Yakima police address video showing officer kneeling on man

Yakima police officer kneeling

YAKIMA, Wash. — Yakima police have responded to a video that surfaced Sunday, which appears to show an officer kneeling on a handcuffed man outside a Walmart.

The video, which was originally posted to Facebook in November and to YouTube in January, shows a portion of the arrest of a 43-year-old man accused of threatening to shoot and kill several employees at a Yakima mini mart, according to police.

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Police told KAPP-KVEW there was a struggle between the officer and the suspect, who refused to comply with the officer’s orders. According to police, the officer felt the safest way to place the suspect into custody was to get him on the ground so that he could be properly searched for weapons.

The incident — which happened Nov. 10, 2019 — was reviewed internally by Yakima Police Department’s Professional Standards Unit, which determined that the use of force was within the department’s policy standards.

KAPP-KVEW spoke with police about what lead up to the events shown in the video clip and what happened afterward.

The incident before the use of force

At about 2 p.m. on Nov. 10, 2019, police received multiple 911 calls from employees at the Circle K mini mart near West Nob Hill Boulevard and South 18th Street.

Callers reportedly told police a man was acting erratically outside the store and was possibly intoxicated, adding that he had threatened to “smoke,” meaning shoot and kill, several employees at the store.

Witnesses told police a woman working at the mini mart went outside to ask him to leave and when he wouldn’t, she confronted him and refused to allow him to come inside the store.

Surveillance video shows the man standing near the driver’s side door of a blue and gray Mercury minivan, with the door propped open, pacing back and forth and making gestures with his hands.

Callers also told police there was a child possibly in the car with him. When the man eventually drove off, an employee on the phone with 911 followed him in a car as he made his way to the East Yakima Walmart, police said.

Leading up to the arrest

Several officers responded to the mini mart while one officer responded to the Walmart parking lot, where he found a van matching the description and license plate number callers had provided.

The officer was told the man was under investigation for felony threats to kill, and that because those threats involved a weapon, he may be armed. Dash cam video from the officer’s patrol car shows the van was parked near a Walmart entrance and that the driver’s side window of the van was down.

That video shows the officer getting out of his patrol car, walking toward the van, and telling the man in the driver’s seat to put his hands on the steering wheel. The officer told the man to put his hands on the steering wheel three times, with the man repeatedly refusing.

At that point, the dash cam video shows the officer using a Taser on the man and pulling him out of the driver’s seat onto the ground. The man does not follow the officer’s commands and shouts for help, telling passersby that he didn’t do anything, according to the video.

As the man is on his stomach, he continues to move his arms into a push-up position and argues with the officer, at which point the officer kicks the man in the arm or shoulder to prevent him from getting up. Police said when the man continued to resist, the officer used his Taser again.

The video then shows the officer handcuffing the man, bringing him to a standing position, and walking the man toward the patrol car.

What the online video shows

According to police, this is the point from which the online video starts, with the officer walking the man toward the patrol car. Dash cam video from the responding officer’s car does not show this part of the incident, as the two move out of frame, but the recording continues and the verbal exchanges between the officer and the suspect are audible.

Police said the online video shows the suspect resisting again, and the officer taking him to the ground and placing a knee on the man’s upper back/neck. No other officers had arrived on scene at this point.

The man continued to talk while he was pinned on the ground, saying he couldn’t breathe, that he had asthma, and that the police officer was hurting him. Police said the officer maintained that position for about two minutes until backup arrived to properly search the man for weapons.

After the arrest

The arrested man had a scrape on his head, which was treated at the scene, and he refused to go to the hospital. He was later charged with two counts of felony harassment/threats to kill, fourth-degree assault, and obstruction. That case is still pending in Yakima County Superior Court.

As the video surfaced Sunday, comments on Facebook showed strong reactions from community members, including:

  • “Not sure what was said, but anyone who can see, knows he didn’t need to be tossed down to the ground. He is already handcuffed and presents no threat.”
  • “The patrol vehicle would have been a perfect control point for him. Taking him to the ground like that was rough. Without being there I can’t say it was wrong, but I can say there is a lot of other ‘force’ options.”
  • “It happens here. DEMAND ACCOUNTABILITY.”

Keep Yakima United, a local political organization, posted about the video Sunday.

Yakima Police Chief Matt Murray said neither witnesses nor the man shown in the video filed a complaint about the use of force.

Additionally, Murray said there have been no complaints about use of force filed with the police department within the past year.

An internal investigation found the officer had acted within department rules.

”Use of force is never pretty,” Murray said. “But sometimes, it is necessary.”

The video began making the rounds online again a few days after Murray met with community members who have been protesting George Floyd’s death.

Organizers gave Murray a list of demands Friday for the Yakima Police Department, the City of Yakima, and the school district. The organizers asked for officials to redirect a portion of the police budget to mental health care for officers, community services, and Spanish-language education for officers.

Demands also include banning the use of chokeholds, carotid restraint, and other force procedures that block the airway and arteries of persons in custody. Organizers requested the removal of officers from local schools and measures to help the homeless population.

Murray signed a copy of the demands to acknowledge that he’s seen them and commended the protestors for being respectful and professional in making their voices heard.

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information is available.