The Enterprise, Brockton, Mass.
STOUGHTON — When police first stepped toward her, she started swinging.
Moments later, the 16-year-old girl was thrown to the ground outside a Stoughton homeless shelter last week, held down and stunned with a Taser.
The physical encounter with three police officers Thursday, captured on cellphone video and shared broadly on social media, soon became the latest lightning rod for discussions on police use of force.
Many called it proper policing, citing the girl’s aggressive, uncooperative actions. Others called it concerning, and grimaced as they watched an officer push the teenager’s head toward the pavement.
“It’s unfortunate,” said neighbor Joshua O’Grady, who watched the confrontation unfold in real time Thursday. “You don’t want to see someone hurt like that, but the police officers obviously had to protect themselves.”
Police use of force, particularly with minorities, has snowballed into a hotly debated topic in the cellphone age, where footage of police encounters often end up online — sometimes without proper context.
Phyllis Ellis, the president of the Brockton-area branch of the NAACP, called the videos “disturbing.”
“At first glance, I wonder why it would take multiple officers to secure a 17-year-old female and why it was necessary for her to be tased,” she said Tuesday.
Stoughton Police Lt. John Bonney, the department’s spokesman, said the two videos circulated online “do not depict the entire altercation,” and show only the last few moments of an almost hour-long police call at the Evelyn House, a homeless shelter for families.
“Once you are told you are under arrest, you cannot resist or become assaultive,” Bonney said. “The courts have said time and time again that police officers do not have to take unnecessary risks with their safety.”
Bonney said this case, like every instance where police use of force is applied, will go through a multi-level review.
The three officers who took the juvenile into custody were Thomas Tedesco, Edward Barker and Sgt. John Owens.
Tedesco and Barker were first dispatched to the Evelyn House shelter, located at 94 Prospect St., at 5:43 p.m. Thursday for a report of a mother and daughter causing a disturbance.
According to court documents obtained by The Enterprise, they entered the home and spoke with Evelyn House manager Marcia Wigfall.
Wigfall told officers that 37-year-old Jessica Burton and her 16-year-old daughter, both residents of the home, were having a verbal argument.
The daughter soon became more uncooperative after seeing police officers.
“I’m gonna beat your ass,” she said to staff members, according to a police report from officer Thomas Tedesco. “Why’d you call the cops?”
After speaking with police officers, walking back into the home, then returning outside, police said the teenager “immediately began screaming.”
“Sergeant Owens warned (the girl) two to three times that if she did not calm down, she would be placed under arrest,” the police report said. “(The girl) responded by screaming that she did not care and continued to be uncooperative.”
One of the viral videos, shared on Facebook, captured what happened next.
“Ma’am, put your hands behind your back,” one officer advised the girl in the video. “Put your hands behind your back.”
The girl responded by sidestepping the police officer and stepping down the stairs of the home. When the officer reached for the girl’s left hand, she shoved back with both arms.
What follows is a blur — two more officers enter the frame, punches are thrown, arms are tangled, and one officer eventually grabs the girl in a bear hug from behind.
That video then cuts out, and a subsequent video resumes with the teenager lying face-up on the ground in the nearby grass, revealing Prospect Street in the background.
The girl is flipped onto her stomach by police, her head is pushed down to the nearby pavement, and she is then stunned with a Taser.
She was first taken into police custody at the station, according to the police report, but later transported to the hospital to get stitches on her head.
Owens, the police supervisor at the scene, also suffered injuries that required medical attention at a hospital, Bonney said.
The teenager was later charged in Stoughton District Court with threat to commit a crime, disorderly conduct, assault and battery on a police officer, interference with duties of police, resisting arrest and intimidation of police officer.
According to Tedesco’s report, the teenager later asked him at the hospital: “Why didn’t you guys just shoot me?”
He responded by asking if she wanted to end her life.
“It would be better than this,” she said.
The girl’s mother, Burton, was also charged with interfering with police and disorderly conduct.
O’Grady, the neighbor who lives across from the Evelyn House on Prospect Street, said he watched the commotion Thursday evening.
“It was madness,” he said. “There was yelling and screaming, girls were cussing at the police.”
He watched as the police struggled with the teenager, then saw her go to the ground “pretty hard.”
“But I don’t think the police had a choice,” O’Grady said. “It’s unfortunate. You don’t want to see someone hurt like that, but the police officers obviously had to protect themselves.”
O’Grady said police frequently respond to the homeless shelter — he himself has called the cops a few times. Groups of people will often gather outside the home at night, standing below the streetlights.
“It can get ridiculous,” he said. “People will park in my driveway, sometimes they’ll throw trash right in front of my house. I’ve found hypodermic needles in my yard.”
Bonney said police have responded to the Evelyn House “many times in the past for similar calls.”
In a 24-hour span surrounding the viral video, he said, officers responded to three separate incidents at that address.
The Evelyn House, operated by Father Bill’s and Mainspring, opened in 2004 for families struggling with homelessness.
©2018 The Enterprise, Brockton, Mass.
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