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North Carolina officer who repeatedly struck woman during arrest gets 40-hour suspension

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North Carolina officer who repeatedly struck woman during arrest gets 40-hour suspension
AP
SARAH BRUMFIELD, JOHN RABY and JAMES POLLARD
December 12, 2023

A police officer who repeatedly punched a Black woman during an arrest in North Carolina last month was suspended Tuesday after authorities released new video of the encounter that showed a broader view of what happened than bystander footage shared on social media.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Johnny Jennings told reporters at a news conference that Officer Vincent Pistone received a 40-hour suspension after an internal affairs investigation determined that he used excessive force during the Nov. 13 confrontation. The probe determined that six other officers involved were justified in their actions.

The newly released body camera and bystander videos show different angles and what led to the encounter at a Charlotte bus stop that sparked public outrage. They show that the woman struck an officer in the face and that he responded by hitting her back and knocking her off her feet.

Pistone, who was not the officer involved in that initial exchange of blows, is seen on the video repeatedly striking the woman with a closed fist while four other officers are kneeling and holding her down. As it was happening, bystanders shouted at the officers to stop. After a few seconds, the officers stood and led the woman to a squad SUV with her arms behind her back.

Police previously said that Pistone, who responded that day as backup, delivered seven knee strikes and 10 punches to the woman’s thigh. Jennings said Tuesday that all but the first three blows were excessive.

“Fourteen strikes to the female’s leg came after her hands were behind her back," the chief said in a statement. “These strikes were not deemed justified. If the officer made an assessment after three leg strikes, he would have seen that they were effective, and the female’s hands were behind her back.”

Jennings said Pistone will also receive additional training. A professional organization for officers, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #9, did not immediately respond to email and voice messages seeking comment and asking whether Pistone had a representative who could speak on his behalf.

Prior to the internal probe, a police spokesman said that Pistone's blows were consistent with his training and intended to get the woman to comply with commands by striking a nerve in the leg. Police have declined to release information on the officers' races.

When asked by a reporter if the officer who punched the woman in the face was justified in doing so, Jennings said that action was warranted given that the officer had been struck twice.

“We’re not robots. If there’s an expectation that we’ll always say and do the right things, then I think that’s something that’ll never happen,” Jennings said.

Police body camera footage released Tuesday shows that officers approached the woman and a man as they were sitting at a bus stop in front of a Bojangles restaurant. The pair explained that they had just gotten off work, and the woman asked what they had done wrong.

One officer said it smelled like the two were smoking marijuana, to which the pair said they were smoking a legal cannabis compound they had bought from a smoke shop. Marijuana is not legal in North Carolina, but sales of certain types of related products are.

An officer then leaned down, took the man’s arm and said, “Do me a favor, put your hands behind your back.”

The woman moved toward that officer demanding to know what he was doing, and a second officer took her arm and pulled her away from the bus stop bench, telling her to put her hands behind her back. His body camera the fell to the ground and was facing skyward as he pulled the woman by her arm. The woman could be heard screaming “Why are you touching me? Stop!” And as they struggled and moved into and out of the camera's view, she could be seen striking the officer.

A video taken by a bystander from across a parking lot shows the exchange of punches between the woman and the officer. In it, the bystander could be heard saying, “I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to do that to police.”

In another video, a crowd of onlookers and coworkers of the two being arrested shouted at officers who had gathered around the woman on the sidewalk. “You punched the hell out of a woman like that. How you going to punch the hell out of a woman like that, bruh?” one onlooker asked.

In other videos, an officer could be seen using a knee and fist to strike the woman’s thigh repeatedly as she was being asked to put her hands behind her back while laying on the ground. A chaotic blend of voices grew in the background as more officers arrived. “Quit kneeing her, man! Quit it! Quit it!” an onlooker yelled as police walked the male coworker away.

The man and woman, who was identified in court documents as a 24-year-old Black woman from Charlotte, were both arrested after the confrontation that day. He was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and she was charged with assaulting a government official. Both were also charged with resisting officers and marijuana possession. All of the charges were later dropped.

___

Pollard is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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