Police chief: Officer in viral fight video did 'exactly the right thing'

Chief Elaine Bryant said the video doesn't show the full context and that "there's a reason why there was a special duty assignment at that gas station"


By Bethany Bruner and Céilí Doyle
The Columbus Dispatch

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In less than 24 hours, more than 100,000 people watched an Instagram video showing a physical confrontation between a 30-year-old Black man, a white Columbus police officer and a store clerk inside a gas station convenience store.

Chief Elaine Bryant held a press conference on Saturday hoping to add context to the 90-second clip, which was filmed inside the Speedway gas station at 1165 S. High St. in Merion Village on Friday night.

While the man can be heard shouting, "Get off me" to both the clerk and officer, and a bystander in the video says, "He didn't do anything wrong! Let him go!" the video does not show the full picture of what happened, Bryant said.

"I stand behind my officers when they do the right thing, and this officer did exactly the right thing," the chief of one month said.

90-second clip not the full picture

The officer seen in the video was working a special duty assignment at the Speedway gas station when the customer came into the store around 11:55 p.m. Friday.

The man was displaying "disruptive behavior," Bryant said, and had approached the clerk in a "disruptive manner." The clerk of the store, who is seen in the video attempting to assist the officer, asked the man to leave multiple times, but he refused, Bryant said.

The officer attempted to escort the man out of the store when the physical confrontation began and another bystander in the Speedway started filming.

The video shows the man and the officer wrestling and the officer attempting to handcuff the man before a woman comes into the convenience store and begins hitting the officer and the clerk. The video cuts to show the officer and the man both having their shirts ripped off, before ending.

 

Commander Kelly Weiner said the officer, who had called for assistance before the physical confrontation escalated, ultimately was able to get the man in handcuffs and detained. The man has since been charged with criminal trespass and two counts of assault. Weiner said mace was used during the confrontation, but no additional types of force.

The Dispatch was not able to immediately reach the man involved in the fight.

Bryant and Weiner said the woman who struck the officer has not been found, but police are seeking to identify and charge her with the assault on the police officer.

The officer, the store clerk and the man the officer was attempting to escort out all suffered minor injuries, Bryant said.

Filming from a different perspective

The man who said he filmed the video, Cortez Thomas, told the Dispatch there was more to the story. He said before he started recording, the store clerk was aggressive toward the customer, who entered the store "bubbly" and "excited."

Things got heated between the two and the officer approached the man, who repeatedly asked what he was doing wrong. And then, "before you knew it, everyone was tusslin'," Thomas said.

The 31-year-old who lives on the East Side said he thought that if the Columbus police officer had been allowed to do his job without interference from the clerk, he could have deescalated the situation.

"What I'm pushing for is to let our cops be our cops," Thomas said, explaining why he posted the video. "Let the ones who are there to protect and serve, protect and serve. Because if we don't, stuff like this will continue to happen. Cops are scared and civilians are scared and that's not any way to be safe."

Incident still under review, per policy

Bryant said she recognizes that people will jump to conclusions based on a video clip, but she wanted to address the full situation head-on in an effort to be transparent with the community and continue to rebuild trust.

"That minute-and-a-half video is disturbing to me because it doesn't depict the picture of what really occurred," she said. "For a family member to see a video of their loved one in an altercation like this and not understanding what may have occurred, it's heartbreaking to not be able to address it and let people know in public, out front, that the officer was doing their job."

Bryant said the gas station has been the site of 95 calls for service since January, with 75 of those calls being for disturbances, trespassing and shoplifting.

"That officer was there based on the need of that community," the chief said.

Thomas agreed.

"There's a reason they have CPD at that location," he said. "That store's pretty rough."

Thomas continued: "I support Columbus police. So, this is not a cop-bashing situation, and I did not post the video to say, 'Hey, look at the Columbus police beating up another unarmed Black man.'"

Thomas said his intentions were to share this moment so the public can better understand the cultural reckoning our country is having with policing.

"That officer could have tased him, shot him, so many other things could've happened," he said. "But luckily that officer was able to walk away with his life and that man was able to walk away with his."

Bryant said during the press conference that she understands the community is frustrated with the division, but that under her term as police chief, the division is held to a high standard of excellence and this incident will be reviewed.

"He used the minimum amount of force necessary," she said.

The division will review that the use of force was within department policy, as is standard protocol in all uses of force.

"I've never seen a use of force look pretty," Bryant said.

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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