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Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Chief Johnny Jennings addressed a controversial arrest Wednesday after video of it went viral on social media.
Jennings said it all began when an officer stopped two people who appeared to be smoking marijuana on Monday. Video circulating online shows several CMPD officers holding a woman, Christina Pierre, down while one officer hits her several times.
>> Watch the video below: Activist questions if police should stop people for marijuana
In a statement Tuesday, police said Pierre was resisting arrest.
>> WATCH the video below:
Bojangles confirmed the woman in the video was one of their employees who had just clocked out from her shift before the video was taken.
Jennings began the news conference Wednesday by addressing the backlash his department has gotten over the arrest.
“I get it. I understand the outrage. I understand the emotions that come when you look at a video that involves an officer who is punching a female who we’re trying to make the arrest and subdue,” Jennings said. “I understand that to our officers who put on this uniform and do the work every single day to keep our community safe -- I’ll tell you I am still and always will be proud to be a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer for the last 32 years.”
But Jennings said the arrest and video that’s gained traction since isn’t a good look for the department.
“If I look at this entire thing, are there things that we can do better? Absolutely. Are the things that I wish would have never happened? Certainly. Are there things that I think we can take from this and become better as an agency? We’re committed to that. And we’re going to do that,” Jennings said.
The man with Pierre was arrested and had a 9-millimeter handgun with him, police said. CMPD said Pierre interfered with that arrest, which in turn led to an officer trying to arrest her. The department said Pierre “was laying on her hands and not allowing officers to arrest her.” Police said they gave several verbal commands before the officer hit Pierre’s right thigh seven times “with knee strikes and 10 closed fist strikes to the peroneal nerve in the thigh to try to gain compliance.”
The chief said the officer involved in the situation has since been reassigned and is not on patrol.
Channel 9 doesn’t usually show mugshots of people facing misdemeanor charges, but because of how the arrest happened, we thought it was important to do so. In the photo below, you can see Pierre’s mug shot on the left, which shows a mark on her left cheek. On the right, you can get a clearer view of the bruising on her face.
Jennings addressed the facial bruising during the news conference, saying one of the officer’s body cameras was knocked off during the struggle so some questions might still remain.
“I’m not going to refute that and and say no, the officer did not punch her. I don’t know,” Jennings said. “But what I can tell you is that I did see the bruises on the side of her face. It is consistent with either a punch or an abrasion.”
He also emphasized that an officer’s use of force, no matter what it is, is never easy to watch.
“I can tell you that I’ve never been involved in using force that has looked pretty and has looked good to the public,” Jennings said. “So these are difficult situations and all I ask is we continue to let this investigation internally play out.”
The department is internally investigating what happened. Police said the man was charged with carrying a concealed weapon, resist/obstruct/delay and possession of marijuana. Pierre was charged with assault on a government official, resist/delay/obstruct and possession of marijuana.
Jennings encouraged the public to wait for the investigation to play out.
“I have a really fine line to make sure that that we are addressing this as the public and as our officers see that it needs to be addressed. The way that I do that is to look at the facts, the policy, and make that determination from that point,” Jennings said. “So it’s going to be a long road from this point and a lot of sleepless nights. But I assure you that when everything is said and done, we will be looking at the facts of all of everything that happened out there on that day, and will determine what steps need to be taken immediately.”
Channel 9′s Joe Bruno spoke with Pierre’s attorney, who said the body camera video will tell more of the story.
“I’m sure that it does, considering that the cellphone footage we’ve all seen on social media only shows what happened after she was being held down by multiple officers,” attorney Lauren Newton said.
Newton, while speaking on behalf of a new witness who came forward, said that her account of the altercation matches Pierre’s story and her injuries.
“According to the witness, they were circling a bench and the police officer hauled back like he was going to hit a man struck her in the face,” Newton said. “She went down like a rag doll, and he went down on top of her.”
The witness spoke by phone with Channel 9′s Hannah Goetz on Wednesday, but she is not speaking on camera. She said she wanted to come forward because she believes she witnessed an injustice.
“Think the words she used were ‘I didn’t think police brutality happened in this area.’ And what she witnessed was police brutality,” Newton said.
Newton told Goetz that Pierre sought medical treatment, and though her face is not fractured, her sense of security is.
“It’s absolutely terrifying. My client is absolutely terrified,” Newton said. “Still, her voice is shaking. And she, most importantly, doesn’t want this to happen to anyone else. But what the eyewitness said is that this feels so similar to George Floyd.”
Jennings confirmed Wednesday that the department has requested the release of officers’ body camera footage. Both Jennings and Pierre’s lawyer said it’s very rare for an arrest to be made for possession of marijuana.
Channel asked the State Bureau of Investigation if they’re looking into the incident, but the agency said it hasn’t been requested at this time.
(WATCH BELOW: Video shows officer hitting woman several times; CMPD says she resisted arrest)