Video of Beacon arrest prompts debate
Three minutes of cellphone footage posted to Facebook earlier this month shows four Beacon police officers converging upon and taking down a man who was apparently intoxicated or suffering from mental illness.
The officers’ body camera footage and a security video shed more light on what happened.
The video posted to Facebook on Feb. 6 shows a Black man and white officer in an apparent argument around midday at the busy intersection of Fishkill Avenue (Route 52) and Main Street. It’s difficult to discern much more because there is little sound and passing cars intermittently block the camera’s view of both men.
The man walks up Fishkill Avenue, in the road and away from the officer, who follows him, before turning around and batting his arms at the officer and making contact. Within seconds, a second police officer runs into the frame and hooks the man’s arms from behind.
The second officer trips the man, taking him down, and, together, the two officers attempt to handcuff the man, who is struggling. Two more officers arrive and hold the man down while he’s cuffed.
After he is searched and helped to his feet, an officer can be heard saying: “We’re gonna get you help, all right? We’re gonna get you medical help today,” as he leads the handcuffed man to a police vehicle.
Some people on social media criticized the police, saying the situation — which took place around 12:15 p.m. on Feb. 2, a Wednesday — would have been better handled by Lashaveous Dicker, the department’s behavioral health specialist, who was in Poughkeepsie for training at the time of the arrest. At the City Council’s Feb. 7 meeting, Council Members Dan Aymar-Blair, Justice McCray, Molly Rhodes and Paloma Wake all took issue with the police response.
Each indicated that they realized the police were likely acting as they’d been trained. But “after somebody is completely apprehended, I don’t think that their face should be stuck against the cold pavement,” Aymar-Blair said. McCray added that “I also watched a Black man get swiped [and] kicked to the ground, and that’s not something I want to see happen in the city I live in.”
City Administrator Chris White, however, backed the police, saying the council members were commenting on something “that you have not investigated and you know very little about.”
“Our police were measured, they were professional and they were proficient,” he said. “I stand by what our police did, and I think they probably saved that guy’s life.”
After seeing the footage this week, Andrew O’Grady, the CEO of Mental Health America of Dutchess County, the agency that supplies the specialists to the Beacon and Poughkeepsie police departments, agreed that the officers responded appropriately.
“There’s a place [for the specialist] to engage someone, but there’s also a place that’s not appropriate for that,” O’Grady said. “That [scene on the video] is not the time to have an intervention.” It would be appropriate, he said, for the specialist to help the man — who later admitted he had been smoking PCP — when he “is in a more lucid space, but not when he’s actively high on a hallucinogen.”
O’Grady also defended the officers’ use of force when subduing the man, including one officer who held the man’s head to the pavement for 20 seconds as he was cuffed. “What if the guy were to smash his own head into the ground? I’ve seen that,” O’Grady said.
A municipal Main Street security camera, along with officers’ body camera footage, which the department allowed a Current reporter to review, filled in gaps about what happened.
As the man crossed Main Street, he stood in the middle of Fishkill Avenue before walking away from the officer, who had arrived after a 911 call, Chief Sands Frost said on Wednesday (Feb. 16). The man then leaned against the driver-side door of a car sitting at the stoplight at Fishkill and Main.
The officer was able to coax the man out of the traffic lane, Frost said, but the man twice squared off with the officer, as if to punch him, while muttering profanities. That point is where the cellphone video begins.
The second officer pulled into the Valero gas station on Fishkill and, from behind, could see the man putting his hands on the first responding officer.
Frost called the leg sweep that took the man down “textbook, exactly what officers are taught.” From there, the Main Street camera shows more clearly that two officers attempt to handcuff the man (using two sets of cuffs linked together), while a third officer controls the man’s legs and the fourth holds the man’s head down with one hand and places his other hand between his shoulder blades.
That way, pressure is kept off the man’s lungs and neck, the chief noted, “but you’ll see the upper body stops moving.”
As they’re cuffing him, body camera footage picks up an officer exhorting the man to breathe, then telling him: “We’re gonna get you to the hospital, all right man?” Another officer says “watch his face,” as they roll the man over to search his pockets.
Sgt. Tom Figlia, the department’s training coordinator, arrives as the man is being placed in a police cruiser and begins speaking with eyewitnesses. An officer can be heard calling out to notify the Beacon Volunteer Ambulance Corps to meet them at the police station. The entire interaction lasts less than 10 minutes.
“You could use this video as a use-of-force training aid,” Frost said on Wednesday.
The man, who is around 50 years old, was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and fourth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance. He was sent that day to Dutchess County Jail in Poughkeepsie after speaking with Dicker, the behavioral health specialist, at the Beacon station.
He was released from jail last week and is staying in Poughkeepsie, Frost said. He was already a past client of Mental Health America and the agency has reached out to him regarding addiction treatment, which the man has refused, the chief said.
The man has 46 prior convictions, including five felonies, Frost said. All video footage of the incident has been turned over to the county district attorney.
The chief and Dicker spoke in executive session with the City Council for about an hour on Monday (Feb. 14), reviewing the body camera and Main Street footage.
On Wednesday, Aymar-Blair called the incident “a sad, sad story.”
“The police acted in accordance with their training, policies and procedures,” he said. “But the fact remains this Beacon resident has been failed by our system for decades and will continue to be. The only way this could have ended was with an arrest, further complicating his recovery.”