The Charlottesville Police Department released 17 minutes of body camera footage of a Wednesday arrest on the Downtown Mall after many community members questioned an officer’s use of force caught on video by an onlooker. In the video, a 36-year-old man identified as Christopher Gonzalez is seen being kicked by the arresting officer and taken to the ground with an arm around his neck following an altercation.
“In the interest of transparency and accuracy, the Charlottesville Police Department is releasing the entire body-worn camera footage from yesterday's incident on the Downtown Mall,” the department posted on Twitter Thursday evening. A press release was also released after a video of the encounter was shared on Instagram.
According to the release, someone called 911 to report a man lying on the ground at 5:34 p.m. on 200 W. Main Street. Charlottesville police, members of the Charlottesville Fire Department and members of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad responded to the scene. Gonzalez was considered to be unresponsive when he was first located.
Throughout the body camera video, the encounter progresses from a conversation between the officer and Gonzalez to a struggle, followed by an arrest. The Fire Department and Rescue Squad members leave in the first third of the video when Gonzalez refuses medical treatment.
The officer tells Gonzalez that he can avoid any criminal charges if he agrees to leave the Downtown Mall. Gonzalez admits to having consumed alcohol after being questioned by the officer.
“If you can stay off the Downtown Mall, and I don’t see you again then I won’t … take you to jail for drunk in public,” the officer said.
Gonzalez refuses, asking why the officer did not mention arresting him earlier.
“I don’t see why I gotta go, I wasn’t going five minutes ago,” Gonzalez said.
The officer starts to handcuff Gonzalez, and when Gonzalez moves his arm the officer begins to restrain him with force. The officer’s body camera appears to fall off and lie lens-down on the ground during the interaction and is retrieved more than two minutes later, after Gonzalez is handcuffed and more officers arrive.
On the video posted to Instagram, which appears to begin about 15 seconds after the officer’s camera is blocked, the officer knees Gonzalez in the stomach repeatedly, shoves him against a wall, then holds him on the ground in what appears to be a chokehold and kneels on Gonzalez’s back.
More CPD officers arrive on scene, and the rest of the video shows Gonzalez and the officers walking to and waiting for a CPD van.
Gonzalez, who has no fixed residence, was charged with misdemeanor public intoxication, misdemeanor obstruction of justice and felony assault on a police officer.
In a statement responding to the CPD release, Defund Charlottesville Police activists criticized the use of force, citing a recent interview in which Police Chief RaShall Brackney stated that CPD officers are not instructed to use chokeholds.
“Instead of being criminalized and facing trumped up charges for being unhoused, he could have received community-based support,” the Defund Charlottesville Police statement adds.
CPD has also begun an internal affairs investigation related to the incident. CPD did not disclose the name of the arresting officer and stated that the department will not be commenting further on the encounter, as it is an ongoing investigation.