The Prince George’s County Chapter of the NAACP is investigating an incident in which a man claims he was beaten by a Laurel police officer while handcuffed.
Bob Ross, president of the chapter, led a group of concerned citizens to the Laurel Municipal Center Aug. 13. They wanted to learn details of the arrest and alleged beating of D’Ante R. Williams, 27, outside the Laurel Station Bar and Grill on Aug. 5. Police were called to the Baltimore Avenue bar to break up a fight. Williams was taken into custody and that’s when, he said, PFC J. Diaz-Chavarria punched him in the face.
Williams, who was identified in court records as a resident of Laurel and Cottage City, was charged with second-degree assault, disorderly conduct, failure to obey a police officer and resisting arrest, according to court documents. He was released the next day on $3,000 bond. He filed suit three days after the alleged beating asking for $3 million in compensatory and punitive damages from the City of Laurel and Diaz-Chavarria. His suit alleges assault, negligence and emotional distress.
Ross said city officials provided little information about their response to Williams’ claims. City officials would not say if Diaz-Chavarria had been placed on leave pending the outcome of the inquiry into the incident or if he remained on duty.
“No, we didn’t find out anything,” Ross said. “We are prepared to take this case to the [Department of Justice] if need be.”
A cell phone video of the incident taken by a man who was identified by Williams’ lawyer as a bystander was released to NBC 4 News in Washington D.C. The video shows what appears to be two police officers escorting an African American man whose arms are clasped behind his back. At one point, the police officer on the man’s right appears to punch him in the face.
Valerie Cunningham, who ran unsuccessfully for Laurel mayor in 2011, met with Mayor Craig Moe. “I had three questions that I wanted to ask just about police policy and procedure,” she said. “The mayor declined to make any statements with regard to the actual case. He said that he would follow up on my questions with the city solicitor.”
Moe told reporters that he had seen the video and is aware that the city was being sued.
Williams attorney, Jimmy Bell, would not comment on the circumstances that led to Williams being handcuffed, but he said the officer had no right to use force. He sent a reporter a photo of Williams showing open wounds and scrapes on his face and right shoulder. When asked why Williams’ face and shoulder were scraped and bore open wounds when he claimed he was punched, Bell said his client told him the shoulder scrape was received in a different incident. He had no explanation as to why there were open wounds on Williams’ face.
“The video is there. You see it,” Bell said. “My client is handcuffed and defenseless and this officer is just hitting him repeatedly. We’re not going to let them think this is okay.”
A man who responded to a call at the bar and identified himself as the manager said Williams and a friend were inside the bar on Aug. 5 until they were ejected for being rowdy. He said they sneaked back in and at one point assaulted the security guard who had put them out. Another security guard intervened and the skirmish moved out to the parking lot. That’s when police arrived, the man said.
Ross said he was unconcerned about the allegation. “Once he’s put into handcuffs, the police are in control,” he said.
Both Bell and Ross questioned the city’s ability to conduct an impartial internal investigation. Ross said he wants the officer off the streets until the investigation is concluded. The city has until early September to respond to the lawsuit, Bell said.
“It’s clear to us that it’s a violation of civil rights,” Ross said.