The mayor of the North Carolina town where a 22-year-old black man’s violent arrest in a Waffle House has drawn wide scrutiny and prompted an internal investigation defended the police in a video he posted Friday.
"This is not a racially motivated issue," Warsaw Mayor A.J. Connors said in the video. "This was just a young man who had broken the law and a law enforcement officer arrested him."
The video of Anthony Wall’s struggle with a police officer has drawn outraged reactions from across the country and criticism from organizations such as the NAACP. It is one of a surge of videos recently that have reinvigorated a long-simmering debate about the treatment of minorities in public spaces and at the hands of police.
Wall, who had taken his 16-year-old sister to prom, had gotten into an argument with people at the restaurant when someone at the restaurant called the police. It’s unclear whether it was a Waffle House employee.
Wall later posted a video of his arrest to Facebook. An officer, wearing a vest with the word "Police" on the back, pushed Wall against the plate-glass window. When Wall protested, the officer wrapped his hands around Wall’s neck, held him against the window and squeezed.
"Get your hands off of me," Wall said, struggling to speak.
Seconds later, the officer slammed Wall to the ground in front of the gold Mercedes-Benz that Wall and his sister had posed by for pictures hours earlier.
Wall told WTVD that he "was pretty much trying to scream for air and trying to breathe because he was holding my throat, and that’s when I got aggressive with him because you are choking me." He added that he was not fighting the officer; his arms were in the air when the officer choked him.
Connors said that Wall had "brought on the issue."
"The young man came into the township of Warsaw, went into a restaurant, he became disruptive, he brought on the issue, which called for an arrest," he said. "This young man was irate and doing things and threatening employees."
Connors, a pastor who also worked as the chaplain for the police department before he was elected last year as mayor of the small town about an hour south of Raleigh, said that the officer used force because Wall "refused to cooperate or follow them or obey the law."
"The officer made every effort to secure him so that the public would be safe," he said. "Also, we must understand that this young man had broke the law. He was there, he started a fight and an officer’s job is to make an arrest, if they see fit or there is a reason to."
Wall did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He told the Raleigh News & Observer that he was charged with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct for arguing with Waffle House employees.
Connors said that Wall had been arrested, charged and paid his bail bond for release. Wall was also checked out by emergency medical technicians after the incident, Connors said. Waffle House released a statement on Friday as well, saying that it, too, did not see race as an issue in the incident.
"We believe there is more to these stories than the short videos that have been posted might suggest," the company wrote. "Our review of these incidents do not indicate race was an issue in the decision to call the police in either case. Both incidents escalated quickly, and our employees called the police because of safety concerns for their customers and themselves."
Waffle House said that it was planning to contact Bernice King, the youngest daughter the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who had called for a boycott of the restaurant until it implemented certain changes.
The Warsaw Police Department and Onslow County District Attorney Ernie Lee are investigating the incident, according to the News & Observer.
It is unclear whether the officer, who has not been identified, remains on duty while police investigate his use of force. On Facebook, the video has been viewed more than a million times. Many commenters said the officer should be fired, charged with a crime or both.