A now-viral Facebook video showing a Lancaster, Pennsylvania police officer using a Taser on a nonviolent black man who was attempting to cooperate with the officers has prompted a city investigation. Lancaster Online identified the man as 27-year-old Sean Williams.
The video shows Williams sitting on the curb as male officer Philip Bernot asks him to put his legs straight out in front of him. Moments afterward, a female officer named Shannon Mazzante tells Williams to cross his legs. As Williams begins to comply, Bernot repeats his order for him to have his legs out straight. Williams remains calm and seated, but Bernot soon tases Williams’s back.
Mazzante, who was first on the scene, was responding to a disturbance call, and Bernot arrived soon afterwards to assist, per The Root. A police statement released after the incident alleges that Williams failed to follow instructions to “stick his legs out in front of him and to cross his ankles,” a “measure of control to insure that if someone is going to flee or offer physical resistance, they will have to move their legs under them to do so.”
Williams was arrested on unrelated charges after officers found an outstanding warrant for possession of a controlled substance and public drunkenness. He was arraigned and released on an unsecured $5,000 bond.
Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace spoke about the incident in a Facebook video posted on Thursday. “We take the use of force very seriously,” Sorace said in the video. She added that the situation has “affirmed [her] resolve to implement a body camera program here in the city of Lancaster.”
“This event highlights the need for strengthening the accountability and trust, which necessarily characterizes a productive relationship between communities and law enforcement,” Blanding Watson, president of the Lancaster NAACP, told Lancaster Online. “Such a relationship is more important than ever.”