AUSTIN (KXAN) — In a video that has more than 300,000 views at last check, you can hear the screams that one man says made him start recording.
“It was the noises that we heard from behind that made us turn around,” Patrick King told KXAN.
Patrick was visiting from Seguin when the incident happened in downtown Austin: an arrest he described in a Facebook post as “police brutality.”
According to an affidavit, police arrested Justin Joseph Grant, 23, on a charge of possession of a controlled substance, methamphetamine. He has also been charged with terroristic threat and resisting arrest.
According to an affidavit, he was carrying a knife at the time and appeared to be drunk.
King says he shot the video around 1:30 in the morning on the Fourth of July. The Facebook video has people talking. Less than a minute long, it shows two Austin police officers holding Grant down on the ground. Then, one officer begins punching Grant’s head, yelling at a distraught woman screaming, “Stop it!” to back up.
The officer then can be heard yelling, “Back the f–k up or you’re going to go to jail.”
In the course of the video, the woman pushes the officer a couple of times before backing up. The video ends with her approaching officers again, saying, “Why are you doing that?” and one of them tells her to put her hands behind her back.
“My reason for recording wasn’t to — ‘Hey, let’s get all cops because all cops are bad’ — it was, ‘you never know what could happen. So it should be recorded just in case it’s needed,'” King said. “This was more of an awareness that this could literally happen anywhere, at any time, at any moment, when you least expect it.”
The recording, along with Chief Brian Manley’s response posted to Twitter, is getting a lot of feedback. Manley wrote, “Thank you for bringing this video to our attention and allowing us time to look into the incident. As is standard protocol, the officers’ chain of command is reviewing all details surrounding this incident.”
“Whatever this man had done, whether it wasn’t bad or it was bad, I don’t feel like there was a need for the officers to continue to yell at him and tell him to stop resisting and turn over when they’re on top of him and punching him and hitting him,” King said. “You literally cannot move if someone is on top of you.”
The Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday understand why the video has garnered so much attention, but explained there’s more to the incident than what the video shows. “I’ll tell you, as the union president, it looks bad,” he said.
Casaday explained officers were responding to a call from the nightclub Rain, on Fourth Street, where they received a report that a man was intoxicated and had a large knife.
An affidavit says the original call said he was threatening staff with the knife. The person who worked at Rain told police he didn’t let Grant in “due to his high level of intoxication.” Casaday said police also tasered the man, prior to the recorded video.
“When he was on the ground, you can see the officers punching, which they freely admit to. What you can’t see is the subject grabbing for a 6-inch knife that he had on his waistband, that the officers not only saw, but were told that was there by people from the nightclub,” Casaday said.
According to the affidavit, multiple people warned the police officers of the knife on Grant’s waist before they approached him while he was in “another disturbance” with a woman nearby.
Officers reported in the affidavit that Grant resisted being handcuffed. They wrestled him to the ground. “Grant rolled onto his stomach, further preventing us from handcuffing him behind his back and also continued to keep his arms tensed up,” according to the affidavit. “Grant then began to attempt to pull his arms downwards towards his waistband, which seemed to me that he was making an attempt to grab his knife.”
A separate affidavit for Alexandria Green, 23, the woman seen yelling at officers in the video, says she grabbed ahold of one of the officer’s body armor and pulled him off Grant. In all, she tried to push them off Grant three times before bar staff restrained her. Once Grant was handcuffed, officers also handcuffed her after a struggle.
Green was arrested on a charge of interfering with public duties, which is a Class B misdemeanor.
Officers found the 6-inch knife with a black handle and silver blade inside a sheath clipped to the front of his waistband after they handcuffed him, the affidavit said.
The union president added, the situation could have been worse.
“Use of force is not pretty,” he said. “Knowing the facts, I’m just glad that’s all the force they had to use. When you have the knife involved, the failure to put the hands behind the back and trying to grab for the knife, this very easily could have ended up in a deadly force situation. And I’m thankful that they just had to use their taser and punch him a couple of times.”
An investigation will have to determine whether that use of force was appropriate.
Casaday said the incident doesn’t surprise him. “Every day, you have bad encounters in law enforcement with people that are intoxicated on alcohol,” said Casaday.
Records show Grant has an extensive arrest record in Williamson County. In 2014, he was charged with resisting arrest by the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office.
Chief Manley urges a look at the “whole story”
At a Thursday afternoon press conference, Chief Manley said strikes to the head are allowed in the department’s policy when someone is a threat with a deadly weapon and urged a look at the “whole story.”
“We train officers to use the least amount of force necessary to overcome the resistance that they’re experiencing at that moment,” Manley said.
“This was a circumstance where they had an individual who was armed with a deadly weapon, who they reported was reaching for that weapon, trying to gain control of it, and as the officer was deploying his taser, the subject grabbed a hold of that taser. So, all of that feeds into the officers’ decisions on why they choose to use the level of force that they use.”
Manley said there will be an administrative inquiry into the incident, which starts either when there is great public interest in a matter or the department feels it needs a closer look at what happened.
Manley asked any witnesses or people who have video of the incident to come forward and speak to investigators. He also asked for anyone with video from the incident to share it with investigators.
He said the incident wasn’t in view of Rain on 4th’s security cameras, and he said as the officers were apprehending Grant, one body camera stopped working and the other fell off.
Manley said as of Thursday afternoon, only one witness had been interviewed by police. Manley said that witness claimed Grant could be reaching toward the knife at his belt when officers first approached him.
The chief said the officers involved had minor injuries from the scuffle.
What happened that night
General manager of Rain explains what led up to incident
The general manager of Rain, Scott Percifull, explained that his staff found Grant to be a threat and worked to keep him from entering the bar.
Percifull was briefed by his staff on the incident, watched the video posted to social media of the APD officers using force on Grant and then watched Rain’s surveillance cameras of his staff interacting with Grant.
Wednesday morning, Percifull said it was a very busy night at Rain when Grant approached, trying to enter and looking for his girlfriend. Grant was “visibly impaired” but staff believed that something besides alcohol had caused his impairment. During the conversation with Grant, the bouncer noticed that Grant had a knife on the front of his belt buckle.
At Rain, it is policy to not allow people who are intoxicated or people who are visibly carrying knives to enter, so the bouncer kept telling Grant that he could not go inside.
“The door guys still did a very good job of keeping him at bay which is their job,” Percifull said.
But after Grant started making threats, Percifull explained that his staff called the manager working at the time over to help. The manager also noticed that Grant had a knife.
“The suspect was trying to sweet talk and shake the hand of the manager, he grabbed [the manager’s] hand and shoulder and wouldn’t let go,” Percifull explained.
As soon as the manager was able to remove himself from Grant’s hold, he called police.
“From a safety standpoint it quickly went from, ‘this guy is too impaired’ to ‘we absolutely cannot let this guy go into the bar with a knife,'” Perciful said, adding that he believes his staff responded the situation well and followed Rain’s protocol.
“Anything like this is something we can learn from, or at least use to point out to new employees about why we have the policies we do,” he said, explaining that staff at Rain will deny entry to people who are too intoxicated on a nightly basis and will deny entry to people for reasons not related to intoxication a couple times a year.
Percifull had no comment on how Austin police responded to the incident.
There were also several people standing outside of Rain who watched the interactions between Grant, Green and the police officers. Peter Nicholas told KXAN that he was walking to meet a friend at Rain when he saw the officers punching Grant.
“They had him on the ground and after they were done subduing him, there was a girl there that was trying to help her friend because he was just getting beat up, and they grabbed her, slammed her into a parked car, and proceeded to arrest her,” Nicholas recalled.
Nicholas felt the officers used too much force on Grant and Green, who both appeared frightened to him.
He said watching the incident unfold made him feel shocked and scared, he believes there were other ways APD could have de-escalated the situation.
“If I saw that happen with anyone else on Sixth Street or anyone else downtown, you would intervene and try to help this person who’s getting beat up,” Nicholas said. “But when the people who are beating up someone have a badge and a gun, you just don’t know what to do.”
He hopes this incident sparks a larger discussion at APD about when and how much force to use.
“I get [the police] being there, obviously if someone has a knife in a club you don’t want that to happen,” Nicholas acknowledged. “For [the police] to kind of react in that way and go hyper aggressive on that situation — it almost seemed like they were going rage mode or something at the time — was not the way they should have handled things.”
Watch the full video below. Warning: some may find it disturbing.