A video shot by a witness that shows police forcefully arresting two brothers has shaken a South Carolina community, which was bracing Friday for a third-consecutive night of protests.
The tension in Rock Hill, a city about 25 miles south of Charlotte, North Carolina, was sparked by Wednesday’s arrest of Ricky Price, 35, and Travis Price, 32. The siblings, who are Black, are seen scuffling with Rock Hill police in a video posted by a bystander to Facebook, officials said.
Police said Ricky Price violently resisted arrest. The brothers' attorney, Justin Bamberg, said the elder Price suffered a broken nose during the arrest.
“We understand people are mad," Bamberg said Friday. "This is not just about what happened to Ricky and Travis, this is about a systemic issue. There are people in this country who, quite frankly, are tired of feeling that they’re the punching bag of law enforcement in America. That’s what this is about.”
Rock Hill Police Chief Chris Watts said Thursday that two officers have been placed on leave, and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division would conduct an independent investigation. He did not provide the officers' names.
He said his department “recognizes the pain and frustration our community feels over this incident.”
Some demonstrators this week threw rocks and bottles at officers in riot gear and set a small fire outside a building. Eleven were arrested Thursday, officials said. They could be charged with disorderly conduct, hindering police and being a pedestrian in a roadway, said city spokeswoman Katie Quinn.
She said in an email Friday that more protests were expected, and the city’s police, who have an obligation to protect the community, will also “protect the First Amendment Right to Assemble.”
Watts and Mayor John Gettys urged calm Thursday. Norma Gray, Rock Hill’s NAACP president, also pleaded for the community to demonstrate peacefully.
“The officers that are called to serve and protect, are not the officers that were out on the scene,” Gray said. “We are asking you to protect them. Black Lives Matter. All Lives Matter. These officers need to go home to their families unbruised, unharmed.”
The incident began when the police department’s violent crime unit was working with special agents from the Department of Homeland Security on an operation focusing on “known repeat offenders," Watts said.
One of those offenders was Ricky Price, he said. Price was pulled over on traffic violations, and a police dog searched his vehicle, police said.
“Officers did locate two bags of marijuana and a handgun in the back seat and placed Ricky into handcuffs,” Watts said.
Price’s younger brother soon arrived at the gas station where Ricky Price was being investigated, Watts said.
At one point, the elder Price asked officers to remove his handcuffs so he could remove jewelry, which the allowed, Watts said.
Travis Price approached his brother and was told by the officers to get back. He refused, Watts said, and a scuffle followed. Travis Price was pushed into a large propane tank, which is about when the video circulating on social media begins, Watts said.
Police took Travis Price to the ground as Ricky Price, who was not handcuffed, began pushing the officers, Watts said. Ricky Price attempted to flee, then threw several punches, one of which landed on an officer's face, Watts said.
The video shows an officer punching Ricky Price on the thigh multiple times as Price was on the ground. A short while later, he was punched in the face.
The officer who punched Price in the thigh was following his training, Watts said, adding that strikes aimed at a nerve just above the knee are meant to force compliance. The punch to his nose “resulted in the blood seen in the video,” Watts said.
Although police body-camera footage of the arrests exists, authorities are not required to release it to the public under state law. Quinn, the city spokeswoman, said no decision had been made about whether the department would voluntarily release the footage.
Ricky Price was being held on no bond for investigation of possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine, possession with intent to distribute marijuana, resisting arrest and gun charges, Bamberg said, and Travis Price was released on bond Thursday following his arrest on suspicion of hindering police.
Bamberg, who is also a state representative, said Ricky Price was in pain and breathing from his mouth because of his broken nose. The arrest also caused injuries to his lower body, making it difficult for him to walk, forcing him to use a wheelchair.
The police account of his clients not complying with officers was false, Bamberg said.
“They were complying with everything that was asked of them, so much so that law enforcement removed the handcuffs from Ricky Price. … They were listening to police. They were following instructions and what happened is there was an officer on scene who was overly aggressive and escalated things. He went hands on with Travis and ended up pushing Travis and throwing him into a propane tank.”
Bamberg said no matter what charges his clients face, it’s not right for them to have to endure excessively physical arrests.
“Their number one job is to protect and serve. Their oath requires they uphold the constitution,” he said. “I don’t see where punching a citizen so hard in the face, that you flatten their nose … is upholding the constitution.”