Experts: Force appears excessive in Arkansas beating video

Aug 23, 2022, 1:56 PM | Updated: Aug 24, 2022, 6:49 am

The attorney for a man seen on video being punched and kneed by Arkansas officers said Tuesday that the violent arrest is part of an alleged pattern of excessive force by a sheriff’s deputy, and policing experts said some of the blows appeared to be unjustified or even criminal.

A bystander’s video of 27-year-old Randal Worcester’s arrest on Sunday in the small town of Mulberry sparked outrage after it was posted online. All three officers were later suspended, and state and federal authorities have opened criminal investigations into their actions. It’s the latest case in which increasingly omnipresent cameras have led to consequences for officers and raised questions about what level of force police are justified in using and when.

An Arkansas sheriff’s deputy was caught in the video repeatedly punching and kneeing Worcester in the head before grabbing his hair and slamming him against the pavement. As that was happening, another officer was holding Worcester down as a third also kneed him over and over.

Carrie Jernigan, an attorney for Worcester, said the deputy who punched him, Levi White, used excessive force against other people she’s representing. “There’s something going on and we just need to get it addressed,” she said during a Tuesday news conference with her two other clients.

Russell Wood, a lawyer for the two Crawford County sheriff’s deputies, stressed that the 34-second clip doesn’t show everything that happened and said Worcester had earlier attacked one of the deputies, leaving him with a concussion. Wood said in a statement that the deputy’s “pain compliance strikes” didn’t do any “damage” and that Worcester’s own violence authorized the officers to use “all necessary force.”

Policing experts, however, say that blows to the head amount to the potentially deadly use of force and are only justified in an arrest when a suspect poses a current and serious threat. They say a full investigation is needed, but that the video raises obvious “red flags” about the actions of the officers, who had Worcester pinned to the ground by the time the bystander began recording from a nearby car.

“Depending on your level of resistance, (officers) could use defensive strikes or what they call pain strikes to get compliance, but that’s not a blow to the head,” said Geoffrey Alpert, a University of South Carolina criminology professor who studies the use of force by police. “He would have to be doing something pretty serious to get hit in the head like that.”

Worcester’s arrest came after police received reports about a man making threats outside of a convenience store in Mulberry, a community of about 1,600 people roughly 140 miles (220 kilometers) northwest of Little Rock, near the Oklahoma state line. He was treated at a hospital on Sunday before being jailed on charges including second-degree battery and resisting arrest. He was released Monday on a $15,000 bond.

Crawford County Sheriff Jimmy Damante said that when officers arrived at the convenience store, Worcester turned over an unspecified “weapon” but then became violent. The sheriff’s office identified the three officers involved as deputies Zack King and White and local police officer Thell Riddle.

State records show that Riddle was fired in 2008 from the police department in the nearby town of Kibler after just six months on the job for being involved in a “domestic disturbance” when a woman claimed he hit her in the eye. Riddle was not charged. The records from the state Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training, first reported Monday by the Arkansas Advocate, also show that Riddle resigned from the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office after nearly eight years in 2008 because of “personal conflicts.”

Wood said Worcester had been threatening a woman with a knife and, upon being confronted, grabbed White by the legs and slammed him to the ground, stunning the deputy. Worcester then climbed onto White and “began striking him on the back of the head and face,” the attorney said.

Wood called on the Mulberry police to release dashboard-camera video, which he said shows more of what happened, and contended that in such a situation the suspect “must be taken off the streets at all costs.”

Officers’ use of force is regulated by both the law and department policy. Bowling Green State University criminologist Philip Stinson called what is shown on the footage of Worcester’s arrest “completely unwarranted.” He said an earlier attack on one of the officers might explain their actions — suggesting their later beating of the man was punitive — but that it wouldn’t provide them a legal justification.

“The force was excessive and, in my view, criminal,” said Stinson, a former officer.

The prosecution of police for using force on the job is relatively rare, and body-worn and dashboard camera videos often show officers’ actions were justified. But the increasing presence of police cameras and bystanders with cellphones has also provided evidence that sometimes undercuts officers’ explanations of their use of force.

In neighboring Louisiana, a state trooper also explained his use of force during a 2019 arrest as “pain compliance.” The trooper later resigned and was arrested and charged with state and federal crimes after his bodycam footage showed him striking a Black motorist 18 times with a flashlight as the man wailed, “I’m not resisting!”

Stinson said that, thus far, ubiquitous cameras have not changed policing as much as they’ve revealed it.

“This type of thing happens with great regularity,” he said.


This story has been corrected to show Russell Wood is not representing a Mulberry police officer.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Most Americans are sleepy new Gallup poll finds...

Associated Press

Most Americans say they don’t get enough sleep, according to new Gallup poll

A new Gallup poll found that most Americans are sleepy — or, at least, they say they are. Multiple factors play into this.

1 day ago

Near-total abortion ban in Arizona dates back to Civil War era...

Associated Press

Near-total abortion ban dates back to 1864, during the Civil War, before Arizona was a state

The near-total abortion ban resurrected last week by the Arizona Supreme Court dates to 1864, when settlers were encroaching on tribal lands.

1 day ago

Tracy Toulou...

Associated Press

How to tackle crime in Indian Country? Empower tribal justice, ex-Justice Department official says

A recently retired director of the Justice Dept. says the federal government hasn't given tribal justice systems equal recognition.

2 days ago

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson...

Associated Press

House Speaker Mike Johnson says he will push for aid to Israel and Ukraine this week

House Speaker Mike Johnson said Sunday he will try to advance wartime aid for Israel this week, along with funding for Ukraine.

2 days ago

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign rally Saturday, March 9, 2024, at Pullman Yards in Atlanta...

Associated Press

US shoots down ‘nearly all’ Iran-launched attack drones as Biden vows support for Israel’s defense

Joe Biden cut short a weekend stay at his beach house to meet with his national security team as Iran launched an attack against Israel.

4 days ago

Protesters in Phoenix shout as they join thousands marching around the Arizona state Capitol after ...

Associated Press

Abortion ruling supercharges Arizona to be an especially important swing state

A ruling this week instituting a near-total abortion ban supercharged Arizona's role, turning it into the most critical battleground.

4 days ago

Sponsored Articles


Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.


Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.


Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.

Experts: Force appears excessive in Arkansas beating video