CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WJZY) – Local leaders want Charlotte Mecklenburg Police to re-evaluate policies and procedures after a viral video shows an officer hitting a woman several times while pinned down.

CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings said officers are trained to hit individuals in large muscle groups like the thigh to get suspects to comply. 

“I think it was seven knee strikes, 10 fists, and we have to really take a close look at is when is enough,” Chief Jennings said. “What I can tell you is that the body-worn camera footage, particularly when they’re on the ground, tells more of the story than what the footage that you see from a distance because my concern immediately was where the strikes [were] being placed.”

Chief Jennings said Officer Vincent Pistone struck 24-year-old Christina Pierre at least 17 times while four officers pinned her down during an arrest.

Police said Pierre and her fiancé, 37-year-old Anthony Lee, were smoking marijuana after their shift at Bojangles, sitting at the bus stop, when police approached them and things escalated quickly.

Attorney Walter Bowers served in the military for five years and was a CMPD officer for seven.
Bowers recognized the tactic immediately.

“Just looking at that without any context, it does not look good at all,” Bowers said. “But certainly that would be in alignment with training if that was what was actually happening.”

After backup got to the scene, officers said they also found a 9mm handgun in Lee’s bag. Still, the video has raised questions about police response and use of force for marijuana possession.

“The officers could have got harmed, the citizens could have got harm behind something that’s,  you know, a misdemeanor at best,” Bowers said acknowledging the exception of officers finding a handgun in Lee’s bag.

Chief Johnny Jennings, CMPD, said, “It shouldn’t have happened but whose responsibility is the question, right? That should have never happened. You know, should, should we have arrested, initiated arrest for marijuana use, even though we can? Should she have basically interfered with the arrest of the gentleman and struck our officers? None of that should have happened.”

Officer Pistone has been moved to investigative duty off the streets. Chief Jennings said Pistone used a technique taught in training to get Pierre to comply.

Chief Jennings said within a one-mile radius of that incident, they’ve seen 194 violent crimes in the last three years and emphasized a proactive approach to curbing drug use. Bowers said de-escalation is always the goal in those approaches.

“Maybe instead of an arrest, it’s a citation or something of that nature, or maybe it’s a warning,” Bowers continued. “The questions that citizens will have for law enforcement is always what caused a situation to escalate.”

Lauren Newton from Tin Fulton Walker and Owen is representing Pierre. She said her client is a victim of excessive force. The lawyer claimed an eyewitness saw an officer punch Pierre in the face, leaving bruises shown in photos taken after she was released from jail. Newton said she has petitioned the courts to release the body camera video of the full interaction.

Charlotte NAACP President Corine Mack has questions about the department’s policies after seeing the video.

“When I saw Ms. Pierre on the ground, I saw myself; I saw my daughters; I saw my granddaughters; and every person who looks like me, probably felt exactly how I felt it was triggering,” Mack said. “If she committed a crime or assaulted a police officer, we will need to deal with those things, but nothing rose to the level in which this woman was treated, held to the ground by five white males and punched and kneed 17 times. What about her humanity?”

Mack is concerned about the initial reason for the stop and state law that requires a judge to sign off on releasing body camera footage.

“We’re going to work with CMPD in collaboration to find out what policies need to be changed. We want to be involved with writing those policies and supporting and putting those policies in place,” Mack said. “We also want to ensure that we’re working on decriminalization of marijuana. It’s time in North Carolina; it’s absolutely time and if we’re sincerely talking about leadership being transparent, we need to revisit this whole video notion and how videos are released.”

Chief Jennings said he plans to release the body camera video as soon as he is legally allowed while the internal affairs department finishes the investigation into the incident.

“Are there things that we can do better? Absolutely. Are there things that I wish would have never happened? Certainly. Are the things that I think we can take from this and become better as an agency?” Jennings asked. “We’re committed to that and we’re going to do that. We know that there are things that we can look at policy-wise and training-wise.”

Chief Jennings said it could be months before he is allowed to release the body camera footage. In the meantime, the internal affairs office will be combing through all the footage available and interviewing witnesses to make a report about what happened before, during and after the arrest.