GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Tuesday afternoon was the first time Kent County Commissioner Robert Womack saw the video of a Black man, Diabate Hood, getting punched in the face by a Grand Rapids police officer.
“I was doing a show on the Derek Chauvin case, and as I was speaking on the radio, young people began to call in,” Womack said during an interview with FOX 17 on Thursday. “They all asked me had I seen this video? I said, ‘No,’ most of them said, ‘Hey, you guys are celebrating the Derek Chauvin verdict, but this issue is not done with.’”
Womack said on March 26, GRPD pulled over a vehicle for littering in the area of Hall and Ionia. The two other men got out of the car except Hood, the driver. Within seconds of being pulled over, Hood is seen attempting to escape by jumping over the passenger seat. That’s when, body camera video shows, three officers pin him down, and one punches him in the face repeatedly.
*WARNING: graphic content*
“There’s some good things that the police did do in this video, and there’s some bad things that the police did. I don’t think that the fact that they got into a scuffle with a guy that was trying to get away from the police makes them racist or any one of the police officers a racist,” Womack said. “But, I do believe that in boxing, sometimes after the bell, a fighter continues to swing. And sometimes there’s got to be disciplinary actions. You definitely have to be called to task.”
Womack said he decided to release the full video because only parts of it had been circulating on social media. He wanted everyone to see the full context of the arrest.
“There are a lot of questions around the stop itself,” said Hood’s attorney Tyrone Bynum. “My client, all they did was stop to get some ribs, barbecue ribs. Who’d ever think getting some of the best ribs in town would turn into one of the worst whoopings you ever got?"
Bynum said when he saw the video, he knew immediately the punching was excessive. The video shows blood above Hood’s right eye. He added that punching a suspect is characteristic of GRPD. He represented Bronquel Brown, who was punched by police over 20 times while handcuffed in 2019.
“It is always excessive force when someone is restrained and someone comes in and starts punching a victim. My client is a victim in this situation,” said Bynum. “It’s always excessive force when your client is restrained with his arms behind his back, face down on the dirt, and the guy picks him up by his right shoulder and punches him. If my client wasn’t restrained, my client would’ve blocked the punches to his face.”
Bynum said the officer had a “clear target, clear path” to Hood’s face.
Ed Kettle, who was a spokesman for the police union for many years, said the officer’s actions were justified when Hood attempted to flee and raised his arm and hand.
“Anytime someone is attempting to escape, at that point you get a little nervous. They grabbed him and he went for an officer’s gun, or at least that’s what it appeared like. I would’ve had the same reaction,” Kettle said during a Zoom interview on Thursday. “They did what they had to do. They needed to subdue him. He was really resisting. So, it looks ugly and it is ugly, but the guys also had a gun, and they found, what, three more guns in the car.”
That’s something Bynum is questioning as well, he said.
In the video, officers say they found four guns. However, Bynum believes that as of right now, there’s no evidence that directly link his client to a gun. He believes officers have trained to say "gun" and then accuse people of having them when their body cameras are rolling.
“I don’t know if you heard in the tape; one of the officers said, ‘You lucky you didn’t get killed,’” Bynum added. “Wait a minute? So, was it in your plan to kill him, and it was only luck that stopped you? This is what Chief [Eric] Payne endorses.”
Yesterday, Chief Payne released a statement saying in part:
“Force was deemed necessary to stop the threat and effect the arrest. (…) This is the police work that I expect from my personnel. I have made the enforcement of violent crime and the recovery of illegal firearms one of the department’s top priorities.”
Kettle agreed. He said GRPD goes through extensive de-escalation training.
“They had three cops on that guy trying to hold him down and trying to get him to resist. But, all the others guys were real polite to these guys. There was no trouble. And it was, up to that point, it was an easy-peasy deal,” Kettle said. “But this guy, he knew he was in trouble and he freaked out. So, I’m not an apologist for the police, but I do understand their job. I do understand what the pressure they’re under.”
So far, the men have been charged. According to GRPD’s statement, Hood was charged with "attempting to disarm an officer during the incident," among others.
Bynum said he’s looking to file a complaint.
For Womack, he’s hoping the incident leads to more honest conversations about building a better relationship between the community and police.
Nevertheless, he emphasized that the officer who did the punching needs to be held accountable.
“It has to be called out so other police officers don’t do what he did, because it’s going to lead up to times of major violence in the community,” Womack said. “I think it’s a good time, after the Derek Chauvin case, for the chief and the community to talk because that case gave people just a little more faith in the system. We don’t want to take all that away the next day by saying that these officers didn’t do anything wrong.”