A police department in Virginia is investigating an incident where one of its own officers tasered an unarmed man, then restrained him with a knee on his back while he repeatedly said “I can’t breathe”.
The officer concerned, Tyler Timberlake, was recorded by another officer’s body camera. He has been charged with three counts of misdemeanour assault and battery; he and all officers at the scene have been relieved of duty while the incident is investigated.
The footage, released by the Fairfax County Police Department, starts as the officer wearing the camera arrives to find a man walking in the middle of a suburban street, talking incoherently about needing oxygen. The first officer and paramedic fail to entice him into the ambulance, and he continues to walk in the middle of the road, rambling but apparently acknowledging he needs to go to the hospital.
After a few minutes, Mr Timberlake arrives in another car, approaches the man, and fires a taser at him from several feet away. He then climbs on top of him, tasers him again, and kneels on his back. There is a scuffle involving the filming officer, and the man is handcuffed, at which point he repeatedly says “I can’t breathe” and begins shouting, again incoherently.
At a press conference where he showed the video, county police chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr acknowledged that “the nation is righteously angry at the law enforcement profession, as am I” – and that the incident challenges his department to uphold its own standards of transparency and accountability.
“The body-worn camera video that you observe, and I am releasing, shows a Fairfax County police officer deploying force in violation of our use of force policies, and they are criminal acts which violate our oath of office, and they ignore the sanctity of human life.
“The video also erodes the public’s trust of police officers not only through Fairfax County, but throughout this world.
“The victim in this video was treated at a local hospital and released. I thank God through my prayers that he is alive and resting at home with his family. I’ve personally reached out to the victim and spoke to his mother to express my disgust with my officer’s unacceptable, criminal actions, and assured her justice will be served.”
Mr Roessler also said that along with the criminal investigation, there will also be an administrative investigation, which will subject the officer’s “horrible” use of force to independent review. He added that in accordance with due process, he will allow that review to determine the future of Mr Timberlake’s employment.
Fairfax County lies to the west of Washington, DC, where demonstrations sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis have drawn thousands of people. While Donald Trump has remained mostly barricaded in the White House, the city has painted the words “Black Lives Matter” on a nearby street.