A Virginia man is facing a number of criminal charges following a weekend run-in with police that ended in a cringe-worthy stun gun hit that a witness captured on video.
The three-minute video of the incident is causing a stir online and in Isle of Wight County, where some feel excessive force was used in the arrest of 50-year-old Ervin Laws.
Laws’ daughter, Deneke Hill, told The Huffington Post the events leading up to the altercation started when Laws was walking to a convenience store on Sunday, which was coincidentally his 50th birthday. During that walk, she said, her father was approached by the sheriff’s deputy.
“The officer pulled up and asked him what he was doing,” Hill said. “My dad said, ‘I worked hard today and just want to walk to the store.'”
Isle of Wight Sheriff Mark Marshall told HuffPost a different story. “The individual was obviously intoxicated and obviously very, very disorderly,” Marshall told HuffPost. “Mr. Laws ended up smacking the marked patrol unit and then yelled and gestured at the deputy. The deputy stopped [and] Mr. Laws tried to get in the window and actually hit the deputy.”
Marshall said his deputy — whose name has not yet been released — did everything he could to resolve the situation prior to using a Taser to hit Laws. Marshall alleged Laws was physically threatening toward the deputy and initiated contact.
Law’s neighbor Raymond Berndt disputed that account, saying Laws was sober when the patrol car pulled up.
“He wasn’t drunk,” he said. “He had been working with me and my brother-in-law putting logs in a trailer … He was just on his way to go get a beer at the store when the officer pulled up.”
Berndt, whose friend captured the stun gun hit on his cell phone, told The Huffington Post there was nothing out of the ordinary about Laws walking down the street.
“We don’t have sidewalks,” he said. “There’s drainage ditches on both sides of the road, so everybody walks in street.”
According to Marshall, Laws became aggressive when the officer approached him, and at one point choked and shoved the deputy.
“Mr. Laws ended up charging the deputy, chocking him and slamming him into the side of his patrol vehicle,” Marshall said.
Hill said her father was agitated with the officer, and did pull his hands away when the officer reached for them. But, she added, she never saw him put his hands on the deputy.
“My dad was the one who was slammed into the car, causing the dent,” she said. “My dad never choked him or any of that stuff.”
Berndt said he also did not see Laws choke or assault the officer.
“The officer was the one who threw him,” Berndt alleged. “At no time did Ervin ever choke that man. The officer was the one trying to manhandle him.”
What happened next was captured on the cell phone video.
In the footage, Laws pulls his hands away from the officer and then, with his back to the officer, says, “You can Tase me if you want to.”
The deputy obliges, and Laws falls back, striking his head against the paved street.
According to Marshall, the stun gun hit was also captured on video by police, but that footage has yet to be released.
“The Taser has a video capacity, so when it is unholstered and charged it starts recording the direction of the Taser,” the sheriff said. “We do have a protracted period of time where you can hear [the deputy say], ‘Please comply sir. Please. You’re under arrest. You assaulted me.’ The deputy tries to talk him down and we have probably a minute, minute and a half of that.”
“Ervin didn’t do anything to deserve it,” Berndt said.
“He didn’t do the things they said he did,” Hill said of what occurred prior to the hit with the Taser. “I was there when it happened and so was a bunch of other people who saw it.”
Laws’ cousin, Abraham Seaborne Jr., told a similar story to WAVY.com.
Seaborne, who says he also saw the incident, toldthat Laws did not initiate contact with the officer. “The officer was the one who grabbed him and tried to hold him,” he said.
According to Hill, the injury from her father’s fall required a number of staples to close the wound.
“He was bleeding all over the street,” she said. “It was terrible.”
Laws was charged with assaulting an officer, strangulation, damaging a patrol car, public intoxication and disorderly conduct.
Berndt told HuffPost that Laws “may have made some mistakes in his past,” but isn’t a lawbreaker. “Ask anybody in that neighborhood, and Ervin is a good guy who’s always lending a hand and helping somebody out,” he said.
Hill said she thinks the deputy took things too far when he used a stun gun on her father from behind.
“He’s just using his badge to do what he wants to do to people, and that’s not right,” she said. “All of us are human. You can’t treat people like that just because you have a badge. You can’t.”
Marshall told HuffPost the deputy was not out of line when he used the Taser on Laws from behind.
“It’s very unfortunate that [the] video does not represent the entirety [of the incident],” the sheriff said. “After he had been attacked by Mr. Laws and actually pinned against his vehicle and choked, the deputy, constitutionally and by police policy, would have been authorized to use deadly force and he did not.”
According to Berndt, incidents like this one are not unique to the community.
“A lot of people don’t respect the police because stuff like this happens so often,” he said.
Laws is being held in the Western Tidewater Regional Jail without bond. He is expected to appear in court sometime this week.
Hill said she has been consulting with attorneys not only about the criminal charges her father is facing, but also about the possibility of taking legal action against the sheriff’s office.
“I don’t think my dad’s going to be the same after this,” she said. “He ain’t going to be right, and that ain’t right.”