The head of the Louisiana State Police voiced unequivocal support Tuesday for a trooper who body-slammed an apparently drunken Illinois man in the French Quarter over the weekend, describing the officer’s use of force as commensurate with conditions on Bourbon Street at 4 a.m.
Col. Mike Edmonson, responding to a cellphone video viewed more than a half-million times on Facebook, said the off-duty trooper reacted appropriately under the circumstances and that State Police have not opened an internal investigation into the arrest.
“It’s easy to take a tape and pick it apart, but my troopers are dealing with a lot of people who are intoxicated and a lot of unknowns,” Edmonson said in a telephone interview. “Unless you’re in the heat of the moment, you don’t know what’s going on. You don’t know who these individuals are, where they’ve been and what they’re doing.”
The arrest happened after 4 a.m. Saturday in the 200 block of Bourbon Street. The trooper, whose name was not released, had just finished a 12-hour shift and was headed to his vehicle when employees at the Beach on Bourbon flagged him down “asking for help with an intoxicated subject refusing to leave” the bar, said Trooper Melissa Matey, a State Police spokeswoman.
The Illinois man, 39-year-old Michael Hoffman, apparently had complained that he had not received his debit card back from bartenders, said Joshua Plauche, a Florida photographer who happened upon the incident and filmed it with his cellphone.
“In my opinion, it was a misunderstanding,” Plauche said, “but I don’t know on which end.”
Hoffman can be heard in the video inquiring about pressing charges and asking the trooper, “How is this OK?”
Another man, Hoffman’s brother, initially tried to defuse the situation but later appeared to raise the tension when he stepped between the trooper and his brother.
That maneuver prompted the trooper to throw Hoffman’s brother into a row of trash cans lining the street before forcefully taking Hoffman to the ground inside Willie’s Chicken Shack, a business next door to the bar.
Hoffman was treated for a cut to the hip but has lodged no complaints about his arrest, Matey said. He received a summons to appear in New Orleans Municipal Court on counts of criminal trespass, public intoxication, disturbing the peace and resisting arrest.
Plauche said he had been impressed by the trooper’s patience and demeanor throughout the first several minutes of his dealings with Hoffman. “The cop did a great job in the beginning, when they were talking,” he said, adding that he intends to upload additional footage of the incident. “I respected that.”
But the body slam seemed like an overreaction, the photographer said, noting the trooper had not even called for backup.
“It was an emotional decision by the officer,” said Plauche, who has not been contacted by any law enforcement officials. “I think of it as the conversation being Point A and the body slam being Point C. The trooper skipped over Point B.”
Edmonson said he had no concerns about the trooper’s use of force, adding it was clear from the footage that Hoffman had been resisting arrest.
He said the trooper used a common police tactic known as an “arm-bar takedown” to gain control of the situation.
“You’re trying to effect an arrest, but you’re also trying to bring some kind of calm into a bar,” Edmonson said, adding it was “unfortunate” that Hoffman’s brother “fell backwards” into the trash cans. “It’s easy to sit back and play Monday morning quarterback, but you’ve got to look at the totality of the situation.”
The video generated impassioned reaction online, though Plauche said feedback to his Facebook post had been largely in support of the trooper. “It’s obviously a hot topic,” Plauche said of police use of force in general. “I’ve gotten a lot of different perspectives.”
State Police have been patrolling the French Quarter for the past two years, a deployment that followed a Bourbon Street shooting that killed one woman and wounded nine people on June 29, 2014. Troopers have helped the New Orleans Police Department in seizing weapons and drugs and investigating a host of crimes at a time when the NOPD has struggled to recruit new officers.
“This is my expectation of my troopers,” Edmonson said. “We’re down there as a public safety measure. We’re down there to assist the New Orleans Police Department.”
Visitors to Bourbon Street offered mixed views of the video.
Paul Massey, who was visiting the city from Memphis, Tennessee, described the arrest as “police brutality.”
“You’re looking at people who are intoxicated,” Massey said, adding the trooper had used “too much aggression.”
Robby Teal, of San Diego, said everyone has “rights when dealing with the police.”
“But, in general, if a policeman tells you to do something,” he said, “you should probably do it.”