DECATUR, Ala. – An Alabama police chief says an officer who punched a store owner while responding to a robbery wasn’t sure if the owner was a threat to the officers’ safety.
Decatur Police Chief Nate Allen played body camera footage Monday afternoon from one of the officers involved in the March 15 incident at Star Beverage, showing a different angle to the video posted on Facebook Sunday night.
That video Sunday night shows the owner of the store being punched by one Decatur officer before all three officers grab him.
Allen said the officers were responding to a robbery call that night at the store. In the video posted on Facebook, Allen said the store owner can be seen loading rounds into a magazine with the gun nearby on a table.
“The officers didn’t see that,” Allen said. “The only thing they saw when they got there is the gun on the counter and he had something still in his hand, and he said ‘I’m not going to put my gun down,’ so that gives the impression to the officer that he still has a gun in his hand.”
Allen called the incident a case of mistaken identity and said his officers are trained to use the least amount of force possible to resolve a situation.
“I would much rather have a punch than an officer-involved shooting,” he said.
The store owner filed a formal complaint the next day, the police chief said, and he also plans to sue.
Allen said it could have been avoided if the store owner had listened to the officers’ commands when they arrived.
“I was always taught to abide by a police officer,” Allen said. “If a police officer tells you to do something that was legally and morally correct, then you are to do it – especially when it comes to weapons.”
Police did arrest one person for shoplifting.
The incident is still under investigation in the department, Allen said. The officer who threw the punch is currently on administrative duties, he said, and the other two are on regular duty.
The attorney representing the store owner released the following statement:
“In early April, we turned over security cam footage to the DPD. They have had it for over 2 months. Today is the first we have seen of any body cam footage and the first we have have heard of the status of the officer that broke Mr. Penn’s jaw. I doubt we would be having this conversation today, but for the outcry on social media. The audio and video, released today for the first time, fully supports what Mr. Penn told me. He waived the officers in. He unlocked the door to allow them to enter. He unloaded the gun, by removing the clip and ejecting the round from the chamber. He placed the gun on the counter. Before he was struck he placed the clip on the counter. He did this, he told me, because ‘as a black man he felt like he was making himself safer and would make the officers feel safer,’ yet he was met with the officer’s service weapon in his face. He did not threaten the officers. The gun was already put down before he was told to put the gun down. He was moving away from the gun pointing his finger at them saying he would file a complaint when he was struck. Like Chief Allen, I am also grateful that no one was shot, but I refuse to believe that the only two possible outcomes in this circumstance are getting shot or getting beaten.”Carl Cole, Attorney