Sarasota police launched an internal investigation after video surfaced of an officer kneeling on a man’s neck during an arrest in mid-May.
SARASOTA, Fla.Â â€” In a memo copied to Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino on May 19, a captain concluded that when an officer â€œplaced a knee on the neckâ€ of a suspect during an arrest a day earlier, â€œthe application of force appears reasonable.â€
The conclusion by Capt. Demetri Konstantopolous came in a Use of Force report to Officer Matthew Hughes â€” and ccâ€™d to DiPino, according to the document â€” recounting actions by Officer Drusso Martinez as he struggled withÂ 27-year-old Patrick Carroll, a black Sarasota resident, while arresting him on alleged domestic battery charges on May 18.
The arrest and Martinezâ€™s kneeling on Carrollâ€™s neck did not become public until June 1, when a video of the encounter was posted to social media.
The police department did not reference the use of force report but issued a statement then saying the agency had been tagged in the video post, and that DePino â€œwas disturbed to see an officer kneeling on the head and neck of an individual in the video.
â€œWhile it appears the officer eventually moves his leg to the individualâ€™s back, this tactic is not taught, used or advocated by our agency.â€
The department said DiPino had placed the officer, who wasnâ€™t identified earlier this week by the agency, on administrative leave.
On June 2 â€” two weeks after the Use of Force Report said the review had been closed following the conclusion that the force was reasonable â€” the document shows Officer Hughes sent a message to Sgt. Daniel Weinsberg stating: â€œI have concerns regarding the officer putting his knee in the back of the subjectâ€™s neck to maintain control. For your reviewâ€
Weinsberg responded that the Use of Force â€œis currently under investigation by Internal Affairs.â€
Attempts to reach DiPino for comment on Friday were unsuccessful.
Two days before Carrollâ€™s arrest became public, DiPino had condemned the tactic of police using a knee to a suspectâ€™s neck to subdue them, in response toÂ a viral video that showed the death of George Floyd,Â a black man who died May 25 after Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for nine minutes, leaving him unable to breathe.
On May 30, as public anger over Floydâ€™s death was rising nationwide, DiPino issued a statement condemning the kneeling tactic and promising her agency would be â€œprofessional, transparent and compassionateâ€ in working to keep the public safe.
â€œI was shocked and outraged by the actions and conduct of the Minneapolis police officer and the inaction of the other officers I observed on the video,â€ her statement said. â€œThe senseless death of Mr. Floyd is tragic, heartbreaking and never should have happened….The men and women of the Sarasota Police Department are not trained to use tactics Iâ€™ve seen in the videos in Minneapolis. The actions of the officers in Minneapolis were inexcusable…..â€
Other law enforcement leaders sent out similar statements.
DiPino said it was the bystanderâ€™s video and overhead video taken by the Sarasota County Sheriffâ€™s Office helicopter Air-1 that prompted her to put the officer on administrative leave.
Deputy Chief Pat Robinson told the Herald-Tribune DiPino had not seen the footage of the incident until June 1.
Michael Barfield, president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, questioned the timing of DiPinoâ€™s message.
â€œDiPino needs to stop pretending she was unaware of the knee-on-the-neck tactic,â€ Barfield said. â€œHer patrol captain signed off on it as â€˜reasonableâ€™ and sent her that message six days before the George Floyd incident in Minneapolis.â€
Barfield said the chief could have acted much sooner.
â€œCondemning this terrible tactic after-the-fact is a political move,â€ he said. â€œThe time for Chief Dipino to be a leader was on May 19th when she knew one of her officers used the knee-on-the-neck tactic. She didnâ€™t condemn it then. Worse, she pretended not to know anything about it when it came to light. That conduct is disappointing and inconsistent with being a public servant.â€
According to an SPD arrest report, Carroll was arrested May 18 in connection with a domestic battery case on Dixie Avenue in the Newtown neighborhood. Officers Martinez and Amelia Wicinski found him wearing a light blue backpack, and at first, he was cooperative with police.
Carroll said he went to the female victimâ€™s house to pick up some clothes but they argued. He found some of his clothes strewn on the lawn. He said she cursed and yelled at him and threatened to call the police, so he packed a few things and left.
Carroll denied striking the woman, according to the report.
Officers found enough evidence to arrest Carroll for domestic battery. The woman had visible bruising and swelling on her arms, face and chest area, the report said.
Carroll began to yell at officers asking why he was being placed into handcuffs.
While being placed in handcuffs, Carroll continuously attempted to reach into his pockets, police said. His attempts to reach into his pockets were reported in the use of force report but not his arrest report.
In the arrest report, officers said that Carroll simply refused to comply with a body search. It said they attempted to walk him to the rear of the patrol vehicle to conduct the search.
Officers were able to get Carroll to the door of the patrol vehicle but he turned his body and yelled at them. He appeared to struggle with Martinez and Wicinskiâ€™s efforts to search him and they took him to the ground â€œwith minimal force,â€ the arrest report said.
The use of force report added more detail.
In the document, Martinez said that as he moved to arrest Carroll, the suspect became uncooperative, and â€œbegan to flail his body and drop his bodyweight to the ground in an attempt to defeatâ€ officersâ€™ moves to search him.
â€œI grabbed a hold of Carrollâ€™s right wrist and right elbow area and conducted a takedown. Carroll landed on his stomach, at which time he continued to flail his body and head,â€ Martinez recounted in the use of force report. â€œI placed my right knee on the back of his neck to better control his body, at which time he calmed down.â€
The sheriffâ€™s helicopter pilot flying overhead can be heard in the video telling dispatchers Carroll was resisting arrest and to send more officers.
A search of Carrollâ€™s body found a baggie of marijuana; his backpack contained a box of change and four .22-caliber bullets, police said. A criminal search found that he had a felony conviction.
In addition to domestic battery, Carrol was charged with felony possession of ammunition and misdemeanor resisting arrest.
The use of force report included a diagram showing where officers exerted force on Carrollâ€™s body. Dots indicated that they exerted force on his wrists, elbow and neck.
None of the comments prior to June 1 questioned if the officerâ€™s use of force was excessive.
Photos provided by Martinez show Carroll had no injuries, the report said.
Follow Carlos R. MuÃ±oz on Twitter: @ReadCarlos
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