Video of Pennsylvania police officer with knee on man's neck prompts protests

"You can't help but see a video like that and not immediately leap to the worst conclusions," one official said.

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By Tim Stelloh

Video of a Pennsylvania police officer with his knee on a man's neck and head drew outrage Sunday from protesters and criticism from officials.

The 39-second clip, shot outside a hospital in Allentown, north of Philadelphia, doesn't show what prompted the confrontation, but three officers can be seen restraining a man lying face down on the ground and yelling.

One of the officers is seen thrusting his knee and elbow into the man's head and neck. The clip was posted to Facebook and reposted by Black Lives Matter to Lehigh Valley, which demanded that police release body camera video and suspend the officer during the investigation.

The officer was white, and the man appeared to be Black.

Allentown police said in a statement Sunday that the encounter occurred Saturday night after officers saw a man staggering in the street and throwing up. He eventually stopped outside a hospital emergency room, police said.

The man, who wasn't identified, began to yell and spit at officers and hospital staff after they "interacted" with him, the statement said.

The man became noncompliant with police, prompting a hospital staff member to put a spit shield on his head and officers to restrain him, the statement said. It didn't mention the officer's knee on the man's neck. He was released from the hospital later; police didn't say whether he had been arrested.

The Lehigh County district attorney is investigating, the statement said.

"Although significant, the entirety of the interaction is being reviewed," the statement said, adding that witnesses were being interviewed and that other videos were being reviewed.

Protesters gathered outside the police department Saturday night holding Black Lives Matter signs and chanting "defund the police." Video posted by Black Lives Matter to Lehigh Valley appeared to show Allentown Mayor Ray O'Connell talking with protesters outside the police building.

O'Connell said the video appeared to be "disturbing" but added that it was just a "snippet" and that authorities still needed to gather additional facts. Protesters could be heard challenging O'Connell, saying the officer in the video should be suspended immediately.

The mayor's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday. More protests are scheduled for Monday.

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Benjamin Crump, a lawyer who is representing the family of George Floyd and has been involved in other cases alleging police brutality, demanded the officer's name and badge number and compared the case to Floyd's, saying it was "exactly" what happened to him.

Floyd, who was detained by Minneapolis police responding to an allegation that he had passed a counterfeit bill, died after an officer put his knee into his neck for nearly eight minutes.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Mike Schlossberg, a Democrat who represents the Allentown area, tweeted that he was "horrified" by Saturday's incident, saying, "You can't help but see a video like that and not immediately leap to the worst conclusions."

"The protesters last night were chanting 'Black Lives Matter' for a reason," he said. "You'd have to be heartless to not hear the pain and anger in their voices."