A video showing a young African-American University of Cincinnati student being shoved into the ground and arrested by three white Athens Police officers on North Court Street in Athens Saturday got shared thousands of times on Twitter over the weekend, sparking outrage over the officers’ actions.
The young man – Ty Bealer, 21 – pleaded not guilty Monday to second-degree misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest and obstructing official business.
Police Chief Tom Pyle defended the officers’ actions in a press conference Monday, and Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said that he believes the video in question was reinforcing "misinformation" about the incident.
OU student Ajiyah Brooks shared the roughly 30-second video on Twitter Sunday morning, saying that “three police officers ran up on a group of boys beside a car on Court Street, and took down an African American boy. Slammed him, punched him, and holding all parts of his body down when he wasn’t fighting back and was unarmed!”
The video got shared more than 6,500 times on Twitter, with some of the responses alleging that the officers' use of force was racially motivated, though others argued that the video didn't show the whole context of the incident.
The video shared by Brooks doesn’t show the lead-up to the arrest as described by Brooks, but does show three white APD officers on top of Bealer, one with his knee in his back, forcing him into the ground and handcuffing him.
Chief Pyle said during the press conference Monday that his office is conducting an internal investigation into the use of force, as it does whenever officers use force beyond handcuffing somebody. Still, he said, from what he’s seen so far, he believes the officers’ use of force was “justified” and “restrained.”
Pyle said that two officers arrived outside the J-Bar on North Court Street around midnight Saturday in response to a person – identified as Bealer – being “ejected” from the bar, who returned and was causing “staff issues” outside.
"Officers were advised this person may have assaulted other patrons in the bar," Pyle added in a follow-up press release issued Monday after the press conference.
The officers approached Bealer, Pyle recounted of the officers’ story, who tried to “resist officers” and “run away.”
Pyle said that alleged resistance resulted in an “altercation” that went to the ground.
“The person was arrested and… taken into custody and was offered EMS treatment for a small abrasion to the right hand and a Taser barb wound, which is standard operating procedure when a Taser is deployed,” Pyle said.
Several Ohio University student organizations spoke out about the incident Sunday and Monday.
OU’s student NAACP chapter called the use of force displayed in the video “extremely unnecessary.”
“Not only is this the WRONG PERSON, if it were a white student this would be a completely different situation,” the NAACP group tweeted. “We need to hold the police officers accountable for what they did to Ty Bealer.”
Pyle said during the press conference Monday that his officers were “confident” they arrested the right person, arguing that they matched Bealer with the description of the person causing a disturbance inside the J-Bar. Pyle said Bealer’s race had nothing to do with it.
“I don’t see racism in this incident,” Pyle said. “I just don’t.
Brooks – who was present at the scene – painted a different picture of the police’s approach to Bealer. She said she saw the police officers running down the street toward Bealer. Bealer reportedly asked, “what did I do?” Brooks recounted, then one of the officers allegedly “pulled him and slammed him on (a nearby) car.”
“The male was punched and as well his face (was) slammed into the ground,” Brooks said.
A video posted by another twitter user in response to Brooks’ video appears to show a man – described by some as Bealer – shoving a bouncer at the J-Bar earlier in the night. The video does show him leaving the scene after a brief argument.
A friend of Bealer who was contacted by The NEWS – Zachary Davis – also said he was on the scene. He said Bealer was not causing a disturbance at the J-Bar, nor did he ever make it inside; he said Bealer was actually assaulted by somebody who came out from the J-Bar, and that person ran back inside quickly.
“Ty was punched in the face,” Davis said. “Someone from inside the bar… proceeded to come out, punch Ty in the face, and run back inside. That’s why Ty was outside and so mad, because the guy came out, hit him, and ran. We didn’t even make it inside the bar. Ty dropped his wallet right outside the door, and the bouncer started getting handsy with him when he went to pick it up. That’s what started all of this and it only escalated from there.”
According to the charging documents filed against Bealer in Municipal Court Monday, he allegedly “pulled away from Police Officer (Ethan) Doerr and grabbed Police Officer (AJ) Spear while they were investigating the defendant for disorderly conduct.”
The other charging document alleges that Bealer “did fight with officers, grabbing a hold of Police Officer (AJ) Spear and kicking Police Officer (Ethan) Doerr.”
Pyle during the press conference said his office already has gathered multiple videos from the night in question, and said he believes that those videos will be made public during the court process.
The police officers in this incident were not wearing body-worn cameras, according to Pyle. He and Mayor Patterson said the city is in the process of receiving a large shipment of body cameras, but because of a lack of availability of the person meant to train the police agency on the use of the cameras, they likely won't be implemented until early December. Pyle said he and the officers in question "would have loved to have" had the cameras in this incident, arguing that it would bear out the officers' account.
Officer Doerr is the subject of a lawsuit filed against the city earlier this year by a northeast Ohio man, alleging that Doerr used excessive force against him (Doerr has denied those allegations). You can read more about that case here, and we’ll have a follow-up on all of these events in our Thursday edition this week.
Chief Pyle said that the incident in question in that case has "no correlation at all" to the treatment of Bealer.