What may be the moral to the story of the police action video that went viral in the Portsmouth area this week is that you can’t judge an entire situation by a limited video snippet taken out of context of the actual scenario.
Portsmouth Police Chief Robert Ware and Captain John Jenkins of Life Medical Response have concluded that both Portsmouth Police Sergeant Joel Robinson and a paramedic from Life were acting on the information each had when a confrontation occurred at the scene of a fight outside a bar shortly after 1 a.m., Sunday.
A short video appeared to show Robinson grabbing the paramedic by the throat, and it sparked reaction on social media and in the mainstream media as well, however, Ware showed the complete video taken from the body cameras of members of the Shawnee State University Security Department and that video showed an entirely different scenario.
“Oftentimes we look at video in a vacuum,” Ware said. “We take what we see in one angle and we form an opinion based on that angle. Sometimes, subconsciously we add our own filler to figure out what happened.”
The actual event took over 20 minutes and it took at least three minutes to subdue the patient who had been knocked out as the result of the altercation. The video clearly shows the patient was continually combative, and throughout the entire action, crowds of people kept closing in on the work being done by police officers, Portsmouth Fire Department personnel and Life employees, causing the officer to utilize his taser.
Ware said there are two different ways to utilize the taser. One is firing out the two probes, which attach themselves to the body and the electric current runs between the two probes as it paralyzes the muscles so the person can’t move. The other way is the drive-stun method in which the probes are not used and the actual taser is touched to a part of the body, eliciting a charge that causes pain to that part of the body. It is surmised by Ware and Jenkins that, while Robinson used the drive-stun method, the paramedic may have been under the impression the probes were being used and he had concern for his patient.
Where the actual central issue occurred was when Jenkins, who had been kicked several times, requested Robinson to use his taser, which he did.
“I requested this officer, I worked hand-in-hand for many years with this officer, and I trusted everyone from the police department and Shawnee State University and the fire department,” Jenkins said. “I knew in those close quarters it would be a drive-stun and not a taser or probe deployment. I knew then it would be a local compliance thing, it would get him off his feet enough to get him secured medically. The paramedic was not aware until after the situation at the hospital where he and the officer and myself were all talking very very nice, having a cup of coffee, going back over the scene and we explained this to the paramedic. He was not aware of that.”
According to Ware and Jenkins, because of all the noise from the bystanders, the paramedic did not hear Jenkins request the taser, and objecting to that action, put his hands on Robinson.
Robinson, who knew the crowd was closing in on him, did not know who touched him and responded by hooking his arm and pushing him back. Robinson eventually guided the paramedic across the street and, according to Ware, pushed the paramedic’s clavicle. It was that action that appeared on the short video to be grabbing of the throat, but that does not appear in the full video.
Jenkins agreed with Ware that neither of the two individuals did anything wrong. It was just that they each had a different amount of information.
“I don’t think he (paramedic) meant any ill harm to the police officer by any means,” Jenkins said. “He was trying to do what he felt at the time was right for his patient and I have to give him kudos for that. That’s our job. We take care of the patient.”
Jenkins said when the scene became unsafe he was “very thankful” that the paramedic was removed from the situation.
“Law enforcement, fire fighters and EMS go into dangerous situations on a daily basis to serve and protect the public,” Ware said. “They work hand in hand in some of the most chaotic scenes, and as you can see from the body camera footage, there’s a lot of things going on in the context of this incident.”
Ware was referring to what he described as a mixture of alcohol and curiosity. Multiple times within the event, officers push people back from the operation, but they repeatedly return and that activity occupies several officers the entire time.
Ware talked about some news media waiting for all the facts before reporting as opposed to some who based their reports on the short online version.
“Sometimes what we see in a viral video it doesn’t tell the whole story,” Ware said. “I’m reluctant to comment either way until I have the whole story. Those of you who reported on it based on the viral video – I respect that, that’s part of your job.”
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.