VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – Virginia Beach police are investigating an officer’s use of force during the traffic stop of a teenager, due to the video captured by the officer’s stun gun camera.
Around 9 p.m. January 10, Courtney Griffith was driving a vehicle with Brandon Wyne and another friend as passengers. She said they were returning to her home on Darnell Drive when her car was surrounded by police.
“Courtney, I want you to record this,” Wyne can be heard saying in cell phone video. “I want you to record this.”
Griffith’s video went viral on Facebook, with 150,000 shares. The Virginia Beach Police Department said it was unaware of the video until Thursday, April 9, and that an internal investigation was started by the department right after the incident.
“They begin to pull people out of my car,” Griffith told WAVY.com. “Before they even run my plates, they begin to pull people out of my car.”
That’s when Griffith began recording the incident on her cell phone. Wyne was in the backseat.
“Am I being detained? Am I under arrest?” Griffith asked the officer in the video.
Police officers told Griffith she and her friends were not being arrested, but were being detained for the smell of marijuana. The situation only escalated when Wyne wouldn’t get out of the car. He told police he would wait to get out of the car until his mother arrived because he was a minor.
Officers used pepper spray on Wyne and then an officer pulled out a stun gun. Wyne was shocked. He then told the officer he would get out of the car, but before he could, he was stunned again.
“At this point, his hands are up and they are over his eyes. At this point, everything is fine with what the police have done,” said Tim Anderson, an attorney in Virginia Beach. “Tasing him was completely unnecessary. He was not a threat. His hands are up. He is clearly immobilized by the effects of the pepper spray, and they could have dragged him out.”
WAVY took the video to Anderson, who found parts of it troubling.
“I can’t even watch it anymore … I can’t see him go through that,” Griffith said. “It’s not about race. It’s not about class. It could happen to anybody now a days.”
At the end of the four-minute video, you can see a police officer appear to turn off Griffith’s camera. 10 On Your Side wanted to know why, but police said they would not speculate about anything that appears in the video.
When Griffith got her cell phone back from police, she said the video had been deleted. However, she was able to recover it from the deleted file in her phone.
“If you have nothing to hide, why delete it? It doesn’t make any sense,” Griffith said.
Wyne’s attorney released this statement to WAVY News:
The family would like to thank the women and men of the Virginia Beach Police Department. These dedicated folks face a difficult and often thankless job every day. While the family is understandably shaken by the violent nature of the video they are willing to give the internal Virginia Beach Police investigation a chance to be completed. The family is grateful the Department began in investigation on its own and trusts they will conduct a thorough investigation using all video evidence available.As alarming as the apparent violence is the allegation that a member of the Virginia Beach Police Department attempted to delete the images. The family believes civilian videos are an important component of civil order. The family hopes and trusts the Virginia Beach Police Department will use this occurrence to reaffirm their commitment to retain and preserve ALL video evidence in the future.
Virginia Beach police told WAVY.com their investigators are looking into the allegation that the officer took the phone and tried to delete the video.
Wyne was charged with assault and battery, obstruction of justice, and possession of marijuana with intent to sell. Three months later, he remains in juvenile detention. Griffith was given a ticket for having pot in her purse, but that charge was dismissed.
The officer has been placed on administrative duty, pending the outcome of the department’s investigation. That’s standard operating procedure for any situation involving force.
The Virginia Beach Police Department released the following statement to WAVY News on Thursday:
The Virginia Beach Police Department’s Office of Internal Affairs is currently investigating a Use of Force incident that originated as a traffic stop on January 10, 2015 at approximately 9:00 p.m. in the 1900 block of Darnell Drive, Virginia Beach.The Virginia Beach Police Department immediately began investigating this incident based on the officer’s self-reported Use of Force Report and video captured from the officer’s TASER camera submitted the night of the incident. The department was previously unaware of the citizens recorded video until today. The internal investigation was initiated based the processes and policies that serve as checks and balances when an officer uses force. It should be noted this investigation was self-initiated by the police department and was not as a result of a citizen complaint.As a result of the traffic stop arrests have been made and narcotics were recovered.The involved officer has been placed on administrative duty.
Virginia Beach’s police chief addressed a January traffic stop by one of his officers that was recorded on a cell phone. The officer’s use of force was called into question when video from his stun gun and the citizen video showed him pepper spraying a 17-year-old boy and then stunning him twice. Thursday was the first time Virginia Beach police say they saw the cell phone video of the traffic stop.
During a press conference Friday, Police Chief Jim Cervera said the incident had been under investigation since January, but upon seeing the citizen video, the department had put the officer on administrative duty.
WAVY asked Cervera, if, after seeing the video, he thought the force used was necessary.
“I’m going to reserve the final judgement in that,” Cervera said. “There are some things that I saw in that, which I do not feel comfortable with.”
WAVY asked Cervera why he felt that way.
“I’m going to stop, at this point, because now we are getting into the final,” Cervera explained. “I said, ‘give me another week.’ I’ll have all my facts in front of me. Right now, I’m giving you the best information I can with what I know at this particular time.”
WAVY also asked Cervera about the allegation that an officer involved in the traffic stop tried to delete the video from the citizen’s cell phone.
The video recording appears to end when an officer shuts off the cell phone camera. Courtney Griffith, the cell phone owner and driver of the vehicle involved in the traffic stop, said when she got her phone back from police, the video had been deleted. However, she was able to recover it from the deleted file in her phone.
Cervera said his internal affairs office was looking into that possibility. “I’d have to contact the Commonwealth’s attorney to see if that’s tampering with evidence,” he said.
Chief Cervera concluded the press conference by saying the investigation should be wrapped up sometime next week.