A video that shows Hammond police officers hitting a man who is lying on the ground has raised alarm among some City Council members.
“Once the guy was down and you handcuffed him, that should have been the extent of the call right there,” said Kip Andrews, a member of the Hammond City Council and former law enforcement officer. “With all the kicking and the hitting and the dog was unnecessary. Once you had the man detained, he was no longer a threat.”
The 47-second video, captured on a bystander's cellphone, shows the end of incident from Jan. 26. Police reports say 25-year-old David Jenkins Jr., of Albany, fled officers who had stopped him for routine traffic violations and a missing license plate.
Editor's warning: The following video contains graphic content:
Jenkins crashed into another vehicle at Morrison Boulevard and University Avenue, which sent two people to the hospital with minor injuries, according to the incident report.
Police caught Jenkins after a brief foot pursuit, the documents say. The video shows what happened after they got him to the ground.
An officer kneed Jenkins twice and punched him until a colleague held his fist back after the fifth blow, the video shows. Then, a police dog was led into the scrum; Jenkins' family says he was bit in the leg and needed to get a tetanus shot.
The department says "the entire incident" is under investigation.
Jenkins was booked with numerous traffic violations, as well as counts of aggravated resisting an officer by flight, reckless operation of a vehicle and two counts of negligent injuring. He’s being held in the Hammond City Jail until a court appearance in early May, his family members said.
Jenkins’ father, David Jenkins Sr., said he was furious with the officers involved after seeing the video and that he is weighing legal action.
“If they arrest us and we punch one of them, that’s an assault on an officer,” he said. “Well, if they arrest us and hit one of us, shouldn’t that be an assault, too?”
Copies of the video showing Jenkins’ arrest have been circulating on social media. The Advocate and The Times-Picayune obtained an original copy of the video from the person who filmed it, who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation.
Like Andrews, three other members of the five-person Hammond City Council voiced concern over the video.
“I would never want that to occur to myself, my family, my neighbors or people in my community,” said Councilwoman Carlee White Gonzales. She said she wouldn’t draw any conclusions about the incident until the department’s investigation is complete.
But council members Devon Wells and Sam DiVittorio, along with Andrews, said they were particularly troubled by the video given recent controversy over new Hammond Police Chief Edwin Bergeron's hiring despite unnecessary force allegations against him.
WBRZ published a leaked surveillance video in August of then-Sgt. Bergeron punching Kentdrick Ratliff, who was handcuffed, five times with a closed fist when Ratliff reached for a bottle of pills in a booking room. Other officers responding to the disturbance then kicked, shocked with a stun gun and knelt on Ratliff all while he was handcuffed on the ground.
Bergeron was appointed as the city’s police chief in early 2019 despite concerns about the incident. But at that time, only a 30-second clip of the 2017 incident was circulating on social media.
DiVittorio, Andrews and Wells all called on Bergeron to resign following the publication of the full video. Federal officials are reinvestigating the incident.
Mayor Pete Panepinto ultimately declined to fire Bergeron.
After viewing the video of Jenkins’ arrest, DiVittorio, Andrews and Wells all raised concerns that officers on the force are following Bergeron’s lead.
“The chief has set the precedent already on how things are going to run,” Wells said. “By the chief doing that and nothing being done to the chief, it goes back to the mayor. When is the mayor of the city of Hammond going to see something wrong with what the Police Department does?”
Bergeron declined to comment, citing the pending internal investigation.
“A thorough internal investigation of the officers' actions is ongoing,” Bergeron wrote in an email Thursday. “It's not appropriate for me to comment during the investigation.”
Panepinto did not respond to a request for comment.
DiVittorio emphasized his support for law enforcement but similarly pointed to “bad apples” that are allowed to remain on the force because of that perceived lack of accountability.
“The first video is out there, the administration saw it, then the administration decided to promote him and put him as chief,” DiVittorio said. “When you see things like that, what else do you expect?”
Gonzales, who voted against Bergeron’s firing last year, said she didn’t think it was appropriate to equate the two incidents. But she said additional training and community dialogue may be necessary.
“I think that every incident that involves the question of whether a police officer went above and beyond the standard of police conduct should be looked at individually,” Gonzales said. “I don’t think it’s fair to stack everything and try and label our entire Police Department as a plague of police brutality.”
Councilman Steven Leon, who also voted against Bergeron’s firing, did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this article.
Andrews acknowledged that Jenkins was in the wrong and deserved to be arrested but said the officers’ actions were out of line.
“The level of threat was eliminated, he was detained and in custody,” Andrews said. “Just because he did something wrong doesn’t mean that was right.”
The original post of the video was deleted shortly after being uploaded because of backlash on social media directed toward the person who filmed it.
That backlash was cause for concern for DiVittorio, who said the 2017 booking room incident and the February incident have caused residents with concerns to remain silent.
“Everybody is scared, I think, to be honest with you,” DiVittorio said. “Everybody is scared in this city really. They don’t feel comfortable coming out and talking — just look at the videos. The retaliation from the department and its bad apples, they don’t want to get caught in the middle of it, and it’s a shame.”