CMPD on Tuesday announced the results of an internal investigation into the violent arrest of Christina Pierre and her husband Anthony Lee outside of a Bojangles where they both work on South Tryon Street on Nov. 13, stating that CMPD Internal Affairs had ruled that one officer would be suspended for his actions during the arrest.
Chief Johnny Jennings announced the ruling during a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, stating that six officers were exonerated, meaning they were found to be justified in their actions, while charges of excessive use of force against another officer, Vincent Pistone, were sustained. Officer Pistone was handed down a 40-hour suspension.
Earlier on Tuesday, the department released its body-worn camera footage and other department footage of the arrest, which went viral after bystanders shared their own footage of the arrest within hours of its occurrence in November.
Lee was originally charged with carrying a concealed firearm, resist/delay/obstruct and simple possession of marijuana; while Pierre was charged with assault on a government official, resist/delay/obstruct and simple marijuana possession. All of those charges have since been dropped, a decision CMPD Chief Jennings voiced his disapproval of in a Nov. 28 press release.
It is not clear if Lee was illegally carrying the firearm due to the nature of the charges, and the fact that they were quickly dropped.
In the 32 videos (nearly 6 hours of combined footage) CMPD compiled including body-worn camera footage, an interview room video, a street camera video and civilian video, the public can now see the before, during and after of the arrests.
Below are the events in chronological order:
Street camera footage captured a police vehicle driven by two Steele Creek division officers patrolling South Tryon Street. After spotting two suspects (Pierre and Lee) sitting at a bus stop in front of Bojangles, the car pulled into a nearby parking lot.
The officers claimed they smelled marijuana in the area and approached Pierre and Lee, where they saw the pair smoking what the officers believed to be a marijuana cigarette.
One officer accused the couple of smoking weed, which they informed the officers was actually THC-A bought legally from a local smoke shop. The couple said they had just gotten off their shifts at Bojangles.
Without asking for any proof of purchase to confirm their claim, the officer began to put Lee’s arm behind his back to make an arrest. Lee remained calm and expressed his confusion to the arresting officer while Pierre loudly asked the officer what he was doing.
The other officer forcefully removed Pierre from the bench and tried to pull her hands behind her back while she continued to move away from him, keeping her hands up and away from the officer.
After another attempt to put Pierre’s hand behind her back, Pierre tried to dislodge her arm from the officer’s hold, knocking his body camera off and into the grass beside them.
The detached camera continued to record video directed at the sky, but a video captured by a civilian from the Bojangles parking lot showed Pierre throw two swings at the officer. It is unclear if the swings made contact with the officer’s face. CMPD has repeatedly claimed as much.
Following Pierre’s swings, the officer threw two punches directly to the left side of her face, knocking her to the ground where he held her for nearly 3 minutes until another unit arrived on the scene.
Within 30 seconds after the arrival of the second responding unit, two other officers joined to restrain Pierre.
At 2:09 p.m., officer Pistone, who would later be suspended, arrived at the scene to assist the two arresting officers restraining Lee, immediately yelling profanities at Lee and pushing his face into the ground while another officer put him in handcuffs.
Once Lee was placed in handcuffs, Pistone ran to the four other officers already restraining Pierre. One officer sat on Pierre’s legs, two others held down her left side and one attempted to forcefully remove her right arm out from under her body.
Before Pistone had fully reached Pierre’s right side, he told the officers to “start striking.” Pistone then delivered seven knee strikes to Pierre’s right thigh, followed by 10 closed-fist strikes to the same area.
The internal investigation found the first three compliance strikes were effective in dislodging Pierre’s arms from underneath her body and the other 14 were deemed unjustified.
“Fourteen strikes to the female’s leg came after her hands were behind her back,” said Chief Jennings on Tuesday. “These strikes were not deemed justified. If the officer made an assessment after three leg strikes, he would have seen that they were effective, and the female’s hands were behind her back.”
The suspended officer, Pistone, had been temporarily reassigned to an investigative division and removed from patrol immediately following the incident while the investigation took place.
Once Pierre was forced into handcuffs, with three officers, two on either side of her arms and one behind her, tugging her bound hands upward, she was pressed against a CMPD vehicle to be searched while she sobbed and continued to ask “What did I do?”
In the CMPD Incident Report, an initial self-initiated call by the officers reporting a suspicious person was logged at 2:06 p.m. By 2:16 p.m., 11 CMPD units were assigned to respond to the call.
The number of assigned units only began to drop when Pierre and Lee were both in the back of a police car on the way to the station where they were held.
Prior to the footage release, Jennings watched the body-worn camera and stated in a press release that he “[believes] it tells more of the story than what is circulating on social media.”
Now that the footage is public, it appears to show that CMPD officers made a snap judgment without any prior investigation, attempting to “de-escalate” a situation for a whole 24 seconds before issuing aggressive and unnecessary force to a 5-foot-6-inch,180-pound woman already under the weight of four grown men.
In a holding room, a handcuff around her left ankle, Pierre begged the officer in the room with her to see her husband and go home to their dog.
“Please can we speed this up so I can… take my ass to sleep and heal myself from the traumas that y’all caused me today and for the rest of my life,” she said. “I’ll remember this.”
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