Man pepper-sprayed, hit by flashbang skeptical of GRPD inquiry

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The man who was pepper-sprayed and hit with a canister at nearly point-blank range during the weekend unrest in Grand Rapids is accusing police of using excessive force.

Sean Hart said he filed a complaint with the Grand Rapids Police Department after video of the incident surfaced online. Millions of people have viewed it. A former police officer and deescalation instructor told News 8 that the firing of the canister went too far.

Hart said he was driving around downtown Grand Rapids with his fiancée Saturday night when the riot broke out. He admitted to provoking the officers by playing a song that’s known to be offensive to police, but said that doesn’t justify what happened next.  

According to Hart, an officer pointed a canister launcher at him and his fiancée while they were sitting in their parked car.

Later that night, Hart said he walked toward the officers to confront them about what had happened when an officer sprayed him before firing some sort of flashbang at him from close range.

“I started to say, ‘What do you think gives you the right…’ and that’s when I got sprayed,” Hart said. “…I just turned around and that’s when I got shot with that flashbang.”

The canister hit Hart in the shoulder. He wasn’t seriously injured, but does have pain and bruising.

Hart said the officer’s response was too extreme.

“The pepper spray? OK. The canister (being) that close? There was no call for it. I was by myself,” Hart said.

Hart and his fiancée went to GRPD headquarters Tuesday to file a complaint. Outside of the department, Hart said, they bumped into Chief Eric Payne, who informed them an internal investigation had already been launched after the video was brought to his attention.

Hart has little faith that the investigation will result in the officer being held accountable.

“I don’t see what good it’s going to do because it’s Grand Rapids investigating Grand Rapids,” Hart said.

Hart said he gave an official statement to the police department about what happened and they took photos of his bruises from the incident.

News 8 asked GRPD about the use of force Tuesday. Police declined to talk about their tactics.

Grand Rapids’ Office of Oversight and Public Accountability, which was created last year, will review the internal investigation by GRPD.

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