COLUMBIA, S.C. — Columbia Police Chief William Holbrook says there was a rush to judgment over a video of one of his officers punching a man over the weekend in the city's Five Points district, saying he believes his officer acted appropriately.
Holbrook spoke about the video late Monday afternoon, a day after cell phone videos of the incident raised questions from some in the community.
"I think we've earned the opportunity to explain ourselves," Holbrook said. "I know the stakes are high. I know there's a lot at stake when it comes to policing in America."
A bystander's video from early Sunday morning showed a Columbia police officer punching a suspect in the head as he was trying to arrest him. Witnesses say they saw the man running around the corner with the officer yelling for him to stop.
Holbrook said the incident began around 1:45 a.m. Sunday when people were beginning to leave the bars in greater numbers.
He said the subject and another man began illegally crossing the street near where Devine Street and Harden Street meet. The officers flashed his light at them to get them to stop. Holbrook says there was a verbal exchange between the men and the officer, and the officer went into the intersection to escort them out of the road.
But the chief said the subject pulled away, then stumbled, and began running from the officer west on Devine Street. The officer caught up with him after about a 40 foot chase, grabbed the subject from behind, put him in a bear hug, and pinned him against a vehicle.
People in the area began recording the incident on their cell phones.
Holbrook said while the officer had the subject pinned, the subject began applying pressure to the officer's wrists. The officer believed he was losing control of the subject, and was in pain, and in response, struck him six times in the head.
Holbrook said the head is not the first area officers are trained to strike, but in this case, the officer couldn't strike the pit of the stomach, which is where they'd usually aim for.
The officer, along with an off-duty officer who joined in, then got the subject to the ground. The officer placed his knee on the back of the subject. As they were working to get him handcuffed, the officer's knee slipped off the subject's body, and he reapplied it to the neck a few seconds later.
The man was then taken to a police car and secured for transport. He's was cited for pedestrian unlawfully in the roadway, resisting arrest, and failure to stop on police command.
The officers' status is normal.
"We deal with a volatile situation in Five Points," Holbrook said. "We have folks that are down there having a good time, sometimes they overindulge."
Holbrook said what's happened over the last day, with people assuming things about what they saw in the video, bothers him.
"I think what you see from the men and women at this police department who put their rear on the line every single day to protect this city, I think we were owed a few minutes more of pause to get to the bottom of this, so we can have a conversation about what happened and how we prevent stuff like this from happening again," Holbrook said.
Holbrook also said he had a problem with one man who was running behind the police officer with his arm extended recording the incident with a cell phone, who the chief says could have been mistaken with a man with a gun. He said that, along with people taunting the officer during the arrest, "elevated the tone of what was going on."