Officers Respond to BLM Protestor Punch By Police

April 21, 2022

[COMING UP NEXT WEEK: Jim Glennon dives deep into the complex tactical and legal issues surrounding the fatal shooting of Patrick Lyoya earlier this month. Lyoya was shot once in the back of the head by a Grand Rapids, MI officer after fighting for control of the officer’s TASER after a traffic stop. Following the shooting, the city erupted in protest and two distinctly different but equally impassioned narratives surfaced; one portraying the officer as a racist cop who shot an unarmed, defenseless and terrified black man and the other portraying him as an officer under extreme attack who was forced to shoot in self-defense. Stay tuned for this intense discussion.]

And now…

Earlier this week we posted footage of a Pennsylvania officer punching a Black Lives Matter protestor who attempted to obstruct the arrest of another protestor. If you haven’t seen the video, watch it now.

We asked Calibre Press Newsletter readers to share their thoughts on the officer’s action. Was the punch warranted and justified or was it an unnecessary overreaction?

Responses literally poured in. Here’s a cross section of what we received:

Sgt. Daniel Giles with the Arizona Rangers in Mesa, AZ writes:

The punch by the officer was absolutely warranted. The gentleman in question was actively resisting arrest and assaulting the officer. The press will twist it to look bad just because the officer was verbally insulted by the protestors prior to the arrest. However, he did exactly what he should have done; he did not react in any way – not even blink – to the verbal assault. He responded when it became apparent that the protestors were not responding to commands, first by apparently calling in backup and reporting what he was about to do, then doing his job.

I think it’s ironic that a black officer was able to so patiently put up with the racist accusations of an all-white mob of people who claimed to be representing black people, and that he should be then accused of misconduct.

Capt. Olev Allikmaa, Jr. with the Stafford Twp. (NJ) PD writes:

Adequate response to neutralize the escalation of violence. Pepper may have worked but it was a hands-on scenario by the aggressor very quickly. Appropriate force was used by the officer. No excuse for laying hands on an officer.

From Lt. Timothy Woods (ret.) formerly with the Phoenix PD writes:

Police departments should never use dogs when dealing with protesters. It brings up bad memories from the 1950s when dogs were use against peaceful protesters. As far as the arrest of obstruction, that is subjective. If they committed the crime the officers were in their rights to make the arrest. The real question is was it necessary? If it was not a major civil disturbance I would have let them protest and monitored the situation. At some point they would have gotten tired and went home. They should have had a plan if it got out of hand. I didn’t see any force issues with the arrest outside of using the dog.

Capt. Matt Solomon with the Morgantown (WV) PD comments:

The officer’s reaction was completely justified as he was defending his sergeant and himself, along with attempting to gain control of an overall volatile situation.  Job well done!  That one punch knocked the aggressor to the ground and must have taken the fight out of the person, because the person cooperated after.  The other protestors also settled a bit.  I cannot think of anything reasonable that officer or the others could have done better or differently.

The people that think it is an outrage are not being reasonable, and probably have never been faced with physical aggression before. All of the officers conducted themselves quite well.  As a 27-year veteran of police work and a captain, I am proud they are fellow cops!

A Supervising Deputy Probation Officer in California responds:

I really try to withhold judgment unless the actions of the officer are blatantly excessive.

This is a case in which several factors not captured by the video could be at play – too many to list.

Anyhow, some aspects I considered and/or would like more insight to were:

– At what point was there a decision made to arrest persons of this group?

– What other tactics were implemented to disperse the group prior to the decision being made to start taking persons into custody?

– This use of force can be described as a punch; however, some training involves delivering strikes.  Was this a strike, rather, and is a strike warranted?  Let’s evaluate.

— The setting was already chaotic with high emotions within the crowd.

— The person was of large stature – larger than the officer.

— The person was PHYSICALLY interfering with the officer carrying out his duty (the person was not elderly/frail/incapable of harm).

— The person did not just stand in front with their arms down, the person was pushing the officer back and yelling.

— Considering the person’s size, physical capability to push the officer back, and hostility (yelling, confrontational), the person is a threat.

— The officer may have had an array of tools to address this threat

He tried presence – ineffective.

He tried verbal – ineffective.

He tried hands on; he delivered one strike – effective.

He did not utilize a baton.

He did not utilize OC.

He did not utilize his conducted electric weapon (also known as a taser).

He did not utilize his weapon.

I can’t say if anything should’ve been differently regarding the strike considering the factors above. However, if anything was different, even the slightest factor, it could change everything.  For example, if this person was four foot tall or 70 years old, or had a clear physical challenge, perhaps the officer would’ve or could’ve done something different.

My biggest and most concerning question still goes back to, what was done BEFORE the decision to arrest?  I would love to know what efforts were already exhausted to respond to this incident/gathering.  If danger to officers/community was not imminent, we can use that time to quickly assess options and make the best choice we can, at the time.  And maybe that’s what happened – as a viewer, I just don’t know all the facts.

From Sgt. Jim Reschke (ret.) formerly with the San Diego PD:

Absolutely, without any doubt, this is entirely justified. A crisis can break you or form you. It can make you bitter or better. Your choice.

Sharon Marangoni from Gardnerville NV writes:

I suppose he could have used an impact weapon (I couldn’t tell, but maybe he has an asp?) rather than his fist. Or perhaps OC spray?

Having been a UC Berkeley and City of Berkeley cop for my entire career (1978-2000), I have been in the middle of this sort of thing many, many times. The action is so fluid and so dynamic that one must react quickly to avoid injury to himself or to another officer. I think this officer did fine, using his fist instead of an impact weapon – they might have been too close for him to deploy an asp (I am not trained in them).

One of the things we were taught in crowd control, and, admittedly, this was a generation ago, was that you take out the instigators first, and the crowd will tend to wander away. I think this officer did exactly that. He acted quickly and precisely, made a decision and worked with it in a blink of an eye. We all know how fast these things can degenerate, so quickly taking out an instigator is a good thing. Notice how no one jumped in to help the downed protester, just yelled and screamed.

Having said all that, I worked in a time when video cameras were just starting to being used to entrap law enforcement. Nowadays, unfortunately, the officers have to be cognizant of everyone’s cell phone cameras. Does this look bad? Probably (I thought it was great!). Will the city pay this dirtbag for his pain and suffering. Absolutely. Will the officer spend time on the beach? Undoubtedly. Ironically, he is called racist even though it is a BLM protest. Apparently only SOME black lives matter.

Guy Samuelson, Director of the Criminal Justice Academy of Osceola, FL and a 35-yr. law enforcement veteran comments:

The first thing is officers throughout the country are not being taught enough hands on training. There is much more focus on taser and handgun instead. That being said ,he only punched one time, then proceeded to cuffing. The person was aggressive and grabbing and pushing the officer, preventing him from doing his job.

David Topaz who retired from the Sacramento PD writes:

It’s unfortunate that this department does not appear to have enough resources available to deal with a protest. Many of the most (in)famous bad outcomes during protests have come when not enough officers are present and proper riot/crowd tactics were deployed. (My favorite infamous protest scene being the UC Davis Pepper Spray cop.)

The use of the dog, even though muzzled, is actually of greater concern to me than the physical tactics used by the officer to deal with someone interfering with the arrest. Too many historical images everyone has seen of dogs used to harass black protestors in particular.

They made a decision to make an arrest. At that point the person to be arrested needs to comply and others needs to stay out of the way and not interfere, period, full stop.

However, the use of punches in a non-life threatening situation, when other tools were available, and probably more effective is troubling. I used to tell my trainees that if I caught them punching someone when it wasn’t a knock down/drag out fight for our lives, I would write them up. Breaking a hand while you are in a fight is a sure way to compromise your ability to protect yourself or your partners.

Pepper spray or the threat of it might have been a better tool, or a baton used to push someone back would have also looked and been better than a punch.

Iam Rosado from Pinellas Co., FL comments:

Great article, as usual. In response to the question posed at the end of the article, my response is a solid “Yes.” That punch was absolutely warranted, justified, well-timed, and restrained. Given all of the information made available in the attached video, I can absolutely say that that use-of-force would have absolutely been supported and even encouraged at my agency; which has employed me for 17 years now. If that officer is charged (as has become the disgusting national norm) it will be a grave miscarriage of justice. If that officer is supported by his executive staff (as he should be), and more agencies see fit to find their guts and realign themselves with such principles over politics, than maybe there is still hope that we can get this profession back on track.

Agent Rick Haun with the Medical Marijuana Control Program in Columbus, OH responds:

God bless that young officer !!! That suspect got off way too easy and he was given more leeway than common sense would allow. I’ve been a copper for 47 years and 30 years with Cincinnati and participated in the riots as a uniformed officer. No way any officer should have to put up with what this young copper had to. Outstanding restraint on his part. I’d go through a door with this young copper any day!! This country is completely ass backwards and treats our police shamefully!

 Retired New York State Deputy Tim Emmons writes:

Definitely warranted! Excellent job! No respect for police and what they do! Who is the first person they call? The police!

From Training Officer Dick Scott with the Portsmouth (NH) PD:

Given the circumstances presented to the officer at that time it was an effect response to the resistance being given. Knowing that he would need to end the fight quickly because of the rest of the group surrounding him, the large stature of the person involved, the suspect had already put hands on officers so I no problem with it.

As far as what could have been done better–and it’s hard because the camera view does not tell the whole story, but just going on what I could see–I would have liked to see more of a coordinated effort, almost like a mini mobile field force line to one, get the subjects out of the street and two, if they refuse to leave it would have given to opportunity for officers to go hands as teams.

Again, I don’t know the whole story from the video clip but were they offered somewhere else to protest besides the middle of the street?  This may have happened and the group refused, but just thoughts

Sgt. Jason Carter from Alpharetta, GA writes:

At what point is it okay for a citizen to fight the police?

At what point does Administration allow their officers to become punching bags from the public?

We know that over the last several years we’ve seen various protests take place where officers and deputies are verbally assaulted and abused. We’ve gotten to the point where that is okay, a normal occurrence.

Sure, this protest was small in nature compared to other protests. However, how many officers were on scene? I only noticed a few. The reason I asked that question is, at every protest it’s guaranteed we’re going to be outnumbered. That being the case, why would we deal softly with folks when the violation of laws have taken place and an arrest is imminent?

I have said for years that violence is not pretty. Violence looks horrendous at any level at any given time. Unfortunately, in our line of work violence is necessary at times to complete our tasks. The concept is, if we deploy with violence when and as needed, we can protect others within the community, including ourselves, from other acts of violence and danger.

There are those in the community who love and support law enforcement and we definitely appreciate them. However, there’s always a relatively small a group of people who will always find fault with everything we do; for making an arrest, for enforcing traffic laws, or even standing on a street corner waiting across the street, there’s always somebody willing to whine or moan about the police.

As long as we have an Administration and a city or county Government to support us, we will be fine.

Officer Amanda Pickar with the Beaverton (OR) PD comments:

The Sgt. seemed to be going at things solo then finally, with one cover officer, he went into the small angry, verbal crowd to arrest a woman. No orders to disperse were heard, no warnings about impending arrests for specific crimes were heard on this video, and that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. How about using crowd control strategies like isolation and arrest with a team?  Several officers should have surrounded the Sgt. making the arrest of the woman who had put her hand in his face with their back turned inward and facing the crowd to keep the Sgt., cover officer and arrestee safer and be a visible and physical deterrent. I am not sure of the purpose of the K9 as it was still lingering among the crowd. Having a plan and communicating it to the other officers so everyone is on the same page didn’t seem to happen, but I wasn’t there. That’s not how we do business in Beaverton, OR.

A Detective in the Midwest responds:

I watched the video, and naturally my sympathies lie entirely with the officer.

Increasingly, police have faced teeming mobs of “protestors’ that seem to believe they are utterly immune to any physical interventions of any kind. Yet, those same parties obviously believe they can interfere with any police action in any way they see fit, including the use of overt violence against police.

“Protesting” is acceptable, so long as it does not interfere with an officer’s exercise of legal authority, such as enacting an arrest–or, I would argue, a legal attempt to maintain order.  The moment that a “protestor” interferes with a legal arrest, that party is immediately subject to arrest. That principle must be preserved and carefully applied because, as we’ve seen all too often, when the mob believes it can counteract any police action whatsoever–like crossing police lines/barricades, throwing objects, lighting fires, etc.–the “protest” quickly descends into anarchy, and then criminal agents in the group can use the camouflage of the “protest” to commit whatever criminal acts they choose.

As to the level of force used by the officer, I believe it is irrelevant to complain that the officer could have chosen other options. I believe the only issue is to evaluate the level of force that he did apply and why it was applied. Was he physically aggressed on by an agitated individual who appeared to be attempting to interfere with a physical arrest?  The agitated “protestor” closed quarters with the officer and (at least appeared to) physically make contact with him.  At that point, an agitated individual in direct contact with a police officer presents an unknown level of threat. The agitator could have easily grappled with the officer, struck him, attempted to take his weapon, etc.

The officer used a relatively low level of force, arguably “less than lethal.”  He appeared to strike the “protestor” only once, and when the threat diminished (i.e. the “protestor” fell to the ground) the officer simply handcuffed the subject with no further application of force.  Clearly, the officer did not walk over to a peripheral, uninvolved “protestor” and initiate physical contact.  The remaining agitators continued to scream while the officers attempted to restore order, making a chaotic situation even more chaotic.

Shifting the responsibility from the offender to the officer is the oldest, most dishonest anti-police tactic.  Until the general public openly acknowledges the dangers and threats that law enforcement officers face during tumultuous “protests,” and acknowledges that “protestors” must not directly interfere with police action, this scenario will repeat itself.

A Calibre newsletter reader adds:

To the question of whether the punch was wrong or not, my answer is a definite no. He swung once and did not keep hitting when the person fell, which showed he was not emotionally hijacked. He was very professional and aware of his surroundings.

There is this misconception lately that if a person is fighting an officer that the officer will not hurt the person. I don’t know where this came from, or even why it’s become common to assault others (even non-police) and be surprised when that victim fights back. A fight is a fight. If someone bigger than me were to attack me, I would punch them as well. If it had no effect I might even kick them in more sensitive places! The point being that when you are in a fight with someone much larger and stronger than you, a fight is a fight.

The only thing that I would critique is they should have initiated a civil disobedience response because even a very small crowd might have more people showing up or waiting around a corner. Never think, “It’s just 5 people.”

Lt. Joseph Pretti with the Criminal Investigations Division at Eddystone (PA) PD writes:

I think the officer acted appropriately without knowing what his policies are. He has a right to defend himself once someone puts their hands on an officer. Maybe he could have used some less lethal alternatives but I’m not sure if they carry any. No matter what type of force he used during that incident he was making a lawful arrest and the people clearly were not going to let themselves be arrested without some type of force being used. When people don’t want to be arrested there is a high probability someone will get hurt. That’s a fact.

Clearly the lady in the video thought it was okay to disrupt traffic, disrupt the peace and curse and yell at the officer calling him names. When he tried to talk to her, she kept telling him to get out of her face and stop pointing his finger. She seemed so enraged about what she was there for calling the officer racist, that I don’t think she realized what race the officer was, nor did she care. So, they want to tell the police what to do but don’t like it when we tell them what to do? I don’t think so!

Just based on that video so many laws were violated here in Pennsylvania. Failure of disorderly persons to disperse upon official order, attempting to cause a riot, obstructing highways and other public passages, disorderly conduct, harassment, obstructing administration of law, assault, resisting arrest, recklessly endangering another person, terroristic threats, etc.

I would back the officer based on what I viewed.

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