A screenshot taken from the viral video that captured three Arkansas law enforcement officers beating a suspect in Crawford County on Aug. 21. (Courtesy of Naomi Johnson)
Crawford County Sheriff Jimmy Damante on Thursday said one of his deputies suffered a concussion Sunday during the arrest of a suspect that was filmed by a bystander.
The citizen video doesn’t show deputy Levi White being injured, but it did capture White, deputy Zack King and Mulberry police officer Thell Riddle striking the suspect with knees and fists and bouncing his head against the parking lot concrete.
In a video of his own released Thursday, Damante acknowledged that the viral video of the three officers pummeling a prone man was “troubling to watch, as is often the case when officers are trying to arrest a violent criminal with a history of assaulting the police.”
The suspect, later identified as Randall Ray Worcester, 27, “is a convicted felon who has been charged with or convicted of six assault-related incidents in the last 10 years, including multiple assaults on police officers,” Damante said in his video statement.
But “none of the citizen video covered the previous violence by the criminal,” the sheriff said, referring to the suspect’s alleged attack on his deputy.
Damante added that dash cam video from a patrol car covers some of the earlier interaction between the suspect and the officers.
The three officers have been placed on administrative leave while Arkansas State Police investigates the use of force and the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office look into whether any civil rights violations occurred during the arrest of Worcester.
Damante said Thursday that he’s directed his staff to begin a thorough disciplinary investigation into whether his deputies violated department policy or the law. He promised to publicly announce any disciplinary action taken.
“Viral videos create a lot of heat but little light. Social media chatter is full of self-proclaimed experts on use of force, all based on the smallest snippet of what happened after this man threatened someone with a knife and then violently assaulted a deputy while resisting arrest.”
– Sheriff Jimmy Damante
Damante asked “everyone to consider the actions I’ve taken to ensure transparency and accountability and withhold judgment until all facts are identified and verified.”
He said he understood some people are angry.
“It’s OK to be angry,” the sheriff said, but harassment and threats directed at his employees “is both irresponsible and illegal.”
Meanwhile, Worcester’s attorneys said Sunday’s incident fits into a pattern of excessive force by some law enforcement officers in Crawford County. They held a Tuesday news conference with two additional clients who have accused Deputy White of assaulting them during recent arrests.
What happened Sunday
Law enforcement officers had been on the lookout for a man who reportedly had threatened to cut a convenience store clerk’s face with his knife and had spit on her before riding off on a bicycle. The knife threat is a felony, the sheriff said.
When officers spotted the man and began talking to him, he gave a false name, also a crime, Damante said.
When the deputies and the police officer tried to arrest Worcester, “he aggressively tackled one of the deputies, slamming that deputy’s head into the concrete and causing a serious concussion. The criminal then punched the deputy in the head.”
Russellville attorney Russell Wood, who represents White and King, gave a more vivid description of what happened to White in a statement released Monday.
While his identity was being checked by officers, the suspect “became irate and viciously attacked Deputy White by grabbing him by his legs, lifting him up and body-slamming him, head first, on the concrete parking lot,” Wood wrote.
“Deputy White was incapacitated momentarily, but remembers getting repreatedly hit in the head and then seeing the suspect fighting with Corporal King and the Mulberry officer,” according to Wood.
White then joined the other officers “and used all force necessary to get the violent suspect under control and detained,” Wood wrote.
In Thursday’s statement, Damante said the suspect refused medical attention at the scene, “but I insisted he be taken to the hospital.”
The man was treated for scrapes and bruises, “but doctors did not diagnose a concussion,” the sheriff said. Even so, Damante said he directed jail medical staff “to put him on concussion protocol and check his status every 15 minutes to ensure he was in good condition.”
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