Video showing a Minnesota cop kneeing and punching a driver before pulling him out of the car and on to the ground was released by the ACLU Thursday, and the group is calling for that officer to be investigated and punished.
The video contains some strong language and might be disturbing for some people to watch. It was taken from dashcam video of the incident, which happened on July 28, 2016, in Worthington. The clip has been edited by the ACLU. Take a look.
The driver is Anthony Promvongsa, now 22 years old. The man who first approaches him in the car and proceeds to knee and punch is Joe Joswiak, an agent with the Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force.
Promvongsa was charged with three felonies in connection with that day: two counts of using his car as a weapon to assault two police officers, and one count of fleeing a peace officer in a motor vehicle. He was also charged with misdemeanors for having a small amount of pot, and driving with a revoked license.
But the ACLU of Minnesota says anything that occurred prior to what was caught on video isn't the point.
"No matter what happened before the dashcam video began rolling, Anthony did not deserve to be abused by the police in this way," the group said in a statement.
Promvongsa pleaded not guilty in December. One of his attorneys, Virginia Barron, told GoMN they've requested a trial but no date has been set.
What the charges say
It started when an off-duty Worthington police officer, Colby Palmersheim, said Promvongsa was speeding, tailgating, swerving toward his vehicle, and motioning with his hands, the criminal complaint says.
Palmersheim was worried enough that he stopped, got a pistol, and called dispatch to report everything that had gone on.
At that point Promvongsa, according to the charges, told Palmersheim and another officer in the scene "he was going to go get his boys and come back to get them," before speeding off.
Joswiak – the one in the video who pulls Promvongsa out of the car – responded to the call, and said Promvongsa drove toward his squad. He swerved out of the way, turned around, flipped on his lights and siren, and followed.
Promvongsa didn't stop, so Joswiak called it in as a pursuit. That's when Sgt. Tim Gaul joined the chase – he's the second officer in the video.
The pursuit went about a half mile – from Lake Avenue "near Chautauqua Park" to 9th Street, between 3rd and 4th avenues.
Joswiak drew his weapon and approached Promvongsa's vehicle, telling him to get out. Promvongsa didn't, so Joswiak opened the driver's side door and repeated his order. Here's the next sequence, lifted directly from the complaint:
"Again, Promvongsa did not comply so Joswiak grabbed ahold of Promvongsa and told him to get out. Joswiak delivered several knee strikes to Promvongsa in an attempt to gain control of him but Promvongsa continued to resist getting out of his vehicle. Joswiak was not sure if Promvongsa was armed or had any concealed weapons in the vehicle. Joswiak delivered a straight punch to Promvongsa and eventually was able to pull him out of the vehicle. Once outside, Promvongsa was handcuffed and detained on the ground."
The charges say they found a small amount of weed in his car, and accuse him of driving with a revoked license.
The video 'doesn't support' those claims
Barron and another attorney, Amanda Delaney, took over Promvongsa's case a few months ago.
"Our opinion is that this sort of thing that you see on that video should never be allowed or tolerated in a civilized society," Promvongsa's attorney Barron told GoMN. "Regardless of whether those allegations are true or not, when you watch the video, the police reports and the complaint indicate that Mr. Promvongsa refused to comply with agent Joswiak's commands. And I think the independent verifiable evidence – which is that video – doesn't support that."
In the video, Promvongsa's vehicle stops at 21 seconds. Joswiack can be heard 6 seconds later, then seeing immediately afterward walking toward Promvongsa's door. It takes him about 5 seconds to get there, and he opens the door and begins reaching in at that point (about the 32-second mark).
Promvongsa, in a statement via the ACLU, said he "did not even have the opportunity to take off my seatbelt" before Joswiack began attacking him.
"I immediately pulled over for the Worthington squad car and before I knew what was happening I was beat and ripped from my vehicle," he said.
Ian Bratlie, a staff attorney with ACLU of Minnesota, told GoMN they got the dashcam video from Promvongsa directly. Barron said he requested the case file and sent it to the civil liberties group on his own volition. The ACLU is working with him to consider legal options, such as a civil case.
Calls for an investigation
"Agent Joswiak’s use of force against Anthony Promvongsa is disturbing and completely unnecessary," said ACLU of Minnesota Executive Director Teresa Nelson in a statement.
The ACLU says the Worthington Police Department – since it employs Sgt. Gaul and it appointed Joswiak to the drug task force (back in 2015 according to this report) – "needs to immediately investigate the incident."
Up to this point, the ACLU says Joswiak has not been punished at all. Barron said she isn't aware of any disciplinary action either.
The ACLU also suggests a pattern of racial profiling and police brutality in the area, which Promvongsa, who is Laotian-American, made nods to in his statement.
"I know I am not the first person to have this type of traumatic experience with law enforcement in Worthington," he said. "This type of violence with community members has to stop."
Response from police, the drug task force
The Worthington Police Department, Nobles County Attorney's Office and Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force put out a joint statement Thursday afternoon in response to the video.
They call it "one piece of evidence in a pending criminal case," and say they can't discuss it much because of data practices law and court rules. But they said the video," viewed in a vacuum, shows only a short segment of the incident that is the basis of the criminal charges."
All three agencies said they "feel it is inappropriate to comment further" since a criminal trial is coming, and asked that the media and public "remain patient."