GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — An officer has been placed on paid administrative leave as the Grand Rapids Police Department investigates him for repeatedly striking a driver who was allegedly resisting arrest.
Video of the incident that surfaced online shows the officer punching the driver close to 30 times in the leg. Police say the driver wasn’t seriously hurt.
During a Monday afternoon press conference at GRPD headquarters, Interim Chief David Kiddle said that after watcing video and reading reports, he had “strong concerns” about the officer’s actions.
“It appears that one officer was quick to escalate the situation beyond the point that was necessary to effect the arrest and gain compliance,” Kiddle said.
That officer’s name wasn’t released.
Kiddle said one of his command officers brought the case to the GRPD Internal Affairs Unit Monday morning. That’s when Kiddle was made aware of it.
He did make it clear that the arrest was appropriate and said that the driver wasn’t going willingly. The driver was ultimately jailed for warrants, driving on a suspended license and resisting arrest.
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The incident happened around 11:30 p.m. Sunday near the intersection of California Street and National Avenue NW.
Kiddle said the officer pulled the driver over for speeding and the driver stopped in the driveway of a relative’s home. Police say the man couldn’t produce a driver’s license, refused to tell the officer his name and then wouldn’t get out of the car.
“Instead, the driver started his car, rolled up his window, started honking on his horn and reaching around inside the vehicle where the officer could not see,” Kiddle said.
Kiddle said the officer ultimately broke out the driver’s side window to unlock the door and used pepper spray on the driver. Other officers soon responded. They pulled the driver, who police say still wasn’t cooperating, from the car and used a Taser on him.
“One officer who arrives to assist uses curse words and strikes the driver’s thigh multiple times to gain compliance during the arrest,” Kiddle described.
Video posted on Facebook and shared more than 3,000 times shows police shouting at the driver and using profanity while trying to get him out of the car. The video shows the officer repeatedly punching the man after he was hit with the stun gun.
“Regardless of the individual’s behavior or language, we have standards of professional conduct which clearly were not upheld in this situation,” Kiddle said. “I will not, nor will any member here at GRPD, accept or tolerate force used beyond that which is necessary to safely make an arrest.”
There was a child in the backseat at the time of the arrest and Kiddle said the officer saw that when he approached the car. That child wasn’t hurt and was turned over to family members at the scene.
Kiddle said Monday that it was too early to release the bodycam and dashcam video from the incident because his team hadn’t yet reviewed it fully or redacted it. He said it would be released as soon as possible.
DRIVER FEELS HE WAS MISTREATED
Records show the resisting and obstructing charge is the first felony that the driver, Bronquel Brown, has ever faced.
He had not yet been arraigned Monday night when family members went to the jail to post his bond. As he was released, Brown told 24 Hour News 8 he felt he was mistreated.
“I just feel like the police officer was wrong, what they were doing to me,” he said.
He said he wasn’t angry, but he had been thinking about what happened while he was locked up.
“My body is sore right now,” he added. “My whole body is sore.”
While they waited for his release, his family said the punches were unnecessary.
“Y’all got him out the car, y’all tased him, then he was on the ground, so y’all didn’t have to punch him, especially not that many times,” Brown’s cousin, Coneshia Brown, told 24 Hour News 8.
“Justice needs to be done. That’s all,” the suspect’s aunt, Connie Brown, said.
COUNTY COMMISSIONER: OFFICER SHOULD BE FIRED
Kent County Commissioner Robert S. Womack, who is supporting the family, said he thinks the officer should lose his job.
“When a person gets hit 29 times with that type of violence, I can’t expect anything less than seeing that officer fired,” he said at the jail Monday night.
The video from social media was enough to get Womack involved even before Kiddle announced the officer had been placed on leave.
“Excessive force is definitely on that video. It has to be addressed. I would be real hurt to see the police come out and say that’s their policy after subduing someone to the ground,” Womack said earlier in the day.
The woman who recorded the Facebook video said she’s worried about her own son, who witnessed the beating.
“He should have never seen that,” the woman, who didn’t want to be identified, said. “They (the officers) have kids looking up to them. I wouldn’t want my son, if my son wanted to be a police officer, I wouldn’t want him to look up to a cop like that.”
“We have an opportunity to really use our influence to bring the community and police together. But if the community feels the officers aren’t going to be held accountable, the bad ones, then it’s going to taint the entire police force and we can’t have that happen,” Womack said.
INTERIM CHIEF: OFFICER ACTED APPROPRIATELY IN INCIDENT WITH TEENS
Before addressing the traffic stop at the press conference, Kiddle talked about a separate incident in which an officer pulled his gun on two teens, ages 15 and 16, after he stopped them for walking in the street. Kiddle said that officer followed protocol and did the right thing.
“It was the suspects’ outright defiance and lack of simple cooperation that escalated this incident unnecessarily,” Kiddle said.
It happened March 11 on Lynch Street in the Roosevelt Park neighborhood. GRPD says officers had been assigned to spend extra time in that neighborhood due to the high number of violent crimes and due to consistent gang graffiti that indicates potential violence.
A man who lives in the area recorded the incident on his phone. Video from the officer’s bodycam was shown at the press conference.
Kiddle said that officer behaved appropriately, acting professionally and explaining to the teens that he stopped them for walking in the street rather than on the sidewalk, which violates city ordinance.
He said the officer pulled his weapon only after the teens refused to comply with commands, like refusing to tell him their names and then starting to walk away after he told them they could not leave.
After the officer grabbed one of the teens by the arm, police say, that teen reached behind his back. Police say the officer was worried he might be reaching for a gun.
Kiddle called the officer’s actions “a textbook example of how we expect our officers to conduct themselves in a professional and tactically safe manner.”
“If these individuals would have cooperated, it never would have gotten that far. They would have been on their way within five minutes,” he said.
Community leaders disagreed, arguing the officer made the situation worse.
“When he (the officer) stopped his car, got out of his car, the two young men on the video that we saw went to the sidewalk on their own. It should have been over at that point,” said Cle Jackson, the president of the Grand Rapids chapter of the NAACP. “All of that conversation and escalating it to him (the officer) pulling out his side arm is unnecessary.”
“As we know in communities of color, black and brown communities, racial profiling and harassment, especially of young people, is real,” he added.
One of the teens was arrested for resisting and obstructing an officer. The other was turned over to his parents.
Kiddle said officers had contact with the teens’ families that day and that they would be coming into GRPD Tuesday to speak with officials.
INTERIM CHIEF URGES CITIZENS TO COOPERATE
Kiddle said the two incidents shared a similarity: both involved people not cooperating with officers and acting defiantly. He argued that if the teens and the driver had cooperated right away, neither incident would have escalated.
He urged everyone who interacts with officers to comply with their orders, even if they think they’re being treated unfairly. He said people can fight charges in court or file complaints afterward.
“It is not the time or place to argue with an officer on the street,” he said.
He said his officers make decisions based on a “totality of the circumstances from a reasonable officer’s perspective,” not based on the race of the people with whom they are dealing.
“These are not racialized incidents, but the wording has become increasingly popular among groups that are using the Grand Rapids Police Department as a platform to launch their special interests,” Kiddle said, reading from prepared remarks. “We are not a springboard to be used, nor is it appropriate to make widely blanket accusations in place of healthy debate and discussion.”
He also said that GRPD holds its officers to a “very high standard.”
“The fact that this investigation (into the Sunday incident) was prompted by a GRPD commander indicates that we adhere to a strict system of checks and balances,” he said, adding that the department values “the concept of transparency.”
He said his placing the officer on leave is proof of that.
Kiddle said his department is working to build trust with the community, including more training for officers and setting up sessions to interact with local teens.
—24 Hour News 8’s Heather Walker and Leon Hendrix contributed to this report.