San Antonio cop chokes teen, slams face into ground over a joint
A San Antonio police officer was caught on video putting a 16-year-old kid in a choke-hold for over two minutes and bloodying his face after the teen was allegedly caught with a joint.
The video was uploaded to Facebook after the incident.
According to the cellphone video of the May 4 incident near Main Plaza, Officer Michael Ramirez used the maneuver that has been eliminated from use for more than a decade. Ramirez alleges that the teen resisted arrest.
Sandy Gutierrez, a spokeswoman for the San Antonio Police Department, said officers are “not trained in the use of choke holds” but declined to respond to questions by local news outlet Express-News about whether officers are explicitly told not to use the maneuver or whether Ramirez acted according to policy. The “case remains under investigation.”
The teen, whose identifying information is redacted on the police report, was charged with resisting arrest and evading arrest, which generally are Class A misdemeanors; assault of a public servant, a third degree-felony; and possession of marijuana under 2 ounces, a Class B misdemeanor. The teen was treated for injuries at Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital.
Choke holds are not explicitly mentioned in the department’s use of force policy but have been highly controversial in San Antonio since an off-duty officer killed a 44-year-old man with the maneuver near the Rivercenter mall in 1997. The death was ruled a homicide by Bexar County’s chief medical examiner, citing lack of oxygen to the brain “following a struggle and compression of the neck.”
Former Police Chief Al Philippus told the San Antonio Express-News in a Jan. 18, 1997 article that the choke holds are not condoned or intended to be used in routine police work, adding: “It was just too controversial in the 1980s, that’s why we eliminated its use.”
Wayne Krause Yang, legal director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said Ramirez acted “unreasonably” in the May 4 incident with the teen.
“The officer resorted to dangerously excessive force in a situation that did not involve serious danger to himself,” said Krause Yang. “In fact, it appears that the 16-year-old was the one who acted in a relatively calm manner while Ramirez unnecessarily escalated the situation into a scary one. Choking a person for over a minute would cause anyone to panic.”
The video, which was posted to Facebook May 5, does not depict the entire incident and begins with Ramirez applying a neck restraint for nearly two minutes while standing behind the teen, who does not appear to fight the officer. In a police report obtained by the Express-News, Ramirez said the teen resisted and evaded arrest, which led to the struggle depicted.
In the video, after nearly two minutes of the officer restraining the teen’s neck in a standing position, the arrestee begins to struggle and the officer slams the teen to the ground as two other officers arrive. The teen bleeds from his face and Ramirez clearly holds the teen’s neck in the V of his arm for about 30 more seconds, the video shows.
Gutierrez said the officer, who has been with the park police since 1987, has not been suspended, disciplined or assigned administrative duties in relation to the case. Ramirez received medical treatment, including a pain prescription and crutches, for an injury to his left knee and was ordered not to return to work for three days, according to the police report.
Ramirez said in the report that the teen ran away when he attempted to handcuff him for possession of 1.9 grams of marijuana. Ramirez said the arrestee “got approximately 12 to 15 feet away from me, I made chase and caught (him) from behind.”
The two struggled on the ground and while standing, he wrote. There are discrepancies between the report and video such as timing of the restraint, specifics of the struggle between the two and whether the teen was fighting the officer.
Watch the video of the incident here.
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