Burlington police say conduct of officers caught on video during a weekend arrest is consistent with the officers’ training.
Chief Michael Schirling said punching motions shown on the video are part of what officers are trained to do when a person is resisting arrest.
The video, posted Sunday on YouTube by a person with the username Cody Weinberger, shows 38 seconds of two officers arresting a man. In the video and online, people accuse the officers of brutality in making the arrest.
The person who took the video declined to disclose his name and did not return requests for interview. By 6 p.m. on Monday, the video had almost 6,500 views online.
The video depicts officers holding a man on the ground at the intersection of South Winooski Avenue and Main Street in downtown Burlington. The officers are also yelling to a crowd of bystanders to keep back.
Schirling identified the man on the ground as Shane Langevin, who responding officers said had punched another man and was resisting arrest. Officer Ethan Czyzewski said in an affidavit that he and Officer Ryan Rabideau attempted to get Langevin, 20, of Winooski to comply with arrest after they saw him punch the other man early Sunday morning.
Officers were responding to reports that a man was climbing a telephone pole. Burlington police said they do not know what caused the initial altercation between Langevin and the second man, Deputy Chief Bruce Bovat said.
“Langevin immediately refused to place his hands behind his back and tensed his arms several times,” Czyzewski wrote in the affidavit. “Both Officer Rabideau and I ordered Langevin to stop resisting and to place his hands behind his back which he did not. At this time I delivered a knee strike to Langevin’s left thigh causing him to fall to the ground.”
Officers attempted to place Langevin’s hands behind his back, but Langevin got his footing and stood up. Czyzewski said Langevin elbowed Rabideau in the right eye and hit Czyzewski in the jaw, according to the affidavit.
“Langevin was able to escape my grasp and began to run away,” Czyzewski wrote in the affidavit. “Officer Rabideau deployed his Taser, striking Langevin in the lower back and upper buttocks; this caused Langevin to fall to the ground.”
Police brutality or training?
Bystander video, first posted to YouTube and used with permission, shows Burlington police officers and Langevin on the ground. Then one officer fires pepper spray at Michael Mazza after they say he interfered with arrest. COURTESY
Burlington Police Deputy Chief Bruce Bovat says they have video showing Shane Langevin striking someone in the face, promting officers to arrest him. Affidavit describes how Langevin then struck officers. RYAN MERCER/FREE PRESS
The amateur video begins when Langevin is on the ground once again.
About halfway into the video, one police officer appears to begin punching the man on the ground, while the other officer appears to use some kind of disabling spray on a bystander who approached the arrest. The bystander then falls to the ground, clutching his face.
Czyzewski wrote in the affidavit that Langevin was continuing to resist arrest by forcing his hands underneath his body. Czyzewski said he delivered “approximately seven downward fist strikes into Langevin’s back.”
Chief Schirling said the officers followed protocol.
“These strikes are consistent with officer training and are referred to as ‘distractionary strikes’ done in hopes of distracting or stunning someone to assist in gaining control,” Schirling wrote. “Throughout the encounter Langevin was asked and ordered to comply and stop resisting.”
Calls and emails requesting comment about the officers’ conduct from Langevin, the person who recorded the video and the Burlington public defender’s office were not immediately returned on Monday.
Langevin appeared in Vermont Superior Court in Burlington Monday morning, and he pleaded not guilty to five misdemeanor charges — simple assault, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and two counts of simple assault on a law enforcement officer.
In a separate affidavit, Rabideau wrote that the bystander who approached was Michael Mazza, 32, of Milton. Mazza was also arrested for impeding a public officer, and he also pleaded not guilty on Monday.
Rabideau said Mazza and another man was walking fast toward Officer Czyzewski with clenched fists. Rabideau had been giving “hard verbal commands” to bystanders to stay away.
“Mazza did not comply with my orders and was subsequently sprayed by Oleoresin Capsicum,” Rabideau wrote. Schirling later said the substance was pepper spray.
After the incident, both Czyzewski and Rabideau were screened at Fletcher Allen Health Care for injuries to their faces and hands.
Schirling said in his news release that Langevin and Mazza were not together and may not have known each other.
Officers noted that Mazza has no prior criminal offenses, but Langevin has at least six prior assault-related charges.
After arraignment on Monday, Langevin was released into the custody of his mother under conditions, including that he obey a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Mazza was also released on conditions.
Body camera video
Schirling said the two responding officers were not wearing body cameras, because they had yet to be issued the devices. However, secondary officers who responded as back-up were wearing body cameras, the chief added.
Video from secondary officers’ cameras was posted to the police department’s website shortly after 5 p.m., but the video mainly depicted bystanders speaking to officers after the incident. One of the videos depicted Langevin on the ground, and the officer wearing the camera assisted in escorting him to the police cruiser.
As shown in the video, Langevin’s sweatshirt remained over his head and face and his hands were cuffed behind his back.
Langevin is heard telling an officer that he got hit in the head.
“I hear you,” the officer says.
“No you don’t hear me, dude,” Langevin replies. “I got punched.”
The department is also attempting to get hold of video captured by another cellphone camera, and officers are working to determine whether the video can be posted at this point in the prosecution, Schirling said.
The Burlington Police Department announced in September that the entire force would be equipped with body cameras by early 2015.
As of Monday afternoon, Deputy Chief Bovat said the department has not uncovered evidence showing that Burlington’s officers used greater force than was warranted by the incident. He also said that the video was taken out of context, but that he could see why people only viewing the video may have seen it as depicting possible police brutality.
“To the naked eye, to someone just viewing this five or 10 seconds of YouTube video and seeing somebody down on the ground having no context of why they’re on the ground and seeing an officer striking like that, I can see why they may jump to that conclusion,” Bovat said. “The key point is that they don’t have all the information.”
Contact Elizabeth Murray at 651-4835 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/LizMurraySMC.