A federal grand jury has charged two former Arkansas law enforcement officers with excessive use of force after they were caught on video repeatedly punching a man during his arrest in August, prosecutors said.
Levi White and Zachary King, former Crawford County Sheriff’s Department deputies, were charged with federal civil rights violations for using excessive force in the arrest of a 27-year-old man on August 21 last year, the U.S. Justice Department announced Tuesday. news release.
State police had previously identified the man as Randal Wooster of Goose Creek, South Carolina.
A passer-by recorded the violent interaction on video showing at least two officers punching Wooster and kneeling outside the facility. At one point in the 34-second video, one of the officers lifts Wooster’s head and slams it against the pavement.
“In particular, one of the indictments alleges that while the detainee was lying on the ground, White struck him several times,” the Ministry of Justice said. “The count of two in the indictment alleges that King hit the arrestee several times, including while the arrestee was lying on the ground.”
On Tuesday, White and King pleaded not guilty in federal court for the Western District of Arkansas. Their lawyer Russell Wood told CNN in a statement: “My clients are innocent. The allegations in the indictment are not true, and we will prove it in court.”
The case comes as police use of force is under scrutiny across the country, including in Ohio, where two police officers are under investigation after a social media video showed an officer punching a black woman multiple times in the face. And in Memphis, Tennessee, five police officers were fired after Tyre Nichols died in clashes with police during an arrest, police said. Preliminary results from an independent autopsy commissioned by his family showed that Nichols had “extensive bleeding caused by severe beating”.
In addition to White and King, Wooster’s arrest was also attended by police department officer Mulberry, who the sheriff’s office identified as Tell Riddle.
All three were suspended from their duties after a video of the detention was posted on social media, officials said at the time.
The video shows officers shackling Wooster near the curb. One officer punches him in the face and hits his head on the ground, while another knees him in the side and back.
Wooster was arrested for allegedly threatening a gas station attendant in a nearby town, Crawford County Sheriff Jimmy Damante, CNN affiliate KHBS, said at the time.
When he was spotted in Mulberry, Wooster initially cooperated but then tried to attack the officers, leading to a confrontation on video, Damante told KHBS.
None of the officers had a body camera, but Officer Mulberry had a camera on the dashboard in his squad car that provided details of how the scuffle started, the sheriff noted at the time, without elaborating.
The trial of the whites and the king is scheduled for April 3rd.