A video released in a federal civil court case and first obtained by NBC News on Friday shows an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent putting his foot on the neck of a migrant lying face down on the floor of a poultry plant as part of a 2018 raid.
In the video, a migrant man who is unnamed in the lawsuit runs through several rooms to evade arrest before he is tackled by two agents and held on the ground. He does not appear to be resisting as the two agents pull his hands behind his back in an attempt to restrain him. Then, one of the officers, identified in the court case as John Witsell, puts his foot on top of the migrant’s neck for 25 seconds, according to the video. Witsell appears to apply pressure, at least initially.
Lawyers representing the migrants say Witsell used excessive force. Frank Figliuzzi, an NBC News contributor who served as a civil rights supervisor for the FBI San Francisco, said what the video shows is “unacceptable.”
“No police academy anywhere would teach you to put your boot on someone’s neck unless you are fighting for your life,” said Figliuzzi.
The man appears to be unharmed when he walks away at the end of the video, but Figliuzzi said putting “that kind of weight” on a neck can impede airways. Witsell was later interviewed by ICE's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) about the incident, but it is not clear if he was punished for the incident. During a deposition by the OPR, Witsell’s partner from the incident, Francisco Ayala, testified that “there was no reason” Witsell needed to apply his foot to the man's neck.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the nearly 100 migrants swept up in the April 2018 raid in Bean Station, Tennessee, during a Trump administration crackdown on workplaces, alleges migrants’ civil rights were violated by the tactics ICE officers used, including excessive force by Witsell to the man.
Lawyers representing the ICE officers argued the video should remain under seal, but the judge in the case recently ruled in favor of releasing it.
An ICE spokesperson released a statement after this story was published.
“While the incident in question occurred in 2018 and was addressed internally at the time, it is now the subject of litigation," the spokesperson said.
"U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not comment on pending litigation. However it is important to note that ICE does not tolerate misconduct and is undergoing an in-depth review of its use of force policies, standards, and training to ensure that its policies and practices are consistent with President Biden’s historic Executive Order to advance effective, accountable policing and to strengthen public safety.”