Cell phone video captures Metro Transit Police in struggle with man in a wheelchair
Updated: May 24, 2011 - 06:36 pm
In an earlier version of this story, the man in the wheelchair was identified as "Harry."
Did a man stand up out of his wheelchair and flail about until he fell, as police say? Or did they lift him up and take him down?
The man in the wheelchair was identified as Dwight Harris by Doug Knight, executive director of Street Sense, a newspaper created and sold by the homeless. Mr. Harry, as he is known, is a fixture around the U Street Metro station.
Metro maintains Harris became irate and belligerent when the officers told him to leave with his open bottle of alcohol.
Mike Smith defended Harris and others. “They are aggressive but you gotta understand, you know, they kinda down and out,” Smith said.
A cell phone video posted on YouTube shows two officers and a man in a wheelchair outside the U Street Station Thursday afternoon.
You see the officers apparently lift the man, then the trio plunge to the ground. Metro maintains that the officers asked the man to leave and he resisted. When the officers went to arrest him, the officers claim that the man stood up, fell and took them to the ground.
Harris suffered a minor injury and faces assault and drinking in public charges. According to Steven Taubenkibel, a Metro spokesman, Metro is reviewing the incident. He said Metro Police Chief Michael Taborn saw the video and had some concerns about what he saw. The officers will remain on duty while the investigation is ongoing.
“If the police are lifting him up and throwing him to the ground, then yes, I do have a problem with that. That's police brutality,” said Anita Ramsey, who lives in Potomac.
Harris, who Street Sense director Knight said is homeless, is one of the group's 125 active vendors. Knight said he "couldn't fathom" that Harris would have become combative with the officers but he's only met the man a handful of times. “First and foremost we just want to be absolutely sure he's ok,” Knight said.
According to D.C. Superior Court documents, Harris smelled strongly of alcohol, had slurred speech and bloodshot eyes. He also had an open 24 oz. can of malt liquor with him. When officers tried to cite him and gather information, Harris allegedly refused to identify himself and began driving away. At that point, he was told he was under arrest.
People who watched the video note that as Harris is being lifted to his feet, one officer throws a leg and hip into the man apparently to throw him off balance. The officers appear to be bigger and much stronger than Harris and he is thrown forward and down with his feet flailing into the air behind them and higher than the officer's heads.
Both officers attempted to handcuff Harris but he resisted, according to court documents. Harris began swinging his arms and punching both officers, according to the court documents. Harris flailed his arms about, causing him to fall, according to the court documents. He cut his right eyebrow from a metal grating on the ground.
The officers then placed Harris in handcuffs and booked him into jail. He was arraigned on Saturday and has a court hearing scheduled for June 10.
Harris was charged with assault and possession of an open container. He was taken to a local hospital for treatment of a laceration to his head and released.
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