‘I understand the outrage’: North Carolina police chief reassigns officer seen striking a woman during arrest

An officer caught on video repeatedly striking a woman on the ground this week has been temporarily reassigned pending an internal investigation, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Johnny Jennings said Wednesday.

“I’ll just say to everyone and to our community, I get it,” Jennings said of the video. “I understand the outrage. I understand the emotions that come when you look at a video that involved an officer who is punching a female.”

In the video posted on social media, the woman is seen on the ground as several officers hold her down. One officer strikes the woman multiple times with a closed fist, as a bystander screams, “Get off her!” Others are heard criticizing the officers. The woman was brought to her feet and led to a police vehicle.

A lawyer for the woman, Christina Pierre, told CNN Thursday that her client is “terrified” and her “spirit is broken.”

“This is a traumatizing experience in a very new city with her fiancé,” attorney Lauren Newton said. “We’re just very thankful that witnesses came forward.”

One witness, a White female, that Newton said she spoke with told the lawyer the officer “cold cocked” Pierre in the face and ”she went down like a rag doll.”

CNN has not spoken with the witness to independently confirm her story.

Police said two officers on patrol Monday afternoon saw two people smoking marijuana at a bus stop. The officers informed the two people, identified as Anthony Lee and Pierre, that they were under arrest. Police said both Lee and Pierre resisted arrest, and that in the struggle that followed “the female individual struck an officer multiple times.”

Pierre continued to resist arrest, lying down on her hands and ignoring verbal commands, according to police. An officer “struck the female subject seven times with knee strikes and 10 closed fist strikes to the peroneal nerve in the thigh to try to gain compliance. The officer was intentional about where the strikes were made,” police said.

“When you look at the body-worn camera, you’ll see exactly where those blows are delivered,” said Jennings, who acknowledged it could be months before the public sees the body camera footage.

North Carolina law requires a judge’s order to release body-worn camera video.

“I think that the public does deserve the right to see this video,” said Jennings, adding that his department has petitioned a court to release it.

“What I can tell you is that the body-worn camera footage, particularly when they’re on the ground, tells more of the story than what the footage that you’ve seen from a distance,” Jennings said of the video posted to social media this week.

Jennings, a 32-year police veteran, said the use of force by police never looks “good to the public.”

He said it was too early to say if the officers would be disciplined. Jennings identified the officer seen striking Pierre as Vincent Pistone, who has been temporarily reassigned from the patrol division to an investigative division.

Jennings acknowledged the bystander video is difficult to watch and said there are lessons “we can look at policy wise, training wise.”

The police chief was also asked about a photo showing an injury to Pierre’s face.

“I’ve asked my staff to go back and look at all the videos so that we can try to determine where those injuries might have come from,” said Jennings. “There are a couple different thoughts from watching the body worn camera. There’s nothing that shows that she was struck while she was on the ground in the head or face area. There was a struggle with a single officer that occurred before his backup did arrive. We think that if, the abrasion or bruising on her face occurred, it would have occurred during that struggle at some point. Unfortunately, that officer’s body worn camera was knocked off during the struggle and you can just barely see it in the corner.”

Jennings, referring to the initial police encounter with Pierre, said “there’s a couple of different thoughts out there from watching the body-worn camera. There’s nothing that’s very clear and visible, whether an officer struck her.”

Newton said Pierre became frightened and yelled when an officer “jumped on her fiancé, Tony” after accusing them of smoking marijuana at a bus stop. She said it was Pierre’s first encounter with law enforcement.

Pierre had her face checked out at a hospital, according to Newton. The photo showing an injury to Pierre’s face was taken on Tuesday, the day after the arrest. Newton said Pierre is sore but has no fractures. Newton added that Pierre “has no bruising on her legs” despite being struck multiple times, as seen in the video.

Newton said she was scheduled to see the body-camera video on Friday.

Police said the woman in the video was charged with assault on a government official, resist/delay/obstruct and possession of marijuana. The man in the video was charged with carrying a concealed weapon, resist/delay/obstruct and possession of marijuana.

Correction: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong first name for attorney Lauren Newton.

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