Key West Police Wrongfully Arrest Homeless Man Then Assault Him After Turning Their Body Cameras Off
The following videos were originally posted at the “Blue Paper” an independent newspaper located in Key West, Florida. All commentary included on the videos are those of a contributor to the Blue Paper. In addition, police reports and all body camera footage that are included within this post were acquired by contributors and/or the staff of the Blue Paper and subsequently submitted to the CopBlock Network. Between the commentary on the video and the video itself this incident is actually somewhat self-explanatory.
Naja and Arnaud Gerard, the editors of the Blue Paper, originally received a video taken by a concerned bystander of a homeless man, who had already been restrained, being treated roughly by a pair of Key West police officers during an arrest. This arrest took place in February of this year and resulted from a trespassing complaint by the manager of a local Publix grocery store. The justification given for this “rough arrest” was that the man being arrested, Kristopher Knight, had kicked the window of the police car once he was placed inside.
That original video was described in a post on the Blue Paper:
The initial bystander video showed Mr. Knight screaming in pain while Key West police officers were handling him. His hands were already cuffed and his legs had been tied with some sort of leash [a hobble strap]. It was not clear what kind of resistance the short 25-year-old would still have been able to show the officers. The level of pressure used on Knight was disturbing for some of our viewers; others found it perfectly justified.
After that video surfaced, public records requests were used to acquire the police report filed by Officers Julio Gomez and Michael Chaustit that day, as well as their body camera footage from the incident. This provided the entire context of the incident from the time the officers first arrived to the time they left.
Interestingly enough however, by some amazing “coincidence” one portion of the arrest was somehow not captured by the officers’ body cams. This, of course, was the part where the officers have pulled Knight back out of the police car. In fact, the body cameras were able to capture everything up to that point and everything after Knight was placed back into the car perfectly fine.
Due to the convenient timing, a skeptical person might even be tempted to think the cameras were intentionally turned off at that key moment. Fortunately though, the bystander was there filming the police as they threw Knight around and twisted his already cuffed arms. Therefore, between the body cam footage and the bystander’ cell phone video, there’s a pretty complete visual record of what happened between Knight and the police that afternoon.
The full incident was described in the Blue Paper’s post:
…footage showed Mr. Knight dozing, while sitting down in front of Publix at Key Plaza. One officer, Officer Julio Gomez, wakes him up, and inquires about his condition. He is obtaining reasonable answers and compliance from Knight who he continues to address politely.
Another officer however, Officer Michael Chaustit immediately breaks into foul language and a confrontational attitude. Knight is ordered off the property. He complies, but as he is walking and once he gets about 30 feet away, he yells loudly “Fuck y’all Motherfuckers!” Officer Chaustic is heard saying, “Nope!” Gomez asks: “You want to take him?” Answer, “Yep”.
Chaustit follows behind Knight. He orders “Stop!” Knight raises his hands over his head but keeps walking “Man I didn’t do nothing.” Officer Chaustit, who is twice Knight’s size, throws him into what appears to be some plastic drums then grabs him again and throws him, flying across the walkway, where his head stops inches from a cement column. From that moment on and at all times thereafter Chaustit uses one form or another of “pain compliance.”
The whole thing is captured by KWPD’s new body worn cameras, to one exception: the really disturbing scene, where Knight is completely restrained and yet constantly subjected to pain, that part, is not recorded. The footage however resumes immediately after, as Knight is being put back inside the police cruiser.
It’s pretty evident in the video who was the aggressor that day. From the time he arrived, Officer Chaustit is verbally abusive and confrontational, even when Officer Gomez is being fairly polite and Knight is being cooperative. Obviously, Chaustit is waiting for any excuse to arrest Knight and likely hoping for an opportunity to use force against him. Shortly after, when Knight yells, “Fuck y’all Motherfuckers!” Chaustit seizes his opportunity and proceeds to assault, arrest, and then once again assault him after pulling him out of the car.
Within their post, Arnaud and Naja Gerard also state they contacted Key West Police Chief Donie Lee, who subsequently ordered a review of the incident by the KWPD Professional Standards Department. As a result, according to a statement from Chief Lee, Officer Chaustit received some unspecified “discipline” for his actions (described as a reprimand in the Blue Paper’s post):
“We have concluded our review of the arrest of Kristopher Knight by Ofc. Chaustit on Feb. 4, 2017. Although we believe there was probable cause for the arrest, we believe the arrest was based on an emotional reaction to provocation by Knight. My expectation is that our officers always strive to maintain their professionalism and avoid attitude arrest. Ofc. Chaustit also didn’t use his body cam according to policy. Ofc. Chaustit has been disciplined for his actions. He is a good officer and has accepted responsibility for his actions. We have determined that the use of force in this arrest was within policy.”
The basic gist of that is “we found that Officer Chaustit probable cause (of which cursing at the police isn’t) to arrest Knight, but it was unprofessional of him to do so because someone had insulted him. And he violated department policy by turning his body camera off right before he assaulted Knight the second time, but Officer Chaustit is a Good Cop and promised not to do it again.”
The video shows otherwise, though. Officer Chaustit, like many of his “Brothas in Blue,” is a violent bully who was looking for an excuse to assault someone whose dangerous crime was coming onto someone else’s property without their permission and going to sleep. It’s not a situation that should require force against a person who is being compliant, even if they are being verbally defiant in the process, especially when Chaustit initiated the hostility himself. And in spite of his “acceptance of responsibility for his actions,” you’d be foolish to believe this was the first time Ofc. Chaustit unnecessarily used violence against another person, even more so if you believe it will be the last.