Prosecutor defends cop punching man repeatedly in Wildwood
WILDWOOD — The Cape May County Prosecutor's Office said Monday that an initial review shows police did not exceed legal use of force in an incident last month that involved an officer punching a man on the ground.
According to Wildwood police records as described by the Cape May Herald, 24-year-old Arthur Wells, of Delaware, was arrested on July 12 and charged with disorderly conduct. A woman who spoke to 6 ABC Action News identified the man being punched by an officer on video as Wells.
A version of the video posted to Twitter by Jeff Pilla — who told CBS Philly last month he witnessed the incident along with the person who shot the video, Joe Kirk, in front of Romeo’s Famous Pizzeria — is only nine seconds long. It has no audio and gives no context as to what led to the incident, which the prosecutor's office said happened around 3 a.m. The version of the video on Twitter shows Kirk's name and appears to be taken from a version he'd posted to another platform.
Kirk told CBS Philly it was "totally unnecessary" for officers to punch the man. Kirk did not immediately respond to a message from New Jersey 101.5 at the time.
But in a longer video presentation posted by the prosecutor's office to YouTube on Monday evening, Cape May County Prosecutor Jeffrey H. Sutherland said officers had responded to a large fight inside Romeo’s Famous Pizzeria. Caution: The linked video includes clips containing lengthy violence and profanity.
Sutherland said five people, including the man in a video clip shared by a bystander, had been involved in the fight, which began when one member of the group threw hot sauce in the face of a female employee.
The prosecutor said when a coworker came to see what was happening, she was struck twice in the head by another member of the same group. Other patrons inside the pizzeria then stepped in to defend the workers and the fight escalated, Sutherland said. None of that was shown in video shared by by the prosecutor's office Monday.
In the video presentation, Sgt. Aaron Sykes of the Cape May County Prosecutor's Office introduces 8 minutes of body camera and surveillance video footage that was part of the use-of-force review.
Body camera video, which starts about 4 minutes and 30 seconds into the compiled video presentation, shows officers in the pizzeria telling a man he’s under arrest.
The video shows a young woman with her arms around the man, yelling “no” repeatedly as the officers continue to guide him across the parking lot. At one point, one of the officers appears to shove the woman away by her shoulder, while yelling at her to “let him go.” Another officer yells, “Somebody get her.” Officers can be seen holding the woman back as the first group of officers walks the man across the street.
When the officers appear to first attempt to handcuff him, the man says it is “bull****” and “I didn’t touch nothing.”
When an officer asks the man if he’s going to put his hands behind his back, he answers he wants to make sure his girl is all right and says, “Bro, I didn’t do nothing.” He repeats that he wants to make sure his girlfriend is OK, also using some profanities. An officer tells him to relax and says "she's all right."
The officers move the man into view of a woman restrained on the same side of the street, at which point the man says “that’s not her, that’s her sister.” The man being apprehended then continues to curse and ask about his girlfriend as the officers move to keep him restrained against the ground.
An officer can be heard saying he’s under arrest while another officer asks, “Flip him over, sarge?” The audible answer is "yes." A struggle is seen between the arresting officers and the man, while onlookers shout.
The man then yells, “You just punched me in my f****ing face." An officer yells “give me your hand” while the man yells again about being punched in the face.
The man being restrained then says again he’s trying to finding his girlfriend, to which a woman with other officers nearby says, “I’m trying to find her, relax.”
The handcuffs can be seen briefly caught on the man’s shirt and after the officers have him restrained, the man says to the officer who appears to have punched him, “You punched me in my s****.”
The officer says “you resisted,” and the man says, “Man, you punched in my s**** first — what’s your name?”
After the 9-minute mark, footage compiled by the prosecutor’s office switches to a surveillance camera shot of the arresting officers standing with the man.
The prosecutor's office said in reviewing the body camera footage, it was determined that officers gave the man repeated instructions over a three-minute span, including “relax” 14 times.
Officers told him eight times that he was under arrest and told him to put his hands behind his back three times, prosecutors said.
The prosecutor said that when the man was taken to ground, he elbowed an officer in the chest, an officer punched him, and the man struck the officer in the jaw. The officer then punched him seven to eight times, investigators said.
The surveillance footage shows a different angle of the altercation, as the man is already being held to the ground by three officers and the one officer is seen punching him repeatedly, using both fists.
Other officers can be seen keeping at least three bystanders from intervening.
Sutherland said after the preliminary investigation, it is his finding that no charges can be or should be filed against any of the officers as they did not exceed the legal standard of use of force in dealing with a person actively resisting arrest — including as outlined in the state Attorney General’s Office directive on use of force.
He said the Wildwood Police Department will continue its own internal affairs review, which still could result in discipline of the officers or training of the force as a whole.
“Each day that our law enforcement officers report for duty, the last thing they want to do is have to resort to the use of force to carry out their sworn duties,” Sutherland said, toward the end of the video presentation, which can be seen in its entirety online. Be advised that the body camera footage involves profanities laced throughout.