The Charlottesville Police Department is looking at new ways to secure body-worn cameras after one fell off during a violent arrest Wednesday.
Yesterday, the city police released body camera footage of an incident on the Downtown Mall after separate bystander footage of the incident surfaced on Instagram.
The Instagram footage depicted a man, later identified as 36-year-old Christopher Lee Gonzalez, grappling with a police officer before being kicked by the officer and tossed to the ground.
Gonzalez, who has no fixed address, was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor public intoxication, misdemeanor obstruction of justice and felony assault on a police officer. Police have declined to name the officer involved in the incident.
The 17-minute body camera video released by the department shed light on how the arrest unfolded, and a release detailed that the police and rescue services were called because Gonzalez appeared to be intoxicated and passed out near the unfinished Dewberry Hotel.
The camera attached to the officer fell lens-first into the ground during the incident and did not capture the officer’s use of force as shown in the bystander video. The video shared on Instagram appears to take place during the time the officer’s body camera had fallen off.
On Friday afternoon Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney answered media questions at City Hall, but declined to comment on specifics of the incident, citing an ongoing investigation.
“It’s easy to take a single segment of a video or a single segment or photograph, or just a single line like in these interviews completely out of context,” she said. “I understand that the public often does not want to wait nor trust that these things will be fully investigated, but since my arrival here, I’ve been very transparent about the things that we are doing and the opportunity to hold not only our staff accountable, but also to come into alignment with best practices across the nation.”
In response to the incident and other similar cases where cameras have fallen off of officers, Brackney said the department has ordered materials to affix them to officers more securely.
“Because these cameras get knocked off so frequently during scuffles and fights, we have ordered clips that will provide a way to have them attached more securely,” she said. “The body-worn cameras are placed on the chest area because it gives the best view and least likely to obstruct any of the interactions that will be occurring between any of our officers in the public that we engage with.”
Brackney said the city police made the decision to release the body camera footage to provide more context for the situation after the Instagram video circulated.
“So there’s a video out there, [there] are these accusations that people were labeling an assault had occurred, that there was a person being choked out on the mall, that they were being beaten down, and that this was occurring for no other reason than it was a person of color who was asked to politely leave the Mall and that they were being racially profiled,” she said. “Those are the kinds of things that really can cause communities — and rightfully so — to have a response that could lead to additional violence in the communities.”
Brackney said the decision to release the footage was made to address the community’s concerns and in an effort to be more transparent. Police will look into releasing more body camera footage in the future, she said.
Though Brackney would not comment on whether or not the Instagram video depicts the officer using a chokehold while subduing Gonzalez, she did clarify that chokeholds are not part of officer training.
The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services’ training manual cites chokeholds as a method of lethal force.
The city police have launched an internal affairs investigation into the incident, Brackney said, which involves meeting with the Commonwealth’s attorney to see if there may have been a crime committed, criminal liability or the possibility of prosecution before proceeding with the administrative investigation. That process is still ongoing, she said.
Thursday evening, Mayor Nikuyah Walker expressed concerns about how the incident was handled, citing her experience working at Region Ten Mohr Center, which treats individuals suffering from addiction.
“It is my belief that when someone is suffering from alcoholism that you help them,” she wrote. “Helping them may only mean that you give them some water to help flush out some of the toxins, food to help settle their stomachs for the night or the next round of drinks and somewhere safe to sleep or not if they decide to leave.”
“I don’t agree that being intoxicated in public should land you in jail,” she wrote. “I don’t agree that ‘protecting’ or ‘preserving’ the Downtown Mall is more important than Mr. Gonzalez’s wellbeing.”
According to a Facebook post, Gonzalez is being represented by an attorney from the Albemarle-Charlottesville Public Defender’s Office.