The Charlottesville Police Department has released body camera footage of a Wednesday arrest on the Downtown Mall after a local attorney questioned use of force employed by an officer during the incident.
The release of the body camera footage was spurred by another video posted on Instagram Wednesday evening by an onlooker.
In that video, a man later identified as 36-year-old Christopher Lee Gonzalez, is seen standing in front of the CVS Pharmacy and grappling with a police officer before being kicked by the officer and tossed to the ground.
As passersby either look on or walk by, the officer appears to put his arm around the man’s neck, forcing him to remain on the ground before three other officers arrive at the scene. The three-minute clip ends with the man being handcuffed and walked by officers away from the Downtown Mall toward Water Street.
Thursday morning, attorney Jeff Fogel emailed the Instagram video to Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney and demanded the city police release the body camera footage.
“We don’t know what led to the altercation but certainly by the time the video starts he does not appear to be resisting,” Fogel told Progress Thursday afternoon. “Why would the police not release the footage? It happened in broad daylight in public and not in the department’s evidence room.”
The Charlottesville Police Department released 17 minutes of body camera footage Thursday evening, as well as a news release describing the incident. The release did not contain the name of the responding officer and city spokesman Brian Wheeler said he was unable to provide that information Thursday night.
According to the release, on Wednesday around 5:34 p.m., someone called 911 to report a man on the ground at 200 W. Main Street. Charlottesville police, Charlottesville Fire Department and the Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad responded to the scene and found an unresponsive male lying on the Downtown Mall.
During the encounter, 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.
According to the release, CPD has initiated an internal affairs investigation related to the incident.
The footage begins with the unnamed officer turning his body camera on and approaching Gonzalez, who is splayed out on the ground near the skeleton of the Dewberry Hotel.
The officer asks Gonzalez if he is all right and whether he knows where he is, both of which Gonzalez responds to affirmatively. Gonzalez admits to having consumed alcohol after being questioned by the officer and is then asked to sit up so three rescue squad members can check on him.
Soon after Gonzalez stands up the rescue squad members are told they may leave by the officer. Gonzalez, who said he is homeless, is asked by the officer to leave the Downtown Mall or he will be arrested for public intoxication.
“How about we do this: if you can stay off the Downtown Mall and I don’t see you again the I won’t take you—,” the officer says, before being cut off by Gonzalez.
Around five and half minutes into the body camera clip, Gonzalez refuses to leave and the officer asks him to turn around and put his hands behind his back. As the officer attempts to handcuff Gonzalez a scuffle ensues and the body camera falls to the ground lens-first where it remains for approximately two minutes without capturing footage.
This gap in visible footage appears to be from the same time period shown in the Instagram video.
The last approximately 10 minutes of the video show a handcuffed Gonzalez being walked to a police cruiser parked between Water Street and Jack Brown’s, where he is searched and held until a transport vehicle arrives.
After watching the footage Thursday night, Fogel compared the situation to the death of George Floyd, who was killed after a police officer in Minneapolis kneeled on his neck during an altercation on Memorial Day.
“Thankfully this situation didn’t result in anyone’s death and [Gonzalez] appears to be unhurt, but the fact of the matter is that this situation never should have happened,” he said.
Fogel also pointed out that it is concerning that Gonzalez was told he could leave the Downtown Mall and avoid arrest as, presumably, the same intoxication laws that apply to the Downtown Mall apply elsewhere.
Given the gap in the police footage and the distance of the Instagram video, Fogel said its difficult to tell whether or not the officer used a chokehold to detain Gonzalez. At least one other person situated closer to the incident can be seen in the Instagram video, Fogel said, and perhaps their footage would shed more light on the scuffle.
Citing an ongoing investigation, the city said it would have no comment beyond what was in the release. Officials did not respond to questions about whether CPD permits chokeholds.