Police ‘weaponizing’ body cameras, NAACP charges in letter

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – The arrest of five protesters 10 days ago on misdemeanor charges during a Black Lives Matter rally has Lexington Police tactics being questioned by the Lexington chapter of the NAACP.

In a letter sent to Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton and released Tuesday, the NAACP accuses the department and the Fraternal Order of Police of retaliating against protest organizers, violating the intent of police body cameras and a variety of other infractions, including not following coronavirus health and safety protocol.

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Protesters and others previously complained about the use of chokeholds in at least one of the July 11 arrests and police and protesters released competing videos to support their various positions.

But the NAACP letter makes some more serious claims, including the retaliation allegation, and a charge officers are “weaponizing” body cameras to back up bogus claims.

“We don’t retaliate against anybody,” Police Chief Lawrence Weathers told the Lexington Herald-Leader in response to the letter.

In the July 11 arrests, police said protesters were arrested for blocking traffic after they’d been asked not to. But the NAACP said officers can be heard on the police videos plotting to arrest the protesters, who the NAACP stresses were exercising their First Amendment rights.

In the footage released by the Police Department in response to the chokehold allegations, a police supervisor and other officers can be heard discussing arresting protest organizers Jesus Gonzales and sisters Sarah Williams and April Taylor if any part of the group went into the street against the walk signs or stop lights.

The trio ultimately ended up being charged with inciting a riot and disorderly conduct, charges the NAACP says didn’t warrant action, much less arrests.

“They’d been blocking traffic and there had been calls to block traffic; that was my understanding,” Weathers told the Herald-Leader, adding he had not seen all the videos.

“Typically what we do is we give out warnings prior to all these, you know, we give people the guidelines and the rules,” Weathers said of the arrests of Taylor and Williams, according to the newspaper. “This is what you can do, this is what you can’t do. And if you violate those rules, under the contract of the law, we’re going to take action.”

The NAACP letter also sent to FOP President Jonathan Bastion, a police lieutenant.

Like Taylor and Williams, the charges against James-David Woodhead, the man shown being wrestled by police — officers say it wasn’t a chokehold while protesters say it was — is another example of excessive action, the NAACP said.

“These images expose the blatant impropriety in your officer’s abusive use of force and in the illegal actions of fellow officers who stood guard and overshadows any petty misdemeanor offense manufactured against Mr. Woodhead,” the Herald-Leader said quoting the NAACP letter.

“You have some very bad eggs under your supervision and control. If you fail to address their behavior and curtail their wrongdoing, you will permit them to drag our entire police force into the gutter with them,” the letter continued according to the newspaper.