An Instagram video of a Baltimore police officer tugging on the ears of two suspects lying on the ground and yelling will be reviewed by the city’s Consent Decree monitoring team, the oversight group said in a tweet Tuesday morning.
Video of the June 18 incident in a Cherry Hill neighborhood began circulating on social media last week. It has received nearly 30,000 views and 500 comments but has not generated much public outcry outside the platform. One person did tweet concerns to the decree team, and that was enough to merit a look, Ken Thompson, the head of the independent monitoring team helping to implement policing reforms mandated under a federal consent decree, said.
“Outside the one citizen I haven’t heard anything about what’s going on,” Thompson said. “But if a citizen is concerned we try and respond.”
Thompson said his team requested body camera footage from the arrest and expects to receive it from the police department by the end of the week. The team will review the footage to see if department policies dealing with use of force are being properly followed.
The Instagram video shows an officer, who has not been identified, yelling “put your hand behind your back” as he appears to tug on the ears of Ronnaye Sampson, 21, and a 16-year-old boy. The officer is also pressing his knee into their backs.
Baltimore Police spokesman Matt Jablow told The Baltimore Sun the officer used a tactic targeting a pressure point behind the ear.
“Officers are trained to apply pressure to control people in certain situations, and that’s what the officer appears to have been doing,” Jablow said.
Retired police captain and use of force expert Ashley Heiberger said using pressure points is a technique widely taught during academy training and the continued in-service training officers receive.
Heiberger, who retired from the Bethlehem (Penn.) Police Department after 21 years, said pressure points are a low use of force that don’t cause a lot of pain compared to techniques such as using a baton.
“The idea (with pressure points) is that you are causing discomfort and that causes distraction and through that you gain compliance,” he said. “But once you gain compliance there is no pain.”
Police were called to the Cherry Hill neighborhood June 18 around 4 p.m. for an aggravated assault call. Sampson had allegedly sprayed another woman with pepper spray before running away , Jablow said. Police tracked Sampson to a nearby house. After police entered the home, Sampson again fled, Jablow said.
Sampson was charged with second-degree assault and intent to injure with pepper spray. Police said the boy was charged with hindering an arrest. The Baltimore Sun does not identify juveniles. No attorney was listed for Sampson in court records.
It is not clear when in the arrest process the video began being recorded. But over the course of four minutes, it shows a tense scene of officers attempting to arrest the woman and the teen who both appear to be resisting.
In the beginning of the video, Sampson is sitting quietly on the ground by a tree, yelling for someone to call her mom and tell her she’s “about to get locked up.”
One officer pulled a Taser device — but did not use it — before placing his knee on top of Sampson and began activating the pressure point behind her left ear for several seconds. She can be seen screaming for help as the officer yells for her to put her hands behind her back in the video.
Jablow said the officer used the Taser to “cover” the other officers.
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The officer then gets up, leaves Sampson and approaches the boy and repeats the same process. After several seconds, he gets up and asks the other officers: “You all got him secure? All right. Come on.”
After watching the four-minute Instagram video, Heiberger said he thought the video was “very reasonable.”
“I think they were very restrained and used caution for both a juvenile and young woman being involved,” Heiberger said. “I did not see these officers out of control, yelling or screaming. I did not see them using any racial slurs.”
Officers filed a use of force report. That means in addition to the consent decree team, the incident will also be reviewed by command staff, internal affairs and the use of force unit, Jablow said.
Two years ago a federal judge approved a consent decree between the city of Baltimore and the U.S. Department of Justice after an investigation found city police regularly violated residents’ civil rights. The consent decree monitoring team is a team of experts helping the department implement reforms.
Even though Heiberger said he agrees with the officers actions, he understands why people are concerned.
“Force at its essence is still violence,” he said. “It’s not pleasant for people to watch force being used but the fact that it might be unpleasant doesn’t mean it wasn’t necessary.”