Witness video captures officers use of force on St. Joseph man
A witness's Facebook video showing a St. Joseph police officer kneeing and punching a man who appeared to be resisting arrest has gone viral, with almost 200,000 views and 3,000 shares.
Zachary Schell Smith, 31, was charged with resisting arrest and remained in the Buchanan County Jail on Thursday with bond set at $10,000, jail records say.
St. Joseph Police Capt. Jeff Wilson said officers came across Smith on Monday night while responding to a call about a person "looking in vehicles and taking photos of younger females" near Central High School.
Bryan Briscoe, who was leaving his daughter's track meet at the school then, captured part of the altercation on video and posted it to Facebook with the caption, "A MUST WATCH VIDEO!" Briscoe said he pressed "record" after hearing one of the officers arguing with a man. Then the officer maced the man, Briscoe said.
"I turned my phone on and I ran up. I thought this was going to be a local video, and it went viral. I just filmed what I saw, and posted it," Briscoe said. "People have no clue what's going on right now. They're so quick to assume that the guy was on meth."
Briscoe said he was tempted to step in but didn't want to interfere with the arrest.
In the video, Smith is lying on a roadway while an officer orders him to get on his stomach.
"Put your hands down!" the officer yells.
A second officer arrives. As the man tries to stand up, the officer knees him in the side and punches him in the stomach. At one point, Smith can be heard yelling for help.
Six more officers show up as Smith is handcuffed and led to a police car.
"I told you to put your hands behind your back several times," one of the officers tells him.
Briscoe says he supports his hometown of St. Joseph and its police department but believes the arrest could have been handled differently. He said he posted the video to "open up a dialogue." He said he shared the video with Smith's family as well.
"How it happened, there was no need for that," Briscoe said.
"When someone is maced, the reaction is to wipe your eyes ... you're going to try to fight back," he continued. "(But in the video) it looks like he was resisting."
Court records show Smith was previously convicted for misdemeanors including DWI and theft. Police say they already had a warrant for his arrest on another matter.
Police told KQ2 that Smith had shown signs of using methamphetamine. But Smith's mother, Rhonda Sale-Evans, says that her son has schizophrenia. She also said he was having a manic episode on the night of the arrest. Smith had been waiting for his doctor to go to the hospital that night and had decided to walk around the block, Evans said.
"I'm at a complete loss here, she said, adding that her son "is not violent at all. With this sickness, he gets manic, but he's not violent."
Some Facebook commenters believe the police used excessive force to arrest Smith. Others say Smith should have listened to officer commands right away.
Police told the St. Joseph News-Press that officers used "defensive tactics" when Smith became resistant, including use of a stun gun.
A police spokesman told The Star that every instance of use of force, including Monday's arrest, is reviewed by supervisors.
Smith's case remains pending in Buchanan County Circuit Court. An arraignment is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday.