Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Tupelo
See all three body cam videos at the end of the story.
TUPELO —Police used punches and pepper spray during an intense struggle involving a pair of officers and a Plantersville man now charged with assault, according to newly public video.
On Friday evening, the Tupelo Police Department released at least some body camera and car camera recordings of a Tuesday afternoon traffic stop that turned violent.
This video footage release came after bystander video of the police stop on South Gloster near the Crosstown intersection began to circulate on social media and prompted early but escalating concerns about excessive use of force by law enforcement.
The bystander video showed two officers struggling to pin a man now identified as Jasper Copeland against the hood of a patrol car. During the struggle, one of the officers punched Copeland in the face with a closed fist.
Videos released by police Friday show much more of the incident, beginning from when officers begin to interact directly with Copeland and ending after Copeland is subdued.
Before the public release of the footage, Mayor Todd Jordan’s administration invited Lee County NAACP President Charles Moore to watch the footage.
Based upon the video he watched, Moore told the Daily Journal that he believes police officers on the scene showed restraint.
” Mr. Copeland did initiate the violence and the officers returned and defended themselves and put him in custody, and they did it safely,” Moore said. “It could have gotten worse.”
Moore also gave good marks to the Jordan administration for accessibility and communication.
“I talked with Mayor Jordan and he wanted to be as open as possible without compromising the investigation,” Moore said. “I didn’t want to go into the weekend with that energy in the air, and they did release it, and I commend them for that.”
Seatbelt suspicions led to traffic stop
In reports filed by Tupelo police officers Derek Scott and Mike Gazaway, the men say that Scott first pulled over a black Honda CR-V because the driver, Brittani Thomas, was allegedly not wearing a seat belt.
Scott got the names of both the driver and her passenger — who was Copeland.
“I recognized the name of the male, Jasper Copeland, for Jasper is known to resist and to aggressively fight officers,” Scott wrote in a report.
After Gazaway arrived on scene, the officers identified two active warrants for Jasper. Scott asked the driver, Thomas, to exit the vehicle and asked for her permission to search the vehicle. Officer reports say she consented to the search.
Officers instructed Copeland to get out of the SUV. Publicly released video begins at about this point.
Video shows Copeland resisting, officers using force
Police released three videos on Friday:
—One video is from a body camera worn by officer Derek Scott.
—Another is from the dash camera of Scott’s patrol vehicle.
—Another video is a slow motion version of the dash camera footage.
The video footage shows Copeland getting out of the SUV and Scott begins to pat him down. Gazaway tells Scott that he Copeland has dropped a bag onto the ground. The officers then instruct Copeland to place his hands behind his back to be handcuffed.
Copeland jerks away and an altercation occurs
Much of the altercation is just out of view of the dash camera, but the camera does capture Copeland punching Gazaway several times and resisting efforts by officers to constrain and pin him to the hood of a patrol car..
Body camera footage is largely obscured during the actual struggle, since Scott is at close quarters with Copeland.
Other major points of the struggle captured by the two video include the following:
—As previously reported by police, Scott strikes Copeland’s body while holding handcuffs several times, and then drops the handcuffs.
—Scott pulls his pepper spray canister out, and, according to written reports, accidentaly sprays himself and Gazaway along with Copeland.
—Reports filed by the officers say Copeland got his hand on Gazaway’s gun during the struggle. Dash camera video does show Copeland’s hand at least near where Gazaway’s gun would be, but the officer’s body blocks a clear view of this moment. Gazaway can be heard yelling, “he’s got my gun!” at about this point.
—Shortly after the “gun!” moment, Scott punches Copeland in the face with his fist multiple times, with the hand holding the pepper spray canister, before finally pulling Copeland to the ground.
—Additional officers arrive on scene and Scott asks backup officers to tase Copeland, but it’s not clear if that occurred.
—As he’s wrestled to the ground and handcuffed, Copeland reports at one point “I can’t breath, man.” Scott tells him, “Neither can I.” After Copeland is handcuffed, Scott tells him, “All right Jasper, we’re going to work with you now,” and then, later says, “I’m not going to put my knee on your neck, you hear me?”
Charges filed, others pending
According to previous statements by law enforcement, Copeland was taken to the Lee County Jail but then later taken by ambulance to the North Mississippi Medical Center emergency room for observation and was admitted to a room around 9 p.m. on Tuesday, July 12.
Copeland was released from police custody from observation and then then left the hospital against medical advice at 12:20 a.m. Wednesday, July 14.
Within 24 hours, police arrested Copeland and charged him with two counts of simple assault on a police officer. City law enforcement also indicated plans to pursue drug charges through the grand jury process.
During his initial appearance in Tupelo Municipal Court on Thursday, July 15, bond was set at $300,000. Since he has on parole, MDOC could place a hold on him.
As of Saturday, Lee County Jail records show Copeland was still in custody.
Some video still under wraps
Other police recordings from the Tuesday incident have not been released.
“Due to the ongoing nature of the narcotics investigation there is still some video that has not been cleared,” said Captain Chuck McDougald in a written statement.
Also in a written statement provided by McDougald, law enforcement leadership said the Friday video release was done “in an effort to be response to citizens’ concerns and as transparent as possible.”
The written statement also emphasizes that “We are still in the early stages of this investigation and our understanding of the incident may change as additional evidence is collected, analyzed and reviewed.”
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