HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — Following days of public outcry on social media and a protest in Court Square, the Harrisonburg Police Department has released bodycam video of an incident in which three people were arrested and at least one woman was struck with a taser by a city police officer.
On the morning of Sunday, December 16, police officers arrived at an apartment in the North 38 Apartments to respond to a noise violation. Following about eighteen minutes of argument with people who stood outside the door to the apartment, including Melissa Bradley, and multiple attempts to issue a summons that Bradley and her wife refused to sign, police attempted to shut the party down. That entire interaction can be watched in the publicly available bodycam video.
After about eighteen and a half minutes, the video shows one officer lift the handcuffs from his belt, apparently in preparation for an arrest, but as officers begin to approach Bradley, who is blocking the door, video shows her turn and enter the apartment, running through a crowd of people she had denied was inside just minutes earlier. The crowd, which includes some figured blocked out in the video due to being juveniles, looks on in surprise.
A view from a second officer's bodycam appears to show Bradley and her wife resisting arrest and fighting with officers after making it through the crowd, at which point a taser is deployed.
You can view both bodycam videos, released on YouTube by the department, below.
Following the Sunday incident, a cell phone video was posted to Facebook by one of the individuals involved, showing the moments just after Bradley was hit by a police taser and demanding justice for Melissa.
In response to that video, the Harrisonburg Democratic Socialists organized a Facebook event to have people gather for a protest in Court Square on Thursday, December 20, saying that white officers used excessive force on a black woman in a racially charged incident.
"We believe that the police often respond to noise complaints where participants are primarily white, and it never ends in assault and tasing," said one of the organizers of the rally.
But police say the bodycam video shows that escalation of the conflict was not a result of actions of the officers on scene.
The local chapter of the NAACP originally threw their support behind the protest, but, after viewing the bodycam video with police, withdrew that support and issued a statement saying they found no wrongdoing with the actions of the officers in this incident, though they do believe police-citizen interactions in the city need work. Several Harrisonburg city officials expressed similar views to WHSV's reporters after viewing the full police video of what occurred before it was released to the public.
However, that did not deter a few dozen protesters who turned out in the Friendly City on Thursday, demanding police release those arrested.
"Our position is that regardless of what is on the bodycam footage, the police determined that a simple noise violation was worth a violent confrontation," said a representative of the Democratic Socialists of Harrisonburg.
Chief Eric English, who recently took over leadership of the Harrisonburg Police Department, issued a public statement on Friday, Dec. 21 along with the publicly available video, saying "I do not want the interaction between citizens and HPD to be the norm in our city as it was in this incident... Due to the need for clarification in this incident, I am making this particular video available."
Parts of the video are blacked out and other parts are muted due to the involvement of minors.
You can find English's full statement here:
"I am aware that there has been a lot of conversation concerning an incident early Sunday morning along with a video that was disseminated that involved the Harrisonburg Police Department that lead to the arrest of three people. The incident itself was unfortunate and escalated to a point that it should not have. However, that escalation was not a result of the actions of HPD.
I want to be clear that it is my goal to build positive relationships with our community. We strive to do that through communication, collaboration, and cooperation. I do not want the interaction between citizens and HPD to be the norm in our city as it was in this incident. I also do not want it to be the norm for incidents to occur and individuals to rush to judgement. Communication is key for us to close those gaps of distrust and I welcome communication with our citizens.
To ensure that people have a clear picture of what occurred I am making the body worn camera footage available. This is also not the norm, as release of video is not going to be a standard procedure. Due to the need for clarification in this incident, I am making this particular video available. Please note that some elements of the video were required by state code to be redacted due to the age of individuals, so you will see some items 'blacked out' and some portions of sound muted. Two videos are being disseminated to address clarity in this incident as they came from two different body worn cameras.
I am hopeful that people will get a better understanding of this incident and that we can continue to try to build those bridges between law enforcement and community."