ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Activists on Monday pressed their demand for police accountability after video emerged over the weekend of an Allentown police officer placing his knee on a man’s head and neck area outside of a hospital. They said Allentown police appeared to violate their own use-of-force policy against neck restraints when an officer used his knee to bear down on the man’s head.
Police launched an internal probe and promised to release additional video of Saturday’s incident.
“Pending the outcome of this investigation, if they are not on the right side of justice, then those officers need to be terminated,” said Justan Parker, founder of Black Lives Matter to Lehigh Valley.
The videotaped incident occurred nearly seven weeks after the death of George Floyd, a Black man, after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes. Floyd’s death sparked global protests over police brutality and racial injustice.
“I can’t believe this is really happening now, and here,” Parker said.
The bystander video, shot from a passing vehicle and posted on social media, shows Allentown officers restraining the man on the ground outside the emergency room of the Sacred Heart Campus of St. Luke’s Hospital. An officer had his elbow on the man’s neck before switching to a knee to hold him down while other officers restrained his arms. The man does not appear to be resisting during the video.
Hundreds of people marched in downtown Allentown on Monday night, calling for the officer to be fired and police funds to be reallocated to education, mental health and other social services.
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In the soundless, 9:38 surveillance video, released late Monday, the man can be seen staggering on the street and sidewalk, vomiting several times and stopping in the driveway of the ER.
Two of the three officers at the scene approached the man after several minutes and attempted to place him into handcuffs, and the man appeared to resist. One of the officers swept the man’s leg to bring him to the ground. Shortly after, the other officer put his knee on the man’s head and neck.
An earlier police statement said the man had begun to yell and spit at officers and hospital staff, adding the man was “noncompliant which required officers to restrain” him. The surveillance video shows a hospital staffer placing what police called a “breathable spit mask” over the man’s head, which is used to protect staff, officers and others from contact with bodily fluids.
The man was treated at the hospital and released, police said.
Allentown Police Department released video of the incident from a camera across the street.
It’s unclear from the video how long the officer had his knee of the man’s head and neck area, or whether the other two officers in the video sought to intervene to push the officer knee off.
Police have not released the name or race of any individuals seen in the video. Community advocates said they were trying to identify the man in the video to offer support.
“During a health crisis, whatever it was, when he should’ve been given support, instead he was criminalized and he received a knee to his neck,” said Hasshan Batts, executive director of Promise Neighborhoods of the Lehigh Valley, an Allentown community group.
Police have said their internal investigation is moving swiftly, and the department plans to release additional video later this week. The Lehigh County district attorney’s office assigned two detectives to the internal probe.
“Our investigation is ongoing, and as we uncover additional information we’re trying to release that as we can,” Assistant Police Chief Bill Lake said.
A St. Luke’s spokesperson said the hospital has turned its own video over to police.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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