When a Sunrise, Florida, police officer noticed her sergeant looming over a man already in their custody with pepper spray, the two and a half year veteran tried to pull her superior away to deescalate a situation that could have quickly spiraled out of control.
But her attempts to follow protocol and intervene weren’t well-received: The sergeant turned around, grabbed her by the throat, and pushed her against a police car, according to body camera videos released Thursday, which show the incident from two different angles.
The officer who got violent with his colleague, Sergeant Christopher Pullease, is now the subject of an internal affairs investigation and was suspended from his job sometime before November 25, when the investigation began, as first reported by local news station WSVN 7 News Miami. He’s a 21-year veteran of the force.
“The sergeant approached and engaged in a verbal altercation with the suspect in a manner that I feel was inappropriate and unprofessional,” Sunrise Police Chief Anthony Rosa said in a statement Friday. “This supervisor escalated the encounter instead of de-escalating an emotionally charged situation.”
Police were responding to an emergency call about a man attacking people outside of a convenience store on Nov. 19, according to a press release from the Sunrise Police Department. As officers tried to get the handcuffed man into a patrol vehicle, the man can be seen refusing to get all the way in so the officers can close the car door.
At least four officers struggle to get the man all the way into the vehicle as Pullease pulls up to help. The sergeant approaches the suspect with his pepper spray drawn, to which the arrestee finally leans his entire body into the car.
Even though the man is finally compliant, Pullease remains leaned over towards the man in the backseat for about 20 seconds. Pullease never uses the pepper spray but does get into a verbal altercation that Chief Rosa called “inappropriate and unprofessional.”
There is no audio in police body camera footage released to the public. But whatever was said was enough for the other, 28-year-old officer to rush over and get involved.
“In accordance with our department policies and procedures that call for intervention when there is an imminent fear of engagements escalating unnecessarily, the officer is seen grabbing the sergeant by the back of his duty belt and pulling him backwards,” Rosa said.
The sergeant then turns all the way around, puts one hand on the officer’s throat for a moment, then grabs her by her vest and pushes her against a nearby police vehicle. After a few seconds up against the marked car, the sergeant walks back to where the suspect is sitting, opens the car door, then closes it. He then turns to the young officer who pulled on his belt, points a finger at her and walks away.
The identities of the 28-year-old officer and the others who were present have not been made public. Rosa, however, commended the young officer for trying to prevent Pullease from making an already bad situation even worse.
“I am very proud of the officer involved in this incident and believe that the actions taken were definitive and demonstrative of good leadership during a tense situation,” he said in a statement Friday.
Virtually all U.S. police departments have a policy that requires officers to intervene if a fellow cop is taking things too far with someone they’re interacting with. But the institution is often criticized for not following through. As George Floyd was being murdered, for example, none of the three officers present chose to physically stop officer Derek Chauvin from kneeling on the Black man’s neck for more than nine minutes. This failure to act is the subject of both a federal and state criminal trial scheduled to begin later this year.
Police say Pullease has had no contact with any department personnel since the November incident. The investigation into the sergeant is ongoing and its finding will be released to the public upon its completion.