MULBERRY, Ark. – Federal authorities said Monday they have opened a civil rights investigation into the suspension of three Arkansas law enforcement officers after video posted to social media showed that two of them were beating a man while a third officer held him down.
Officers were responding to a report of a man making threats outside a convenience store on Sunday in the small town of Mulberry, about 140 miles (220 kilometers) northwest of Little Rock near the Oklahoma border , authorities said.
Arkansas State Police said the agency would investigate the use of force. State police identified the suspect as 27-year-old Randal Worcester of Goose Creek, South Carolina.
However, the lawyer for the two deputies said Worcester attacked one of the deputies, causing him a concussion.
The video shows one officer hitting the suspect with a clenched fist, while another can be seen hitting the man with his knee. The third officer holds him against the sidewalk.
In video recorded from a nearby car, someone yells at officers to stop hitting the man in the head. Two of the officers appear to look up and say something to the person who shouted. The officers’ comments could not be heard clearly on the video.
“The fight was escalating with these officers, and you hear this woman screaming on this video and whoever it was, I think she could have saved her life,” said Carrie Jernigan, a lawyer representing Worcester.
He was taken to hospital, then released and incarcerated at Crawford County Jail in Van Buren on multiple counts, including second-degree battery, resisting arrest and threatening terrorism, the court said. state police.
Worcester was released Monday on $15,000 bail. When asked how he felt, he replied “okay”. A lawyer who escorted him out of jail declined to comment on his behalf. Worcester was pushing a bicycle as he left prison.
Worcester’s father declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press on Monday. He referred a reporter to a law firm representing the family. This company said it was still trying to gather information and did not immediately comment on the video.
Two Crawford County sheriff’s deputies and a Mulberry police officer have been suspended, city and county authorities said.
Worcester is white, according to prison booking information, and the three officers involved also appear to be white.
A Justice Department spokesperson said Monday that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Arkansas, the FBI’s Little Rock Field Office, and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division opened a civil rights investigation into the incident.
“The FBI and Arkansas State Police will collect all available evidence and ensure that the investigation is conducted in a fair, thorough and impartial manner,” the Justice Department said in a statement. “The federal investigation is separate and independent from the ongoing state investigation.”
Crawford County Sheriff Jimmy Damante said that before Worcester was arrested, an officer asked him if he had any guns on him and he handed one to the officer. Damante did not specify what type of weapon.
“They were about to take him into custody because of part of their on-scene investigation – that’s when he got violent,” Damante said.
The Crawford County Sheriff’s Office identified the three officers as Crawford County Deputies Zack King and Levi White and Mulberry Police Officer Thell Riddle.
“I hold all of my employees accountable for their actions and will take appropriate action in this regard,” Damante said.
In a statement late Sunday, Mulberry Police Chief Shannon Gregory said the community and department are taking the matter “very seriously”.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, told a news conference about the Justice Department’s investigative plans. He called the beating “misconduct” and said the officers’ actions were “not consistent” with the teachings of the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy.
Arkansas State Police Col. Bill Bryant said his agency’s investigation “would take time.”
“Once we get the facts and evidence, we’ll prepare a case and summary and deliver it to the prosecutor,” Bryant said.
However, Russell Wood, a Russellville attorney for the two MPs, said in a statement On Monday, White was responding to a terror threat report when he met with Worcester, who he said matched the complainant’s description of her attacker. At first, Worcester gave White a false identity.
As White checked that ID, Worcester “became enraged and viciously attacked Deputy White by grabbing him by the legs, lifting him up and punching him, head first, into the concrete parking lot,” said Wood. After White hit his head on the concrete, stunning him, Worcester climbed on top of him and “started punching him in the back of the head and in the face,” the lawyer said.
After Worcester rained blows on his head, White said he saw the suspect turn his anger on King and Riddle, Wood said. White then “reengaged and used whatever force necessary to subdue the violent suspect and take him into custody.”
White suffered a concussion and continues to experience concussion symptoms, Wood said. The lawyer has asked for the full Mulberry Police dashcam video of the incident to be released, but has yet to receive a response.
Jernigan said she filed an excessive force complaint against one of the suspended officers on behalf of another client of hers about a month ago.
“To date, I hadn’t heard anything. But the description of what happened to my client in July compared to this video sounded nearly identical,” Jernigan said. “And so we’re just in the position where it shouldn’t even have happened yesterday.”
Cellphone video of often violent police interactions has shed light on officers’ conduct in recent years, particularly since the 2020 killing of George Floyd while being arrested by police in Minneapolis.
The resulting nationwide protests have drawn attention to officer brutality that often targets black Americans.
The front door to the building that serves as Mulberry Police Headquarters and City Hall was locked on Monday. A sign on the door urged anyone with questions about the “police investigation” to contact the Arkansas State Police.
It was unclear whether the officers were wearing body cameras.
Amid public pressure for transparency and the proliferation of videos exposing police misconduct, there have been some backlash against check-in officers. In July, the governor of Arizona signed a bill that makes it illegal to knowingly record officers from 8 feet (2.5 meters) or closer without permission.
Mulberry is a town of 1,600 people located on the southern edge of the Ozarks in western Arkansas, just off Interstate 40, which connects California to North Carolina.
At Kountry Xpress, the convenience store and gas station where the hits took place, truckers frequently stop to refuel. Customers also purchase meals, which include American and Indian cuisine.
Shasta Morse, a cashier at Kountry Xpress, said she was working when Worcester was arrested but didn’t know until a customer told her later.
“It’s a little unnerving,” she said.