Baltimore County police are reviewing the arrest of a young man outside a bar in downtown Towson early Saturday after a video of the incident, showing officers taking him to the ground and punching him repeatedly in the face, went viral online.
"We are reviewing this use of force," said Elise Armacost, a police spokeswoman. "It is not uncommon for officers to use force against subjects who resist arrest, as appears to be the case here."
The video, taken by a bystander on the street outside the Greene Turtle on York Road, begins just before an officer yanks 19-year-old Zachary Blumenstein to the ground by the arm and climbs on top of him. A second officer rushes over and appears to drop his knee onto Blumenstein's head.
A third officer then grabs and holds Blumenstein from behind, and the second officer punches Blumenstein in the face at least seven times.
Police said Blumenstein had tried "to engage another unknown male subject in a physical altercation" and began to "yell profanities at this unknown male." An officer ordered him to leave the area, police said, but he remained and continued to yell at the unknown male and the officer.
An officer saw Blumenstein push another male onto York Road, police said. The officer tried then to arrest him, but he resisted, police said. Officers used pepper spray twice in the effort to subdue him.
Blumenstein, of Chevy Chase, was charged with disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, failure to obey an officer, trespassing and resisting arrest, according to online court records.
Armacost said county police take use-of-force incidents seriously.
"That being said," she added, "officers faced with violent, chaotic situations often must use force to protect themselves and others — and this defendant clearly was violent and uncooperative toward other civilians as well as police, whose commands he refused to follow."
Blumenstein was released Saturday, according to online court records.
Blumenstein could not be reached for comment Saturday. His father confirmed that his son was the man in the video but declined to comment further.
Blumenstein studies anthropology and plays lacrosse at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., according to a school website. He attended Georgetown Preparatory School in Bethesda.
The video began drawing attention soon after it was posted by a Facebook user on Saturday, stacking up views and getting thousands of shares. State Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat, tweeted a link to the video with a question: "Is this actually Towson?!"
The video was later deleted.
The video surfaces amid a national dialogue about police brutality.
Citizen recordings of police encounters, now common in the age of smartphones, have helped ignite protests against brutality across the country, and have led in some cases to officers being charged with crimes.
Local police departments have begun outfitting officers with body cameras to ensure they have their own records of interactions with community members.
Baltimore County plans to equip about 150 officers with cameras next summer as part of a pilot program.
Critics have called for reform of police departments, particularly of how police treat young black men. Blumenstein is black; the officers arresting him appear to be white.
The video is not the first to raise public scrutiny of policing in Towson's downtown bar district, a popular student destination just up the street from Towson University.
In February 2014, a Baltimore County Auxiliary Police sergeant was put on administrative duties after he told a student who was recording early-morning arrests — again outside the Greene Turtle — to stop filming.
In that video, Sgt. Matthew S. Betz tells the student that he had "lost" his right to free speech. It showed Betz jostling the student's camera and telling him to "shut your … mouth or you're going to jail."
County police Chief Jim Johnson said Betz would not be allowed to return to patrol duties.
"The language he used was incorrect, unnecessary and not helpful in bringing the incident to closure," Johnson said at the time.
Police did not name the officers captured in the latest video or respond to questions about whether any had been put on administrative duty.
The union that represents Baltimore County officers did not respond to a request for comment.
Brochin, who represents Towson, said the Police Department is right to review the video.
"They need to find out what happened before the arrest," he said. "That's relevant, and there's nothing on that video that shows what happened."
Brochin expressed "confidence in the leadership of the Baltimore County Police Department to review it and do what's appropriate."
Without additional context, he said, his impression was that the officers were not using best practices for making an arrest.
"There's a difference between resisting arrest and going after an officer, and he clearly wasn't going after an officer," he said. "He looked like he wanted to get up and run away.
"I don't think it's a best practice to punch him in the face."
Brochin said the video also illustrates a broader problem in Towson: the thousands of young revelers who pour into the downtown bars on many nights, and the mayhem that occasionally occurs.
In May 2014, three people were stabbed in two separate incidents outside a Towson hookah lounge. In December 2012, five shots were fired into a crowd of people near the Charles Village Pub, one striking a man in the hand.
In September 2012, one person was wounded in a shooting, four were charged with disorderly conduct or failing to follow a lawful order, and three were charged with assaulting officers in a melee that shocked the commercial area.
The Greene Turtle was given state and county loans to open an $890,000 roof top bar at the location. Brochin called it a huge mistake.
"The community doesn't want this to be the future of Towson, where thousands of kids are converging on the center of Towson from 11 o'clock to 3 in the morning," he said. "It's not where we want to be. It's not what government should be egging us on to be."
The bar's owner did not respond to a request for comment.