Three Arkansas law enforcement officers were suspended, and state police launched an investigation after a video posted on social media showed two of them beating a suspect while a third officer held him on the ground.
The governor said the US Justice Department’s civil rights division planned to conduct an investigation separate from state police.
The officers were responding to a report of a man making threats outside a convenience store Sunday in the small town of Mulberry, about 220 kilometres northwest of Little Rock, near the border with Oklahoma, authorities said.
The video shows one officer punching the suspect with a clenched fist, while another can be seen hitting the man with his knee. The third officer holds him against the pavement.
In video recorded from a car nearby, someone yells at officers to stop hitting the man in the head. Two of the officers appear to look up and say something back to the person who yelled. The officers’ comments could not be heard clearly on the video.
Two Crawford County sheriff’s deputies and one Mulberry police officer were suspended, city and county authorities said.
Arkansas State Police said the agency would investigate the use of force. State police identified the suspect as Randal Worcester, 27, of Goose Creek, South Carolina.
He was taken to a hospital, then released and booked into the Van Buren County jail on multiple charges, including second-degree battery, resisting arrest and making terroristic threats, state police said.
Worcester was released Monday on A$21,800 bond. When asked how he was feeling, he said “all right.” An attorney who escorted him from jail declined to comment on his behalf. Worcester was pushing a bicycle as he left the jail.
Worcester’s father declined to comment when contacted Monday by The Associated Press. He referred a reporter to a law firm representing the family. That firm said it was still trying to gather information and did not immediately have a comment on the video.
Worcester is white, according to jail booking information, and the three officers involved also appear to be white.
The Crawford County Sheriff’s Office identified the three officers as Crawford County deputies Zack King and Levi White and Mulberry police officer Thell Riddle.
“I hold all my employees accountable for their actions and will take appropriate measures in this matter,” Crawford County Sheriff Jimmy Damante said.
In a statement released Sunday evening, Mulberry Police Chief Shannon Gregory said the community and the department take the matter “very seriously.”
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, told a news conference about the Justice Department’s plans to investigate. He described the beating as “reprehensible conduct” and said the officers’ actions were “not consistent” with the teachings of the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy.
Arkansas State Police Col. Bill Bryant said his agency’s investigation would “take some time.”
“Once we get the facts and evidence, we’ll prepare a case file and a summary and turn it over to the prosecutor,” Bryant said.
Mobile phone video of often-violent police interactions has put a spotlight on officer conduct in recent years, particularly since the 2020 killing of George Floyd while he was being arrested by police in Minneapolis.
The resulting nationwide protests called attention to officer brutality that often targets Black Americans.
The front door at the building that serves as the Mulberry police headquarters and city hall was locked Monday. A sign on the door directed anyone with questions about “the police investigation” to contact Arkansas State Police.
It was unclear whether the officers were wearing body cameras.
Amid public pressure for transparency and the proliferation of videos exposing police misconduct, there has been some pushback against recording officers. In July, the governor of Arizona signed a bill that makes it illegal to knowingly record officers from 2.5 metres or closer without permission.
Mulberry is a town of 1,600 people on the southern edge of the Ozarks in western Arkansas, right off Interstate 40, which runs from California to North Carolina.