Video prompts GRPD internal investigation; expert weighs in

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids police are conducting an internal investigation after a video taken during the unrest over the weekend went viral.

The video shows a Grand Rapids police officer spraying a man with mace and then firing a canister, nearly point-blank, at him.

The video is 13 seconds long and had more than 3 million views as of Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s unacceptable,” James Howard, a deescalation instructor and former police officer, said in reaction to the video.

Howard spent close to 36 years as a police officer in Norfolk Virginia. He was trained by the FBI and served as a team leader with his department. These days, he teaches deescalation tactics in churches.

“The officer should have been pulled off the street immediately,” Howard said after watching the video. “I mean, you had an escalation, you (the officer) should be moving away. The guy walks in with the pepper spray, sometimes they takes a few seconds to really sink in and when it does, this guy (the civilian) would be leaving for sure.”

Howard said the use of pepper spray should have been the end of it.

“I do see him (the civilian) turn back around toward the officers, but I don’t see him running toward the officers or making an aggressive move,” he commented. “You would never fire, no, not at that range. I’m surprised the guy didn’t go to the ground.”

Howard said it’s possible the officer could lose his job. At the very least, he said, the officer should face strict discipline along with training. He said actions like the one in the video only escalate problems.

“This doesn’t look good,” Howard said. “This doesn’t look good for your agency (GRPD). It’s already tense times right now and you want to have somebody do something like that, no.”

News 8 was unable to track down the man in the video. It’s unclear what his condition is.

The incident captured in the video was just one of many intense moments over the weekend. Many are wondering why police were overrun and why they allowed vandals to wreck the city. On Tuesday, News 8 asked GRPD about the response. Police declined to talk about their tactics.

Howard watched footage of the peaceful protest as it escalated into a riot. He said officers were outnumbered as they had to disperse large crowds Saturday night and early Sunday.

“The thing that I noticed is that (GRPD) has 292 officers. On any given night, if you have half of your officers there, let’s round it up to 300. Plus, state police, you were talking 250 people there compared to (the number of people rioting),” Howard said. “It becomes a little bit of making sure that the officers are safe. If you go out after someone says, ‘Hey, there’s glass breaking here.’ Can you say, ‘Hey, 10 guys go that way, but you are going to be running into an ambush.'”

Howard added that when an unexpected riot breaks out, it’s all about survival. He said it was the best outcome, given the unexpected situation, to allow officers to control the riot to a point. While police weren’t able to save every window that was smashed in, they had to stay safe.

Two people have been formally charged in connection to the rioting in downtown Grand Rapids.

Another protest, this time one that is permitted by the city, is scheduled to take place on Wednesday afternoon. Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne says he will participate.

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