GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Police body camera footage released earlier this week shows officers with the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) in Michigan repeatedly punching a suspect in the face after he tried to flee a traffic stop as other officers attempt to pin him down.
The footage was taken on March 26, when GRPD officers pulled over a car for littering. The video begins after two passengers had gotten out of the car, while officers speak to the driver, a Black man identified as Diabate Hood.
The video shows that Hood attempt to escape by jumping over the passenger seat. That’s when three officers pin him down, as one of those officers punches him in the face repeatedly.
Tuesday afternoon was the first time Kent County Commissioner Robert Womack said he saw the video.
“I was doing a show on the Derek Chauvin case, and as I was speaking on the radio, young people began to call in,” Womack said. “They all asked me had I seen this video? I said, ‘No,’ most of them said, ‘Hey, you guys are celebrating the Derek Chauvin verdict, but this issue is not done with.’”
Womack said he says he sees police do some “good things” in the video, but there are portions of it that trouble him.
“I don’t think that the fact that they got into a scuffle with a guy that was trying to get away from the police makes them racist or any one of the police officers a racist,” Womack said. “But, I do believe that in boxing, sometimes after the bell, a fighter continues to swing. And sometimes there’s got to be disciplinary actions. You definitely have to be called to task.”
Warning: The video below may contain images that some find graphic.
Womack said he decided to release the full video because only parts of it had been circulating on social media. He wanted everyone to see the full context of the arrest.
“There are a lot of questions around the stop itself,” said Hood’s attorney, Tyrone Bynum. “My client, all they did was stop to get some ribs, barbecue ribs. Who’d ever think getting some of the best ribs in town would turn into one of the worst whoopings you ever got?"
Bynum said when he saw the video, he knew immediately the punching was excessive. The video shows blood above Hood’s right eye. He added that punching a suspect is characteristic of GRPD. In the past he's represented Bronquel Brown, a man who was punched by police over 20 times while handcuffed in 2019.
“It is always excessive force when someone is restrained and someone comes in and starts punching a victim. My client is a victim in this situation,” Bynum said. “It’s always excessive force when your client is restrained with his arms behind his back, face down on the dirt, and the guy picks him up by his right shoulder and punches him. If my client wasn’t restrained, my client would’ve blocked the punches to his face.”
Bynum said the officer had a “clear target, clear path” to Hood’s face.
Ed Kettle, who was a spokesman for a police union for many years, said the officer’s actions were justified when Hood attempted to flee and raised his arm and hand.
“Anytime someone is attempting to escape, at that point you get a little nervous. They grabbed him and he went for an officer’s gun, or at least that’s what it appeared like. I would’ve had the same reaction,” Kettle said during a Zoom interview on Thursday. “They did what they had to do. They needed to subdue him. He was really resisting. So, it looks ugly and it is ugly, but the guys also had a gun, and they found, what, three more guns in the car.”
That’s something Bynum is questioning as well, he said.
In the video, officers say they found four guns. However, Bynum believes that as of right now, there’s no evidence that directly link his client to a gun. He believes officers have been trained to say "gun" and then accuse people of having them when their body cameras are rolling.
“I don’t know if you heard in the tape; one of the officers said, ‘You lucky you didn’t get killed,’” Bynum said. “Wait a minute? So, was it in your plan to kill him, and it was only luck that stopped you? This is what Chief [Eric] Payne endorses.”
In a statement, Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne says the officers' use of force was justified.
“Force was deemed necessary to stop the threat and effect the arrest," Payne's statement read, in part. "This is the police work that I expect from my personnel. I have made the enforcement of violent crime and the recovery of illegal firearms one of the department’s top priorities.”
Kettle, the former police union spokesperson, agreed. He said GRPD goes through extensive de-escalation training.
“They had three cops on that guy trying to hold him down and trying to get him to resist. But, all the others guys were real polite to these guys. There was no trouble. And it was, up to that point, it was an easy-peasy deal,” Kettle said. “But this guy, he knew he was in trouble and he freaked out. So, I’m not an apologist for the police, but I do understand their job. I do understand what the pressure they’re under.”
According to GRPD’s statement, Hood was charged with "attempting to disarm an officer during the incident," among others.
Bynum said he’s looking to file a complaint.
For Womack, the county commissioner, he’s hoping the incident leads to more honest conversations about building a better relationship between the community and police.
Nevertheless, he emphasized that the officer who did the punching needs to be held accountable.
“It has to be called out so other police officers don’t do what he did, because it’s going to lead up to times of major violence in the community,” Womack said. “I think it’s a good time, after the Derek Chauvin case, for the chief and the community to talk because that case gave people just a little more faith in the system. We don’t want to take all that away the next day by saying that these officers didn’t do anything wrong.”
This story was originally published by Lauren Edwards on Scripps station WXMI in Grand Rapids, Michigan.