Lynn police are defending an officer who struck a woman at least three times in the head while they were attempting to arrest her during an intense confrontation in an apartment building Sunday morning.
The department posted an 8-minute video from the body-worn camera of the officers who responded to the apartment building where a resident had called police and asked them to remove the woman. She was identified by police as 39-year-old Jessica L. Wagle.
Police said a preliminary investigation concluded the officers involved were in compliance with the department’s use-of-force policy when “an officer delivered strikes to the area of Wagle’s head.”
“The Lynn Police Department requires a review of all Use of Force incidents. Preliminary findings based on the review of this incident reflect that the officers acted within the Lynn Police Use of Force Policy based on Massachusetts Police Training Committee standards,” police wrote.
Wagle is scheduled to be arraigned Friday in Lynn District Court on two counts of assault and battery on a police officer, one count of disorderly conduct, and one count of resisting arrest, according to court records.
Lynn Mayor Jared C. Nicholson said Thursday that he has viewed the police video and two others posted on social media, neither of which show the entire encounter. He credited police for showing transparency in releasing the body-worn camera footage to the public. Taken together, however, all three videos indicate a need to search for a better way to resolve similar confrontations, he said.
“We know that those situations are really challenging and that the decisions need to be made really quickly, but I think in watching that video, it’s not the optimal scenario,” he said.
Nicholson said he does not currently have plans to get an outside review of the force used in this case, and will allow the department to complete its formal review of the incident.
Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, applauded the release of the video but punctuated the critical need for an investigation “into both the police officers’ behavior and the department’s policies.”
“This incident also underscores the importance of the constitutional right to record police officers, as it was only the cell phone video that revealed the numerous times the officer punched the woman in the head,” Rose added.
Nicholson said both he and his predecessor have been developing plans to create a crisis response team to respond to people in distress instead of armed, uniformed officers — a team of civilian mental health specialists and the Eliot Community Health Service.
This would supplement the existing Behavioral Health Unit staffed by mental health professionals who work with officers Monday through Friday, according to department spokesman Lieutenant Michael Kmiec. He noted the incident with Wagle took place early Sunday morning when the unit is not working.
Kmiec declined to release the name of the officer who is shown on the police video striking Wagle.
In the video, officers are seen being escorted into the building by the resident who tells them he warned Wagle to leave, but she refused. The door to the man’s apartment is partially open, and Wagle is shown standing just inside, a phone in one hand. One of the officers recognized her from previous interactions and addresses her by her first name, repeatedly telling her that she needs to leave the apartment and then the building.
At least two officers ask Wagle to leave and then one begins demanding in a loud voice that she exit the unit. While on scene, officers learn that Wagle has two arrest warrants outstanding from pending cases in Lynn District Court, according to police and court records.
At that point, police tell Wagle she is under arrest and an officer puts a handcuff on one hand. Wagle responds by refusing to let the officers put her other arm behind her back so they can cuff her other hand, according to police and what is shown on the video.
During the next few minutes, according to police and what is shown on the video, Wagle begins kicking at officers after she is wrestled to the floor. Although it is not visible in the video, police alleged Wagle tried to bite an officer during the incident.
At that point, an officer used pepper spray on Wagle. Wagle can be heard screaming, apparently in reaction, and officers can be heard struggling to breathe.
“The spray was incapacitating to the officers who struggled with Wagle for over two and a half minutes,” police wrote in their statement. “During the struggle, an officer delivered strikes to the area of Wagle’s head in an effort to gain compliance as none of their other actions had any effect. After the strikes were delivered, the officers were able to handcuff Wagle.”
One of the residents posted video of the arrest on social media, and police said they decided to release the body-worn camera video in response.
“The department is aware that a citizen recorded a portion of the incident and that video has been circulating on social media. In order to be transparent, the department is releasing Body Worn Camera video of the incident,” police wrote.
Wagle appeared in the Lynn courthouse Monday where she was ordered held on $500 cash bail for the previous cases, according to court records. A notation in the court record reads “defendant to seek medical attention.”
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