A video in which Wasilla Police Department officers kneel on a woman restrained face-down inside a Walmart store, before carrying her out with her legs bound to her hands behind her back, has drawn questions about the force used in her arrest.
Footage of the 25-year-old woman being restrained by police began to circulate online Sunday after a bystander broadcast it on Facebook Live. The video had been shared more than 1,500 times as of Tuesday, driven by people concerned about the tactics the two officers chose to use against the woman.
The Wasilla Police Department defended the woman’s treatment, saying she was “fully restrained to avoid injury to herself, bystanders and the officers.”
The woman resisted arrest and fought with officers while they were trying to remove her from the store, scratching one badly enough to draw blood, according to an affidavit in a criminal case filed against her. She is charged with a misdemeanor assault for scratching the officer.
Some of the restraint techniques police said they employed during the arrest, such as “hobbling” all limbs behind the back and a face-down restraint called a “thigh lock,” reside near the limits of what’s considered safe, said Charles P. Stephenson of Kansas City, a retired FBI agent who is now an expert witness and use-of-force consultant. The use of such techniques has been curtailed by other departments across the country.
In Alaska, there are no law enforcement restraint holds that are banned statewide, said Bob Griffiths, the head of the Alaska Police Standards Board. But after George Floyd died while being restrained by Minneapolis police officers in May, police departments around the country have examined their use of restraint holds, particularly in prone positions where a person is detained face-down.
The department will review the incident, as it does “all applications of force,” said spokesman Amanda Graham.
Video and police account
Here’s what Wasilla police say happened Saturday, and what the bystander video shows:
At 7:26 p.m., Walmart employees asked police to come to the store on East Seward Meridian Parkway because a woman was “throwing pillows on the floor and jumping on them,” according to an affidavit included with a charging document in the case.
When an arriving officer tried to stop the woman by grabbing her arm, she scratched him on the cheek, drawing blood, according to the affidavit.
The officer wrote that he pulled the woman to the ground and, as she struggled, “placed my shin across (her) ear and began to utilize the thigh lock.”
A thigh lock, according to the Wasilla Police Department, “involves placing the shin across the mandible (jaw bone) of the suspect and the other knee on the ground in order to control the head.”
Some departments, including one in Tallahassee, Florida, have banned the “thigh lock” technique.
One of two Facebook Live videos posted by Mike Linn of Wasilla begins with a single officer near the checkout area trying to force handcuffs on the distressed woman, with two Walmart employees joining.
A second Facebook Live video, posted at 7:35 p.m., shows the woman restrained face down on the floor by two officers. Neither are wearing masks. The Wasilla Police Department did not respond to a question about their mask policy for on-duty officers. Less than a minute into the second video, one officer appears to place his knee on her upper back or near her neck for more than 30 seconds. She remains face down in the restrained position.
“Please help me,” she can be heard saying. “It hurts.”
The woman can be heard telling the police and bystanders she is Alaska Native and that she has children at home.
Eventually, police appear to bend her legs at the knees up to her back to attach ankle and wrist restraints and carry her out of the store, dangling face down.
“Hobbling” or binding hands and feet while a subject is face down — also known as “hogtying” — has been banned by some departments due to safety risks. The department said the “hobble” technique “restricts a suspect’s ability to kick while being moved or transported.”
“Why do you guys have to treat her like this?” a woman off-screen asks the officers. “You’re taking her away like a goddamn animal.”
Officers place her bound and face down on the snow-packed parking lot before hauling her into the back of a police cruiser.
‘Basically pain compliance’
Graham did not answer questions about what training the officers had undergone to use the techniques, or under what circumstances they are meant to be deployed.
“None of the control techniques used during this incident are designed to restrict the suspects ability to breathe, communicate or to alter their level of consciousness,” she wrote.
The techniques used “are basically pain compliance,” said Stephenson, the use-of-force expert. He said he watched the video and didn’t find the force used excessive. He said he did think the officers could have carried the woman in a less painful restraint.
Restraining a subject with their limbs folded behind their back should be done “rarely but only in cases of the most violent resistance, where a person is kicking and trying to aggressively hurt the officers or other people,” said Griffiths of the Police Standards Council. He had not watched the video.
After the incident, the woman was taken to a hospital, where she was found to be uninjured, according to police.
Then she was taken to jail. She now faces a fourth-degree misdemeanor assault charge. She was released Sunday after her bail of $250 was paid.
The videos of her restraint and arrest remain online.