Second family says Petersburg Police went too far

Second family says Petersburg Police went too far
Published: Aug. 14, 2014 at 1:41 PM EDT
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PETERSBURG, VA (WWBT) - Another family has come forward claiming Petersburg Police came on their front porch and tried to stop them from shooting video of arrests happening right in front of their home.

The family reached out to the On Your Side Investigators and shared dramatic cell phone video. The incident led to a violent confrontation.

Cell phone video shows JaQuan Fisher, 17, standing on his own front porch recording the arrests happening on Rome Street. In the video, an officer is heard saying, "Unless you want me to take your phone from you," before there is a struggle and video goes to black.

"I was right here. I pulled out my phone," JaQuan said, pointing to where he was standing.

Petersburg Police had just busted several people at a home next door. They were handcuffing the suspects in front of Fisher's home. He walked out onto the porch and his cousin—who was one of the people being arrested--yelled, "Start recording."

"[The officer] came off the porch and said, 'You want me to take your phone?'" Fisher said. "I put my phone in my pocket and then when he tried to take my phone, I guess he thought he was going to get my phone and he shoved me. I shoved him back." 

Fisher's sister also started taking cell phone video. She captured the violence that followed.  

"They was trying to grab my son off the porch. I was trying to tell my boyfriend to open the door so we can get in the house," Debra Fisher said. She is JaQuan's mother and can be seen on the video wrestling with officers.

A second officer arrived during the struggle. There was an object in his hand. The family says he started spraying mace.

"They maced each other, too. He just started mace-ing everywhere," Debra Fisher said.

A third officer came rushing in to the chaos and put Debra into a choke hold, nearly pulling her backward off the porch.

JaQuan Fisher was charged with two counts of felony assault on law enforcement. Prosecutors eventually dropped one charge and reduced the other to a misdemeanor. He pleaded guilty to that charge. His mother didn't have an attorney, and a judge found her guilty of obstructing justice.

For the family, this wasn't about the fight on the porch. It's why they were even bothered by police to begin with.

"We have a right to do what we want to do with our phone sitting on your porch. Sitting on my porch," Debra Fisher said.

Two months prior to this incident on April 10, there was another confrontation between a Petersburg resident and police caught on cell phone video. 

"Get inside now. Inside. You can record all you want to," an officer yelled in this video from June. Devin Thomas, 17, was recording video of an arrest when officers tried to make him leave a public street.  That also led to a violent confrontation, again with a bystander not involved in the original police arrest.

"When you start having a pattern of encounters like this, regardless of who's right or wrong, just the pattern and the questions that are raised erodes the public confidence in the police and public trust in the police," Steven Benjamin said. He's a prominent defense attorney and also NBC12's legal analyst. 

"Let's be real clear. You have the absolute right to stand on your front porch and record what's going on in your front yard," Benjamin said.

He has no inside knowledge of the cases and doesn't know what information police had. He can only see what you do, what's on the videos. He says what he does see raises some red flags.

"Because an officer decided to prohibit what was the video recording being made on the porch, you then had the police creating a separate encounter that very quickly got out of control, putting the other officers at risk," he said.

He also questions the use of the choke hold.

"It's a dangerous procedure and it's very far along that continuum of force, that gradual increase of force that officers are allowed to use to protect themselves. It can be very dangerous to hold a person in place like that," Benjamin said.  What's captured on video suggests, "That there is a need for training, additional training, perhaps a different approach to their policing and perhaps some discipline."

We gave Petersburg Police a few days notice and requested an on camera interview. We wanted to find out the agency's perspective as to what was going on in the video.

The agency pointed out Debra Fisher was charged with obstruction and found guilty in a court of law.  The agency went on to say, "All subject resistance reports are reviewed by the department and no officers were disciplined or transferred to other positions within the department because of the case. Officers are trained to use the least amount of force. No complaints have been filed and the event happened nearly 3 months ago. Officers do not hinder the public from recording video as it is their right to do so."

Debra Fisher says she's looking for an attorney and may appeal her conviction. She also says she did not file a formal complaint with Petersburg Police because she no longer trusts the police department.

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