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A Virginia police officer faces charges after using a stun gun on a black man who cried, 'I can't breathe'

A Fairfax County, Virginia, police officer faces three charges of assault and battery in connection to the tasing and arrest of black man.

Posted: Jun 8, 2020 4:11 PM
Updated: Jun 8, 2020 4:11 PM

A police officer in Fairfax County, Virginia, faces up to three years in prison in connection with his arrest and use of a stun gun on a black man who cried out, "I can't breathe."

Fairfax County police released bodycam footage of the incident, which appears to show Officer Tyler Timberlake using a stun gun on the man without provocation.

In a news conference Saturday night, Chief of Police Col. Edwin C. Roessler Jr. said the footage -- dated Friday, June 5 -- showed the officer violating the department's use-of-force policies and committing "criminal acts" that "violate our oath of office" and "ignore the sanctity of human life."

"The video also erodes the public's trust of police officers, not only in Fairfax County," Roessler said, "but throughout this world. These acts are unacceptable."

The release of the footage comes at a time of heightened tension across the country following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Four now-former officers face charges in that case. Floyd's death catalyzed nationwide protests demanding justice for Floyd and other African Americans who died at the hands of police.

Timberlake, an 8-year veteran of the force, faces three charges of assault and battery in connection with the incident, said Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Steve T. Descano. The officer faces up to 36 months in prison, Descano said.

All the officers who were at the scene were "relieved of duty" pending the results of criminal and administrative investigations, Roessler said, in accordance with department policy.

An attorney for Timberlake told CNN on Sunday that he had just started reviewing the case and would not be commenting at that time.

"We can all agree that the footage of this incident is unsettling," Descano said. "I want our community to know that we are pursuing charges that are in line with current law and supported by the evidence with which we have been presented."

"However," he said, "I also appreciate that this may not immediately reconcile our feelings about what we see."

The victim has not been identified publicly. Following the incident he was treated at a local hospital and released, Roessler said, adding he reached out to the victim and his mother to express his "disgust" with the officer's actions and "assured her justice will be served."

What the video shows

When the footage begins, the officer wearing the bodycam steps out of a patrol car and addresses a man, who appears to be disoriented and incoherent, walking on a residential street. EMTs linger next to an ambulance parked nearby as the officers ask the man if he needs oxygen.

One of the EMTs approaches and tells the man he's there to help.

"Just tell me what you need," the EMT says. The man appears to tell them he wants to go to detox, but as the officer and EMT try to convince him to get into the ambulance, the man walks in the other direction and continues to walk in circles.

Moments later, another officer is seen walking toward the man, who appears to see the officer before turning away. As he turns, the second officer releases his stun gun. The man yells and drops to the ground.

The second officer rolls the man onto his stomach and then kneels on his back as he cries out. The officer appears to strike the left side of the man's head before he places the stun gun on the back of man's neck and activates it.

The man begins to struggle with officers, saying, "No, no." As he struggles the EMTs help the officers hold the man down and police handcuff him.

"I can't breathe, I can't breathe," the man says as the officers get off of him and step away.

Descano said at Saturday's news conference that Roessler had reached out earlier in the day to make him aware of the video. Charges were filed against Timberlake that evening, Descano said.

He praised the use of cameras that filmed the incident, saying he "cannot overstate" the value of the bodycam footage in this case.

"Without it I fear we would have had an unfortunately narrow and somewhat distorted view of what happened in one of our own neighborhoods," Descano said.

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