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RPD: Force used by officer during incident at Family Dollar being investigated

Published: Mar. 9, 2022 at 2:55 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 9, 2022 at 11:13 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The Richmond Police Department said the force used by an officer during an incident at Family Dollar is being investigated.

Around 1:30 p.m. on March 7, police were called to a Family Dollar store along Westover Hills Boulevard about a woman suspected of shoplifting.

A video circulating on social media showed the woman Alecia Nelson, 33, and RPD Officer Graham Lang.

“Officer Lang arrived and was alerted by management that the larceny suspect was at the point of sale. Officer Lang attempted to conduct lawful detention of Ms. Nelson by giving verbal commands regarding the need to detain her for further investigation,” RPD said in a release.

Officials said Nelson refused to cooperate with the officer and verbally and physically resisted.

“In response to her noncompliance and physical resistance, the officer used force to gain compliance, and that force is presently being investigated to include video footage that precedes the video being circulated on social media at this time,” RPD said in a release.

But Josh Carter, who recorded video of the encounter on his cellphone, believes the officer used too much force.

”To hear a woman scream like that in distress from an officer that’s supposed to protect and serve, that’s terrifying. And at the time, that’s the only thing I had in my power to do to help was a record,” Carter said. “When she went to leave the establishment, he grabbed her in an aggressive manner. He forcefully put her into the wall, and they fell over.”

RPD said the lawful detention would have included temporary detainment and questioning in determining the facts about the truth of the allegations.

Both Lang and Nelson can be seen on the ground during Carter’s cellphone video.

“If he would have handled it a different way and talked to her and stated what was going on, I believe she would have never resisted,” Carter said. “You could have used less force ad got the same job done.”

Carter admits that while he witnessed the start of the altercation, he had to step out of the store and began recording after Nelson and Lang were on the ground.

“For the ones that are out there saying that I only showed one side, I’m sorry. I tried to show as much as I can of the incident that happened,” Carter said.

But community leaders Michelle Mosby and Pastor Robert Winfree, representing the organization Rebuilding Villages, met with Police Chief Gerald Smith to review the entire body camera video. They believe other measures could have been taken to keep the incident from becoming violent.

“I can say this; there is something that could have been done differently,” Winfree said.

“I believe that whoever is in authority, it is incumbent upon you to be the de-escalation,” Mosby said.

Both say that Smith was receptive to feedback and believe that RPD will learn from this.

“The main thing is that this didn’t go unaddressed,” Winfree said.

“I was pleased with the meeting,” Mosby said. “I believe that if we want to move forward, we can.”

But, ultimately, Carter says he disagrees with the charge and hopes the community doesn’t have to wait long for transparency and accountability in interactions like this.

“We need proper police training. De-escalation would have worked perfectly in this situation, but the officer acting in an unruly manner caused the woman to act in an unruly manner, and things got ugly quickly,” Carter said.

“During the resistance, Officer Lang called for backup assistance in taking Ms. Nelson into custody. As a result, she was charged with assaulting a law enforcement officer,” RPD said in a release.

Officials said Lang is cooperating with the internal investigation and is still on duty.

Anyone with information about the incident can call (804) 646-0400 or (804) 646-6733.

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