Lancaster, PA — Citizens, as well as the mayor of Lancaster have expressed their concern this week after cell phone video caught a police officer taser a man as he sat down on the sidewalk and complied with his orders. The deeply disturbing video has since gone viral.
Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace noted on Thursday that an investigation into the officer’s actions is now underway.
“Like you, when I saw the video I was upset by it and it is of great concern to me. We take the use of force very seriously,” Sorace said.
According to police, they were responding to a disturbance call about a man who allegedly chased after a group of people with a baseball bat. When officer Shannon Mazzante arrived on scene around 10 a.m., she approached Sean Williams, 27, and demanded he sit down on the sidewalk. According to police, Williams did not immediately comply.
As Mazzante ordered Williams to sit, officer Philip Bernot arrived on scene and did the same. Bernot told Williams to sit on the sidewalk and in the video, we see that he eventually complies. Despite complying — albeit slowly — Bernot threatened Williams with the taser.
The video, which was posted to Facebook, shows Williams comply with Bernot’s orders to sit on the curb and put his arms and legs straight out in front of him. Williams struggled to comply with the officer’s unclear orders of “Legs straight out and cross them now.”
Williams appears to put his legs straight out and the appears to try to cross them, just like he was being told. When Williams brings his legs closer to his body to cross them, Bernot shoots the unarmed man in the back with the taser.
The shock caused Williams to fall over and officers handcuffed him without any resistance at all.
Lancaster police refused to respond to questions about the video, releasing only a short statement noting that people not immediately complying means they could be trying to run away.
“Non-compliance is often a precursor to someone that is preparing to flee or fight with Officers,” police said in a statement. “All use of force incidents, like this one, are reviewed by the Use of Force training cadre and Command Staff.”
However, it was entirely clear in the video that Williams was not attempting to run away — as he was sitting on the ground and complying with orders — before being tasered in his back.
The incident prompted the mayor to issue a statement in the form of a video which she posted to Facebook Thursday afternoon.
She said the incident “affirmed my resolve to implement a body camera program here in the City of Lancaster.”
The president of the NAACP, Blanding Watson also issued a statement on the taser incident, noting that the group is monitoring the situation and that “full understanding” of the incident “requires a full investigation,” according to Lancaster online.
“This event highlights the need for strengthening the accountability and trust which necessarily characterizes a productive relationship between communities and law enforcement,” he said. “Such a relationship is more important than ever.”
Williams was arrested and charged with public drunkenness. Police also said he had a previous warrant for possession of a controlled substance. As for the bat that police say was the reason for the stop, it was never found.
If you’d like to voice your concern over the video below, you can do so at the Lancaster Police department’s Facebook page, here.