Lakeland PD reviewing video showing use of force

- The Lakeland Police Department is reviewing a video that may show excessive force used against a 38-year-old man, but preliminary evidence shows no wrongdoing, the agency said.

Lakeland PD says it was made aware of a now-viral video on Tuesday, showing what appears to be officers "in a struggle with a suspect" under the U.S. 98 North and Interstate 4 overpass.

Around 4:20 p.m., police said, Officer J.R. West spotted a man, later identified as Justin Abbott, sleeping under the overpass. By this time, a second officer, Officer Anthony, arrived to assist. 

West asked Abbott to leave the area and gave him a trespass warning, given the "dangerous location," according to a Lakeland police statement. According to the agency, Abbott refused to leave after several verbal demands, so both officers attempted to arrest him.

At that point, police said, Abbott began resisting.

Police said Abbott shoved Officer Anthony, who fell to the ground, toppling everyone. West deployed his Taser, but it was ineffective and Abbott continued to resist, police said. Officer Anthony stepped back to avoid being shocked, and they tried to deploy it again. 

Officer Anthony saw Abbott grab Officer West's Taser, according to the Lakeland Police Department, and struck Abbott's arm "several times" to release the Taser, said Sgt. Gary Gross, spokesperson for the agency.

“He kicked the guy’s arm so he would let go of the Taser, and that worked," he explained to FOX 13, "It probably saved the officer’s lives. If that guy would have had the Taser and pointed it…it would have incapacitated them. He could’ve got their gun."

The video appears to show officers using their fists and, at times, kicking Abbott. Gross said officers appear to be following protocol, according to early evidence, but the agency is still reviewing the incident. 

"You don’t see a lot on this video. You don’t see the fight beforehand. You don’t see the fight afterwards." he said. "A preliminary review of this is that these officers did what they were trained to do."

Abbott was transported to Lakeland Regional Health, and was found to have "no treatable injuries." Both officers had minor injuries during the incident.

Abbott faces charges including trespassing and resisting an arrest. 

Lakeland PD says the incident is being reviewed. They say there is no police video of the incident. Body cameras are not issued to officers. Occasionally, squad cars have dashcams, however, in this case, the spokesperson said, there is none, either because the vehicle did not have it, or it was not recording during the incident. 

"As with all use of force cases, a thorough administrative review is being conducted by the chain-of-command," the agency said in a statement.

Stay with FOX 13 News for updates on this developing story.

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