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Lakeland Police: Officers Justified In Use Of Force Seen On Video

Still frame from the video posted by witness Joel Afaro on his Facebook page.

The Lakeland Police Department is defending the actions of two officers who came under fire after a video posted on social media showed them fighting a man under an Interstate 4 overpass Tuesday afternoon.

According to the department, Officers J.R. West and De’Angelo Anthony were trying to get 38 year-old Justin Abbott, who had been sleeping under the I-4 and U.S. 98 N overpass, to leave. He refused and resisted when they tried to arrest him.

Witnesses recorded the struggle that ensued and posted video on social media. The footage shows the officers punching and kicking the suspect while he is down on the ground.

During one moment, Anthony appears to back up and launch a kick at Abbott, leading some angry viewers to compare it to a football kickoff.

Department spokesman Gary Gross said Anthony was actually backing up to avoid a Taser West was going to use on Abbott. He said Anthony kicked Abbott in the abdomen after the suspect had gotten hold of the Taser.

This is not clear in the video, and many on social media said it showed police brutality.

"We went through frame by frame of this incident and we agree, it looks bad,” Gross said. “But when you understand how the officers function, what they have to do, the reason the officer backed up -- there was a reason for that, it wasn't to kick him in the head like people were saying on social media."

Gross said after reviewing the entire situation the department concluded the footage doesn't show the full story. As of now, no action will be taken against the officers.

"We will continue to look at it as more reports come in to see if there's anything we need to address, but we do believe at this point in time that they acted within the scope of their duties by taking this man into custody," Gross said.

LPD officers don’t wear body cameras and the two officers’ dashboard cameras were not on during the incident. Gross says since the officers were responding to a trespassing call they did not turn their emergency vehicle lights on, which is what activates the cameras.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.
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