Bodycam video showing a former Cleveland police officer using excessive force against Black men was recently released by city officials.
Patrolman John Petkac, 30, was stripped of his badge in December after findings from an internal investigation revealed he “repeatedly used excessive, unnecessary and objectively unreasonable uses of force” between 2018 and 2019.
Cleveland Public Safety Director Karrie Howard, who received the findings from the police chief to assess punishment, found that Petkac violated department policy on three separate occasions. In each instance, Howard determined that Petkac failed to use de-escalation tactics to defuse the situation.
Footage has yet to be released from an October 2019 incident where Petkac used his stun gun to subdue a man who “passively resisted” officers’ commands.
Atlanta Black Star obtained bodycam video from the two other encounters on March 2.
In September 2018, Petkac choked, punched and stepped on the neck of a man following a foot chase, then falsified an arrest report, according to city records. He tasered a man who yelled at him and accused him of harassment while he was arresting a vagrant in July 2019.
Petkac, a Cleveland native, was hired in February 2014. Police work was in his family line. He listed two uncles on the force in his application to join the Cleveland Police Department. One was a patrolman, while the other was a retired homicide detective.
Howard fired Petkac on Dec. 21. Petkac denied the allegations during an Oct. 15 disciplinary hearing. Howard found him guilty of eight of the nine infractions and ordered his termination. The director revealed details about the incidents in his termination letter.
Cleveland.com reports Howard fired another officer and suspended five officers who failed to report Petkac’s misconduct.
On Sept. 4, 2018, Petkac responded to a domestic violence call. He wound up trying to run down a 22-year-old man named London Wilson Jr., who fled on foot when officers arrived on scene. When Petkac found Wilson hiding in a garbage can, he stepped on the man’s neck twice, choked him and slammed the handcuffed suspect onto the trunk of a car.
Wilson put both hands up, seemingly surrendering, when he was discovered hiding. Video showed Petkac grab Wilson by his dreadlocks and snatch him out as he tipped the trash can over. When Wilson spilled out on his back, Petkac ordered him to roll over and put his hands behind his back.
In a report, Petkac claimed Wilson had warrants and “violent tendencies” and indicated he worried that the man was armed because he saw him reaching in his waistband during the chase. He claimed Wilson refused to get out of the garbage bin, but the bodycam video showed that Petkac immediately slammed it to the ground.
“Lay down on the ground or you’ll get shot,” Petkac said.
“Why you grab my hair?” Wilson asked.
The officer then stuck his foot on Wilson’s throat. When Wilson pushed it away, Petkac stepped on his neck again.
Petkac claimed in his report that he was exhausted from the chase and put his foot on Wilson’s stomach to restrain the man from getting up. Wilson was shirtless and Petkac said his foot slid toward Wilson’s “upper chest” because he was sweaty.
In the video, Wilson asked Petkac, “Why are you punching me in my face” as the other officers arrived. He later asked, “Why you touch me?”
“Because you resisted arrest. You were grabbing for my gun,” Petkac responded.
“I never grabbed for your gun, bro,” Wilson reacted. He accused Petkac of stomping his head and told Petkac “You had no reason for punching me.”
Wilson was charged with with domestic violence, resisting arrest and obstruction of justice.
In his report, Petkac claimed he and his partner tripped as they were escorting a handcuffed Wilson to the squad car.
But the video showed the two officers tackled Wilson to the ground. The suspect pulled away after Petkac again alleged that he tried to reach for the officer’s duty belt, a claim he later repeated in his arrest report.
“On my kids, I ain’t grab for your gun. Stop touching me,” Wilson said as he snatched his arm from Petkac’s grasp.
In his termination letter, Howard chided Petkac for not waiting for backup, given that he believed suspect was armed, saying that violated department policy and put the officer and others in danger. He also determined that Petkac lied about the incident to his superior officers and penned an arrest report that was “inaccurate, untruthful and omitted material facts.”
On July 24, 2019, Petkac arrested Maurice Lewis and charged the man with obstructing official business. He claimed he was threatened because Lewis was “armed with” a container of antifreeze.
Lewis began yelling at Petkac and another officer as they were arresting a man sitting on the street curb. Lewis could be seen on the bodycam video crossing the street with another man. He was yelling obscenities at the officers when Petkac threatened to arrest him.
“Get lost or you’re going to come with us,” he said.
But Lewis refused to leave. At one point he said, “Oh, y’all don’t protect and serve anymore?”
“My dude, get the hell out of here, or you’re going to come with us. Go back to 2100,” an irritated Petkac said, referring to homeless shelter in the area.
Lewis continued to yell at the officers as they put the vagrant in a police cruiser. When Lewis walked toward the squad car, Petkac pulled out his stun gun and pointed it at the man.
“Get back,” he yelled. “If you get close to me, I’m going to tase you. Get the hell out of here. Now!”
He then pushed Lewis back and said, “You take one more step close to me, I’m going to tase you.”
Lewis didn’t move. He began to say something when Petkac shot him one time in the chest with the stun gun.
Lewis fell to the ground and video showed Petkac yank Lewis off the sidewalk and into the street, where police handcuffed and arrested him.
“Now if that would’ve been a bullet, that would’ve been death. Now we got something different going on,” Lewis said.
“We don’t shoot people,” Petkac replied.
Department officials determined Petkac failed to announce an arrest or issue a verbal warning before deploying his stun gun. They also said he did not report the use of force and could have used an “intermediate weapon.”