A North Carolina sheriff’s deputy will return to work after a widely-watched TikTok video appeared to show him restraining someone by the neck during an arrest.
The deputy, whose name has not been released, works for the Burke County Sheriff’s Office in Western North Carolina. He was placed on administrative leave with pay pending an internal investigation of the July 16 incident.
On Friday, Burke County Sheriff Steve Whisenant released the results of that investigation in a statement.
“Our internal investigation did not find that the deputy used a hold that restricted (the man’s) ability to breathe,” Whisenant said. “Therefore, the deputy will be removed from administrative leave with pay and returned to his regular duties today.”
He said the sheriff’s office will review and if needed, revise the agency’s use of force policy.
The incident occurred on Miller Bridge Road in Connelly Springs, about 63 miles northwest of Charlotte. According to the sheriff’s office, deputies were trying to serve an arrest warrant on a person seen walking in the area.
When the responding deputies arrived, Whisenant said, the person “became argumentative and combative,” refused to listen to commands and resisted arrest. He is accused of grabbing pepper spray from one of the deputies and spraying it on the patrol car as well as his and the deputy’s shirts before the deputy restrained him.
“The primary deputy reported he was able to move his right arm over (the man’s) shoulder with his right forearm under (the man’s) chin but not pressed against (his) throat,” the sheriff’s office said. “The primary deputy advised the secondary deputy to call for backup. (The man) responded that he (the deputy) had better call backup.”
Police restraint techniques have been under scrutiny since May 2020, when a police officer in Minnesota pressed his knee on the neck of George Floyd for more than nine minutes, all of which was caught on video. Floyd died in police custody, sparking an avalanche of protests nationwide. The officer, Derek Chavin was later convicted of murder in the death of Floyd and was sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison.
In this incident, TikTok user Marlin Howery filmed the altercation in two consecutive videos.
In the first video — which has been viewed more than 85,000 times — two sheriff’s deputies and their patrol cars are parked near the center median. A male deputy is seen restraining a man while a female deputy stands in front of them.
The male deputy appears to have two arms wrapped around the man from behind. One arm is near the man’s neck, and the other arm is under the man’s arm. The man appears to be gesturing and speaking while he is restrained. Then, toward the end of the video, the man’s knees buckle and he appears to pass out.
According to the sheriff’s office, the deputies were trying to calm him down during this altercation. The man was reportedly upset because the deputies didn’t have a paper copy of the arrest warrant, which, they said, was in electronic form.
The man then “took the weight off his feet and started falling to the ground,” the sheriff said.
“The deputy helped (him) safely to the curb and advised (he) was trying to keep his eyes shut,” Whisenant said. “When the deputy reached for (the man’s) left arm to handcuff him, (he) began resisting again, stating the pavement was hot and started to crawl away.”
A second video posted by Howery on TikTok showed the man in handcuffs against a patrol car with a third deputy on the scene. The caption reads, “I wasn’t there at the very beginning off(sic) the stop but he was resisting just wasn’t able to get my phone out in time.” (Warning: Link contains graphic language. Viewer discretion is advised.)
The sheriff’s office said the man complained about his face burning from the pepper spray. After he was handcuffed and put in the patrol car, Whisenant said, emergency services was called to assess him.
“(The man) was decontaminated for the pepper spray and did not wish to go to the hospital,” the sheriff said. “He was taken to Burke County jail by a third deputy who had arrived as a backup.”
The Burke County Sheriff’s Office reportedly asked the State Bureau of Investigation to investigate the incident. According to Friday’s statement, the SBI said they would investigate if the District Attorney’s Office decided to prosecute, should criminal charges be filed.
The DA’s Office, however, declined to prosecute after meeting with the sheriff’s office.
Whisenant said the DA reviewed the department’s use of force policy regarding strangleholds andchoke holds as part of the investigation. All deputies were last trained on that policy earlier in the spring during firearms qualification and combat courses.
“During the investigation, the deputy reported he was aware of the policy and did not use a strangle or chokehold that would violate the policy,” the sheriff said.