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After an officer put a teen in a chokehold, Norristown PD investigating response to fight at carnival

Written by Katie Colaneri/WHYY | May 13, 2019 8:57 AM
Mark Talbot.jpg

Norristown Police Chief Mark Talbot addressed 50 community members Sunday after a melee between about 50 to 100 minors and police officers at a church fair the night before. Video of the incident shows one officer putting a young girl in a chokehold. (Katie Colaneri/WHYY)

Norristown police are investigating a large fight involving 50 to 100 people at a church carnival Saturday night. Videos posted to social media show a white officer putting a black teenage girl in a chokehold and shoving another young girl in the stomach.

Norristown Police Chief Mark Talbot held a community meeting and press briefing Sunday afternoon to address the incident, but would only confirm that at least one person is still in custody.

About 50 people attended the meeting, and many called for the officers involved to be removed from patrols while the investigation continues.

"Based on my initial review of the facts, I don't feel it's necessary to pull these officers off the street," Talbot said.

According to Talbot, 9-1-1 calls from the carnival at St. Francis of Assisi church began coming in at 8:24 p.m. about several large fights, mostly involving teenagers.

"Arriving officers were confronted with many juveniles. Most of them chose not to comply," said Talbot. "Officers reported being shoved, punched, kicked. Officers reported that they had drinks thrown on them. Officers reported that they were overwhelmed with the crowd of people that were out there."

Talbot also addressed the videos of the incident that have been circulated on Instagram, showing the officer kneeling on the ground over a young girl, attempting to arrest her as other young people approach him and another officer.

The second officer shoves one of the young people back twice, the second time pushing her into the crowd of bystanders. The video returns to the first officer who is now holding the young girl in a chokehold. Another young girl rushes at the officer who throws a punch at her. Then the girl can be seen punching the officer back repeatedly.

"It looks terrible," Talbot said, noting that police officers are trained to control the upper bodies of people being taken into custody. "When you're taking someone into custody and [they] are not complying and you're on the ground and you're vulnerable to attack from behind, it's not a pretty encounter."

Talbot said he does not have enough information to say whether the officers' actions were right or wrong, and encouraged witnesses and those with additional video footage to contact the Norristown Police Department.

"Everybody walked away safely," Talbot said. "We've committed as a police department to send everybody home safely and that's what we did here. Everybody went home."

But that statement did little to comfort Tanesha Webb.

Webb, of Norristown, said the melee started when her 12-year-old daughter Teh-Airrah and her two friends, ages 13 and 14, were attacked by a group of older girls. According to Webb, the 14-year-old is the one who can be seen on the video being placed in a chokehold by a police officer.

It is unclear exactly how the fight among the group of girls led to the skirmish with police officers.

In another video posted to Instagram, Teh-Airrah, who was wearing a black Adidas t-shirt with white lettering, can be seen approaching the officer and screaming at him to get off of her friend. The officer can be seen shoving Teh-Airrah in the stomach.

Webb said it should not have come to that.

"They went from being victims of the young ladies who jumped them to directly being victims of the police officers who attacked them later," she said.

"Everyone was acting a fool last night," said Victoria Balentine, of Norristown, who was at the fair with her husband and four children.

They were waiting in line for the small dragon roller coaster, Balentine said, when they suddenly heard screaming. Then, they saw someone try to jump over the gate surrounding the ride, knocking it over into the path of the ride, which was stopped just in time, she said.

As police arrived, Balentine said she went to take her two youngest children to a different ride when she saw at least four other fights break out among teenagers, and people around her began to run.

The scene was chaotic, she said, and she saw one child throw a basketball at an officer's' head. The police were overwhelmed, said Balentine.

"Cops got involved because the children were out-of-hand," Balentine said. "The police could have handled it differently."

 

WHYY is the leading public media station serving the Philadelphia region, including Delaware, South Jersey and Pennsylvania. This story originally appeared on WHYY.org.

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