WATERTOWN — A video of an arrest outside Whistlers Tavern recorded early Sunday morning has been widely viewed online and led to criticism of the city police department as viewers have called for answers to how officers reacted during the arrest.
The video begins after police appear to have tackled a man within a crowd gathered outside the bar shortly before 2 a.m.
City police Detective Lt. Joseph R. Donoghue Sr. said officers were investigating reports of someone striking a woman with a beer bottle and a scuffle in the tavern. Police witnessed a large crowd outside surrounding the woman, who was bleeding profusely from the forehead. They tried to disperse the crowd to address the victim, which resulted in the three arrests, Lt. Donoghue said.
City police arrested Joseph J. Kubenetz, 25, Jeremy K. Scott, 25, and Ashton Eura-Perretta Vinson, 21, all of Watertown, and charged each with disorderly conduct. All three are accused of failing to obey multiple orders to disperse, according to arrest reports.
“So we’re trying to work on (dispersing the crowd) and we’re not getting the crowd to leave, which led to the two being arrested,” Lt. Donoghue said, referring to Mr. Kubenetz and Mr. Scott. “Mr. Vinson interfered and refused to leave the area and he was arrested.”
Mr. Vinson posted the video on his Facebook page depicting at least three officers on top of an unidentified black man to restrain him, with one shouting “stop resisting,” twice. The man shouted “I’m not” and “I’m not resisting,” cries echoed by onlookers from the sidelines. More officers then surrounded the man, who also shouted “I’m allowed to record you (expletive).”
Posted by Ashton Vinson on Saturday, July 13, 2019
Lt. Donoghue, who was not present during the scuffle, said the man could have either been Mr. Kubenetz or Mr. Scott, but he was not certain.
Watertown police do not have body cameras so it is not clear what happened before the man was tackled.
An officer in the video, who Lt. Donoghue confirmed was Lt. James Romano, directed Mr. Vinson and others to “back up” from the arrest, and Mr. Vinson told Lt. Romano to “walk away.” When Mr. Vinson remained, Lt. Romano walked over to him again and said he was interfering and asked if Mr. Vinson told him “to back up.” The camera shook and Mr. Vinson could be heard shouting, “Get your hands off my phone! Get your hands off my phone!”
Mr. Vinson could not be reached for comment, but wrote on Facebook that he will be “calling my lawyer it’s a wrap hands down.”
No complaints had been filed Tuesday against participating officers, Lt. Donoghue said. After viewing the video, Lt. Donoghue said he “saw nothing wrong with the how the arrest was being conducted.”
“You don’t see what the officers on the scene were seeing,” he said. “You’re seeing a small blip of what occurred there.”
Had city police had their own cameras recording at the time they would have shown what led up to Mr. Vinson’s video.
Adding body cameras to the police force has been discussed in the past, and there is a desire by police and city officials to acquire the cameras.
Efforts to research cameras were included in future plans discussed in the 2019-2020 city budget. It is anticipated that they will be included in the upcoming 2020-2021 budget.
City Manager Rick Finn said officials also need to determine the best method for storing camera footage and craft policies dictating how officers handle and divulge footage. State law, which has been developed since body cameras have been used by departments statewide, allows for the release of video to the public, such as a recording of a 911 call, subject to the Freedom of Information Law. The incorporation of body cameras for officers was also included in the city’s Strategic Plan.
“The reason why I am 100 percent in support is for officer safety,” Mr. Finn said. “It also, really honestly, allows the public to have better access of what’s going on.”
The city’s effort to provide body cameras to city police officers is welcome news to Jordan Paine, who previously created an online petition pushing for it.
Mr. Paine said he and his acquaintances had issues involving city police officers using excessive action in the past.
“Not only should we have body cameras for their protection, but for ours as well,” Mr. Paine said.
The three men charged Sunday were issued appearance tickets to return to City Court on July 31. The woman was transported to Samaritan Medical Center for treatment, and city police continue to investigate the woman’s injury and the possible assault that caused it.