The actions of a Fairfax County police officer who used a Taser to subdue an African American man on Friday were "horrible" and "disgusting," Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. says.
"What you see here is unacceptable. It does not value the sanctity of human life," Roessler said during a news conference late Saturday night about the incident, which was recorded on the body camera of another officer who responded.
The officer, Tyler Timberlake, has been charged with three counts of assault and battery and faces up to 36 months in prison if convicted. Timberlake, who is white, is an eight-year veteran of the Fairfax Police Department, assigned to the Mount Vernon district.
Roessler said the other officers who responded to the incident have been suspended pending further criminal and administrative investigations. He praised the actions of the first officer who responded for trying to de-escalate the situation, but said the investigation will include whether the other officers on the scene should have intervened faster to stop the tasing of the victim. "We do have a policy that there is a duty to intervene," Roessler said.
The victim was taken to a local hospital, where he was treated and released. He has not been identified. "I thank God that he is alive and resting at home with his family," Roessler said, adding that he has spoken with the victim's mother. "I assured her justice will be served."
The incident began around 1:30 p.m. Friday in the Alexandria area of Fairfax, when a resident called to report a man walking in the street shouting that he needed oxygen.
"This gentleman was having some type of episode," Roessler said.
In the video from the body camera of the first officer who responded, the officer can be seen trying to persuade the man to get into a waiting ambulance. Paramedics are also on the scene. About two minutes and 45 seconds into the video, a second officer responds and aims his taser at the victim from a few feet away. The victim falls to the ground in the street, and the officer with the Taser pins him to the ground with his knee on the victim's back.
Roessler said his department will investigate the amount of force that was used to restrain the victim and whether the tactics complied with police department policy.
But, he noted, "Just because you escalate does not mean you continue to escalate. You have a duty to de-escalate."
Roessler said privacy laws prohibit him from releasing any information about Timberlake's service record.
He noted that in the current environment, following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and nationwide protests against the use of force by police officers, the incident will further erode the public's trust in police.
"I righteously stand with the anger across this country and this community because I have righteous anger, too," Roessler said. "I need to hold the officers accountable; the community holds them accountable. We need to do a better job as a profession."
Fairfax County already has a study underway of use of force by its police department, and Roessler said the problem doesn't exist just in Fairfax.
"We have a problem in our profession," he added. "We do disproportionately use force in the African-American community, and we need to understand why."
Also speaking during the late-night news conference, Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay, addressed the issues around use of force.
"I am angry. I know our community is angry," McKay said. "This has been a particularly hard couple of weeks for our Fairfax community and what we heard tonight will make healing much more difficult."
He praised the police department for being transparent about the incident, releasing the video and holding the officer accountable
"The responsiblity is ours to rebuild any trust that has been broken as a result of this incident," McKay said.
Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Steve T. Descano, who brought the charges, said the body camera footage played an important role in his office's investigation of the matter.
"The footage of this incident is unsettling," Descano said. "Fairfax County is our home, and we hold ourselves to a much higher standard than what we see in this video."