LAKELAND, Fla. -- Lakeland police said they are investigating after a video on Facebook showed officers kicking and punching a man while placing him under arrest.
About 4:20 p.m. Tuesday, April 10, Officer J.R. West saw a man lying on the side of U.S. 98 under the I-4 overpass. Police said West checked on the safety of the man, Justin Abbott, 38, who was sleeping.
Because of the dangerous location of the interstate access ramp and an agreement between the City of Lakeland and the Department of Transportation, West gave Abbott a trespass warning and informed him he would have to leave. During this exchange, a second officer arrived on scene to assist.
Police said the two tried to get Abbott to leave, but he refused. Abbott was then told that he was under arrest for trespassing. As officers attempted to arrest Abbott, however, he began resisting.
The officers tried to restrain and handcuff Abbott, and during the struggle, West deployed a taser to try and gain control of Abbott. It didn't work.
After a second attempt to deploy the taser, officers said Abbott grabbed West's stun gun.
The other officer then struck Abbott several times before finally getting him into custody, police said.
"I was shocked," Joel Alfaro, who took video of part of the incident and posted it to Facebook said. "I was like this is really happening."
Alfaro said he thinks the officers went too far, and doesn't believe their story, in which they claim Abbott grabbed the officer's taser.
"He's just taking a nap or trying to stay out of the rain, and instead of helping him out and figuring out why he's distressed, they get three different guys to beat him up that's twice his size," Alfaro said.
However, Lakeland Police are standing behind their officers' actions.
"We do understand perception is reality for some people, but that's not always the case," Gary Gross, a spokesperson for the department, said.
Abbott was taken to Lakeland Regional Health to be checked out, and no injuries were found. He was charged with trespassing and resisting with violence, and taken to the Polk County Jail.
The officers were treated for minor injuries at LRH.
The department is reviewing the incident, but Gross said right now, their preliminary investigation found their use of force was justified.
The third man seen in the Facebook video is an off-duty Polk County Sheriff's deputy, Gross said.
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