The Spokane Police Department released on Thursday body camera footage of a March arrest that has received renewed and widespread attention in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.
Corey West, 31, was recorded on body cameras saying, “Please stop, I can’t breathe,” as he was placed under arrest in Riverfront Park on March 2 by multiple Spokane police officers, who placed their knees on his back and neck area.
“You’re fine,” an officer assures him in the video.
Officer Andrew Bjur’s knee remains on the area of West’s neck for about 50 seconds after he is secured in handcuffs, the footage shows.
According to court documents, West, who is white, suffered only minor scrapes in the arrest and was cited for two misdemeanor charges. He is listed as being homeless. A phone number listed for him is no longer in service, and he could not be reached on Thursday.
West attempted to flee after he was stopped by a park ranger, who had allegedly seen West throwing items off the Washington Street bridge while walking near the Centennial Hotel. After a struggle, the ranger chased West onto the nearby walkway, where he grasped West from behind against a fence.
The incident was witnessed by Seattle resident Eddie Westerman, who wrote about her account of the arrest last week in a Facebook post that has been shared hundreds of times.
The officers’ actions have come under scrutiny by Westerman, and many of those who saw her post, following Floyd’s death while in police custody last week. Floyd died after Officer Derek Chauvin sat with his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than 8 minutes. Westerman shared photos of Spokane police arresting West in what appeared to be a similar manner, including a knee on his neck.
Initially, on Tuesday, a police department spokeswoman said the department would not comment on the arrest because it was under an internal affairs investigation.
On Thursday, police released the footage and issued a statement saying “in light of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, SPD is sensitive to the fear, anger, and confusion over the pictures and narrative.”
The department said the “prone-cuffing” technique used on West “is a commonly used and approved arrest tactic to hold a resistant subject until handcuffs can be applied.”
But the footage shows Bjur remained on West after he was handcuffed for close to 1 minute, although he did adjust his positioning and it is impossible to know how much of his weight was pressuring West.
None of the officers involved in the arrest has been placed on leave or fired, according to the department. Given the level of community concern surrounding the arrest, police department spokesperson Julie Humphreys said the internal affairs investigation is a priority, as was releasing body camera footage of the incident.
Humphreys said officers are taught to place their knee on the back or neck of a person “for a brief period of time” to get them under control.
“It’s taught as a continuum of force, with one knee on the ground, and is a temporary restraint technique,” Humphreys wrote in an email. “The pressure used in this technique was never intended to be exhibited for an extended period of time.”
In sharing the footage on Thursday, the Spokane Police Department noted the officers were on top of West for about a minute.
When Officer Brett Spring arrives on scene, body camera footage shows West clinging to a chain link fence with Park Ranger Andrew Willis’s arms around him.
The footage does not include Spring’s name, but it appears to corroborate a report he wrote that was obtained by The Spokesman-Review through a public records request. He has been with the department since 2014.
Bjur is not named in the footage and is not mentioned in the incident report, but his name is visible on his uniform in the police video. He has been with the department since 2016.
Spring orders West to get on the ground, but does not wait for him to comply and immediately takes him down by force. His body camera appears to fall face down on the ground, recording only darkness but still capturing audio. Multiple other officers arrive shortly afterward with their body cameras activated.
In his incident report, Spring wrote that while on the ground, West continued to “flex his muscles” and attempted to put his arms under his body. According to court documents, West is 6 feet, 1 inch tall and 177 pounds.
After police get off him, West tells officers, “I’m not trying to run,” but an officer is heard warning him that “you’re going to end up back facedown on the pavement if you keep resisting.”
An officer tells West to put his legs down, saying, “Guy, relax,” but West explains, “I’m trying to breathe.”
“You’re fine, you’re breathing just fine,” the officer replies.
West appeared to suffer minor injuries to both of his elbows, which were bleeding.
Willis is seen on the video explaining to police that he had approached West and a woman from the other side of the bridge, and West “started throwing glass pipes or whatever off of the bridge.”
A witness later told police West had thrown what appeared to be a box off the bridge and into the Spokane River. The witness told police West had apparently tried to evade – but not attack – the park ranger.
Willis told police he had asked West to stop, but West ran.
The incident report does not specify whether police recovered a glass pipe or any other paraphernalia from the scene. West was not charged with any drug-related crimes, but was booked on two misdemeanor charges: obstructing a police officer and resisting arrest.
West also had two active warrants for his arrest, but the police report does not indicate what they were for.
“Did he, like, fight with you? Just resisted?” an officer asked Willis.
“No, he grabbed onto me a couple of times, but he was just resisting,” Willis replied.
Spokane police Chief Craig Meidl has not publicly commented on the arrest. But in comments following the death of Floyd, he questioned the actions of Chauvin, the Minneapolis officer, who has been fired and charged with second-degree murder.
“Once you get the handcuffs on, things change,” Meidl told The Spokesman-Review last week. “You have to adjust your level of force or restraints based on the actions of the individual that you’re dealing with.”
Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs said he wants clarification on the police department’s policies regarding the use of a knee near someone’s neck to restrain them. More broadly, Beggs wants to review all policies regarding neck constriction, including chokeholds, that officers are allowed to use.
“I look forward to hearing from the chief what he thinks about it,” Beggs said. “I did appreciate that they released the body cam footage.”
Beggs declined to say Thursday whether the footage demonstrated excessive force and did not want to interfere with or cloud the internal affairs investigation.
“I’m concerned on any constriction, with any force on someone’s neck, always,” he said. “But I don’t consider myself an expert on excessive force.”