BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - A violent video has spawned accusations of police brutality. Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda spoke to the media about the situation Monday. In addition, the man in the center of the incident who is seen in the video spoke to News 4 about his side of the story.
John Willet, 22, was seen in the video being arrested by Buffalo Police. Willet said, “For them to put their hands on me the way they did just didn’t make sense.”
The incident happened a week ago Saturday at Philadelphia and Ontario Streets in Buffalo. Willet told News 4 that he was driving down the street when police pulled up alongside of him. He says the police vehicle was unmarked, and that initially he did not know who it was.
Willet said, “I got nervous. I didn’t know who it was obviously. Hopefully the police, but I’m just trying to get away from it all.”
WATCH the full video below, or on YouTube. Warning: some severe language can be heard.
According to a police complaint, Willet was traveling at a high rate of speed, and that they were trying to get him to slow down. They say Willet bailed out of the car and started running. Willet admits that he ran from police, but says he eventually stopped and gave up.
Willet said, “I put my hands up and that’s when I got the first swing to my face. I surrendered. I stopped. I put my hands up. It was no more point to run.”
The video, taken by an individual who happened to be in the area, picks up with police trying to take Willet into custody. At one point on the tape, Willet is in handcuffs, face down on the ground.
“The only thing I can think was just to keep telling them or asking them, or begging them to stop hitting me. My face obviously started hurting. I felt my face starting to swell up. I didn’t want to have a shut eye,” Willet explained to News 4. “I ran because of the fact that I did have some type of drugs on me,” he admitted. “So, I ran and I figured I’d probably get away but it didn’t work out that way.”
Willet said one of the the officers as he was hitting him told him, “This is what happens when you run in Buffalo. If you run in Buffalo you’re going to get beat. I bet you won’t run anymore.”
According to the police complaint, Willet fought and struggled with officers, and had to be forcibly subdued and handcuffed.
Police say they found heroin in his pants pocket and crack cocaine inside the vehicle in plain view. Willet was arrested for drug possession and resisting arrest.
Willet insists that he did not struggle with police once they caught up with him.
“I just got caught up wrong time, wrong situation, did the wrong things, and kind of messed myself up. But at the same time I didn’t deserve that,” Willet claims.
Police say they became aware of the video on Friday, and that an Internal Affairs investigation is underway. Late Monday, Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda ordered six officers off the street and placed on administrative leave.
News 4 also spoke to the man who shot the video in person and by phone. He says that he had nothing to with incident, but just happened to be there when this situation unfolded. At a press conference Monday, Derenda revealed that police also have video from a surveillance camera near the intersection of Ontario at Philadelphia Streets.
News 4 Investigates showed the video to Paul McCauley, a certified police trainer and professor emeritus at Indiana Univerity of Pennsylvania. McCauley, who is an expert in police procedures, often testifies in police misconduct and abuse cases on either side of the case.
Based on what he saw in the video, McCauley said Buffalo Police used excessive force in Willet’s arrest.
“It is unnecessary force to impact or strike a person who is in the prone position and handcuffed and if it is unnecessary it is unreasonable to strike and by police training and by law that is excessive force,” McCauley said.
He added: “Police officers may use force. They may not use excessive force.” He said an officer “may use the amount of force necessary to overcome the resistance of the subject.”
In this case, ” he subject was prone, handcuffed and resistance was, as I viewed it, virtually zero.
“Based on what I saw there was no resistance from the subject on the ground the officers’ use of force–the kicking, the slapping, and if it was the kicking to the head, that could be deadly force and absolutely unjustified and therefore excessive force.”
Willet claims that the hitting by one of the officers continued even after he was placed in the back of the patrol car.
“After I was put in the vehicle, after I had handcuffs on me, I continued to be hit,” Willet said.