Police: No excessive force in halfway house arrest


Pittsburgh police said a piece of security video that aired recently on WPXI-TV seemingly showing Zone 2 officers viciously beating a halfway house resident during an arrest is not what it seems.
First, they note, the footage aired Jan. 25, came from the defense attorney of the man arrested, Lonnie Jenkins, and the incident isn’t recent. It occurred Aug. 26 when officers were called to Renewal Inc. on the Boulevard of the Allies after a resident was allegedly found with contraband.
While there, they were told a second resident, Jenkins, had been found with contraband.
Yes, the officers used their batons 17 times to subdue the resident, said Assistant Chief Maurita Bryant. Yes, it looks bad—but it’s only a piece of the security video.
“Upon viewing the complete video, we did not see anything inappropriate. And the officers will not be suspended,” she said. “They did not use excessive force, they used sufficient force.”
Bryant also noted the officers “reported every blow” in their incident reports.
“Nonetheless, OMI (Office of Municipal Investigations) will do a separate review,” she said. “But on the surface, it does not look like they used excessive force.”
Doug Williams, president of Renewal Inc., which serves as a halfway house for transitioning federal, state and county inmates, recounted the events that led to the arrest back in August, saying that during a routine search by security staff a resident was observed apparently hiding something. They reported it and referred the resident for arrest.
“A second resident complained and when he was searched he also had contraband. When they asked him to come to the front of the building he resisted,” he said. “The officers heard the commotion and came around the corner and arrested him.”
The video shows the two officers, who appear to be White, striking Jenkins, who is Black, 17 times then handcuffing him.
Zone 2 Cmdr. Eric Holmes said Jenkins did not comply with security staff, refused the officers verbal commands, took an aggressive posture and raised an apparently clenched fist.
“It raises questions, but having worked years in canine and in narcotics, I can tell you there are times when officers have to use force to take people into custody,” he said. “And there are times, unfortunately, when it doesn’t look good.”
Attorney Scott Westcott, who released the video ahead of Jenkins’ formal arraignment, said it was police brutality. The Citizens Police Review Board is also investigating the incident.
Bryant said if you look at the video, you’ll see the officers were not blindly flailing away trying to brutalize Jenkins.
“All the strikes were directed to his arms and legs. They were not random,” she said. “If you pull up a photo of the individual, you’ll see he has no marks to his head or neck. But again, OMI will do a much more thorough investigation.”
According to Renewal Inc., Jenkins had been there less than a month after his release from prison on drug charges. As a result of the Aug. 26 arrest, he faces new charges of drug possession and resisting arrest. Aggravated assault charge was dismissed at a preliminary hearing. His arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 23.
(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)
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