one striking the blows – are white. Elliott is black.
“Of course this is police brutality,” one reader commented. “Seven bullies in uniform surrounding the suspect; arrest him and give him his due process. Officers are not paid to deliver their own due process.”
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Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have said the video shows a reasonable and justified use of force. Elliott was a suspect in a hit-and-run, police said. When officers went looking for him, he ran. After they captured him, he wouldn’t put his hands behind his back, prompting the use of force, police say. And officers say his hands were in a dangerous position near his waistband, preventing police from seeing if he was carrying a gun or a knife.
The incident has raised so many questions in the community that police were prompted to call a news conference to explain how officers are taught to overcome a suspect’s resistance.
CMPD Chief Kerr Putney said on Tuesday that the internal investigation was close to wrapping up, and that the department had already determined no laws were broken.
“There was but one victim in that situation and that was the person who was the victim of the hit and run,” Putney said at the news conference. “There were a lot of opportunities to prevent us from using any force at all.”
The officers involved were wearing body cameras. The department has refused to release that footage, citing N.C. personnel laws that say body camera footage isn’t a public record.
Police departments across the nation are embroiled in a nationwide conversation about whether officers are too quick to use force against minority suspects. Last summer a judge declared a mistrial in the case of Randall Kerrick, a CMPD officer who was charged with voluntary manslaughter after he shot and killed Jonathan Ferrell, an unarmed black man. A jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict.
Any force used by police to subdue a suspect is met with skepticism, Putney said.
“I can tell you right out of the gate no use of force looks good,” Putney said. “There is no way we can use force against a citizen or community member and it play well.”