CHARLOTTE (Dec. 13, 2023) — The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) released body camera footage this week from an arrest initially caught on a bystander’s video in November. During the arrest, CMPD officers are seen repeatedly punching and kneeing a woman. The highly anticipated video footage only lays bare how utterly inappropriate, unjustified, and reckless officers’ actions were at the time.
The arrest, involving Christina Pierre and her fiancé, Anthony Lee, started because two CMPD officers decided to engage in “proactive” policing in connection with the alleged smell of marijuana coming from a bus stop — which the officers claimed to smell while driving past the bus stop in their police car on Arrowood Road.
Lee and Pierre were fully cooperative with the officers, informing them they were in possession of a legal substance (THCa) purchased from a local smoke shop. Despite the absence of any call for service or complaint or apparent public safety issue, the CMPD officers moved quickly to physically detain Lee for the alleged misdemeanor crime of possessing marijuana — a crime that the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office does not prosecute.
While one of the officers stays with Lee, the other violently assaults Pierre and ultimately takes her to the ground. As Pierre and other eyewitnesses confirmed in the immediate wake of this incident, the video released this week shows Pierre did not assault that officer. Instead, the officer punched her in the face without any cause or justification. After he violently took Pierre down to the ground, she was punched 17 times despite being face down and subdued. As the video was being publicly released, CMPD announced that one officer – Vincent Pistone – was being suspended for striking Pierre after her hands were already behind her back. No other officer is apparently being disciplined.
“There is nothing about what CMPD did in this case that was in service of public safety,” said Jake Sussman, Chief Counsel of Justice System Reform at Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “At each juncture along the way — the officers’ initial decision to engage, their immediate decision to arrest Mr. Lee due to an allegation of smoking marijuana, CMPD’s dangerously aggressive manhandling of Ms. Pierre — CMPD failed to protect and serve. Chief Jennings’ counterfactual version of what happened, and his stubborn refusal to concede that dismissing the criminal charges against Ms. Pierre and Mr. Lee was appropriate, only compounds the harm.”
Sussman represents Lee and Lauren Newton at Tin Fulton Walker & Owen represents Pierre.
“Yesterday, Chief Jennings said that we should not live in a society where a citizen is allowed to assault an officer,” Newton said. “That didn’t happen here. What did happen was an unlawful arrest and assault by law enforcement. CMPD can narrate the video all it wants. But the footage lays bare the truth, and there needs to be accountability for what happened to my client.”
The entire incident is an object lesson for many of the chronic, systemic problems with CMPD’s approach to policing. For example:
- Numerous studies about CMPD’s policing performance – the most recent one done two years ago by RAND – have consistently shown that, as was the case here, Black people are stopped, arrested, and victimized by CMPD’s use of force at disturbingly higher levels than white people.
- CMPD continues to engage in “proactive” or “self-initiated” policing around low-level, quality of life matters. While this approach to policing is not a proven method for increasing public safety, it undermines community trust.
- CMPD’s response to an alleged Class 3 misdemeanor (the lowest class of misdemeanors under NC law) was grossly outsized and reckless. In addition to how the officers initiated and then escalated this situation, other CMPD officers failed to intervene to thwart the excessive use of force. Further, at least one officer responded to the scene by driving over 90 MPH.
- Chief Jennings claims that lab results show the substance Lee and Pierre were smoking (totaling 1.82 grams) was marijuana. As CMPD know, the lab results provided fail to distinguish whether the chemical identified was illegal Delta-9 THC or a legal variant like THCa, that both Lee and Pierre explained they were smoking.
- CMPD’s Internal Affairs investigation fell short. Internal Affairs somehow considered it to be “reasonable” for one officer to punch Pierre in the face before violently bringing her down to the ground. It was not reasonable; it was an assault and unlawful use of force. They further considered some, although not all, of the violent punches against Pierre while she was immobilized on the ground to be reasonable. They were not reasonable; they were assaults and unlawful uses of force.
Despite Chief Jennings’ refusal to concede what the facts and law make clear in the video, it was totally appropriate for the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office to voluntarily dismiss all of the charges that were brought against Pierre and Lee.