A North Carolina police chief broke silence and shed a little more light on a viral video showing a cop in his department repeatedly punching a Black woman under arrest.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police chief Johnny Jennings told the public at a press conference this week that he understands the “outrage” and “emotions” that the video has ignited. The chief has temporarily reassigned the officer pending an internal investigation, according to CNN.
Jennings conveyed that the entire encounter never “should have happened” but also questioned the matter of accountability in the incident.
“It shouldn’t have happened,” Jennings said of the incident. “But whose responsibility is the question, right?”
In the video, a woman, now identified by her lawyer as 24-year-old Christina Pierre, was held down on the ground by several Charlotte-Mecklenburg officers as one cop is seen battering her with his fist several times. Bystanders were heard yelling and criticizing the cops in the background.
Police say the encounter escalated after two cops on patrol saw Pierre and her fiancé, Anthony Lee, smoking marijuana at a bus stop. Police said that they began arresting Lee, but Pierre interfered and “struck an officer multiple times.”
The chief considered whether officers should have initiated arrests for marijuana use “even though we can” and whether the woman should have interfered with the man’s arrest and hit officers, according to The Associated Press.
Pierre reportedly continued to resist arrest and ignore verbal commands as officers worked to restrain her. That’s when one officer “struck” her “seven times with knee strikes and 10 closed fist strikes to the peroneal nerve in the thigh to try to gain compliance.”
Police said the officer was intentional about where the strikes were made, a statement that Jennings echoed after seeing bodycam footage.
“There’s nothing that shows that she was struck while she was on the ground in the head or face area. When you look at the body-worn camera, you’ll see exactly where those blows are delivered,” Jennings said. “What I can tell you is that the body-worn camera footage, particularly when they’re on the ground, tells more of the story than what the footage that you’ve seen from a distance. I think that the public does deserve the right to see this video.”
Jennings said it could be months before the body-camera footage is released to the public. He identified the officer who punched Pierre as Vincent Pistone, who has been temporarily assigned from the patrol division to an investigative division. Jennings said it’s too early to say just yet if the officers involved will be punished.
Pierre hasn’t given her account yet, but her lawyer, Lauren Newton, told CNN she is “terrified” and her “spirit is broken.”
Newton said Pierre is clear of any fractures and suffered “no bruising on her legs,” but she did suffer an injury to the face, which Jennings believes could have happened in the initial struggle to restrain her, but before Pistone hit her.
“I’ll just say to everyone and to our community, I get it,” Jennings said of the video. “I understand the outrage. I understand the emotions that come when you look at a video that involved an officer who is punching a female.”
As police detained Lee, they found a loaded handgun in his bag, so they charged him with carrying a concealed weapon, resisting officers, and possession of marijuana. Pierre also was charged with resisting officers and possession of marijuana, as well as an additional charge of assault on a government official.
Both Pierre and Lee work at a local Bojangles, the restaurant chain confirmed. Restaurant management said their place of work was near the scene of the arrest, but they finished their shifts and weren’t on restaurant property when police approached them, according to The Associated Press.