The Fresno Police Department released body camera footage on Monday of a tense interaction from the previous day that ended with a man handcuffed and placed in a patrol car outside The Waffle Shop.
Chief Andy Hall said in a statement that accompanied the video that the officer acted within the law and business patrons obstructed him as he carried out his job.
“I am asking the public to always respect the authority of a police officer. Pushing, striking, delaying or obstructing an officer is against the law,” Hall said.
Hall’s statement on Monday was a departure from his initial words on Sunday, when he said he was “concerned” about how the officer acted at the eatery. He said Sunday the officer’s actions didn’t “appear to be consistent” with department policy or his personal guidelines for arrests under the coronavirus order.
Thomas Miller Sr. was detained by the officer, according to his son Thomas Miller Jr.
According to his wife, he is a Vietnam War veteran who served four tours of duty.
The Waffle Shop illustrates the potential for conflict between city code enforcement officers writing fines to businesses ordered to close amid the coronavirus pandemic — versus those who say it’s time for restaurants and businesses reopen .
Hall said Fresno police officers have sworn to uphold the law, regardless of their personal beliefs. “Sadly, the Fresno Police Department is being placed in the middle of opposing political view points on how the city operates during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
Hall said he instructed his officers while enforcing COVID-19 orders to try to get people to voluntarily comply. Arrests were only to be made with his direct approval.
The younger Miller said his parents went to The Waffle Shop to support small business and never intended to be involved in a physical altercation. They just happened to be at the front of the line when people began to huddle and block police, he said.
“We want the video to speak for itself,” he said. “We recommend that everyone who has an opinion on this to watch the video and make up their mind for themselves.”
He went to say he supports law enforcement. “My family loves law enforcement. We got tons of friends in law enforcement,” he said. “The last thing we want to see is this (officer) lose his job. But, the last thing we want to see is injustice.”
Back in March, Mayor Lee Brand ordered all nonessential businesses to close in order to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The majority of the City Council has supported that decision.
Councilmember Garry Bredefeld has been the only outspoken detractor on the council. He held a news conference earlier in the day to drum up support for small business owners who want to open.
What the video shows
The video begins with the officer, who has not been identified by police, speaking with code enforcement officers in The Waffle Shop parking lot.
Police have said code enforcement officers were blocked by patrons who would not let them enter through the doorway.
As the officer nears the door, he says, “OK, folks, make a way.”
The crowd speaks back to the officer, with one woman saying, “They don’t have to let you in.”
The officer, who is wearing a mask, says, “Do not interfere with my job.”
The officer again tries to enter and appears to bump into at least one person standing in the doorway before reaching Miller, who is significantly taller than the officer.
Miller then appears to be pulling away from the officer, who applies handcuffs on the man. Miller’s wife, Kelly, holds onto his arm as the officer walks him towards the patrol car.
An unidentified woman shouts, “That’s a violation of his civil rights, you stupid bastard.” Another person shouts “Fresno PD sucks.”
As the officer gets close to his car, he tells Miller’s wife to let go of her husband’s arm. She then pleads with the officer.
“He has served four tours in Vietnam. He’s a diabetic,” she says. “He has a heart condition.”
The officer asks her again — at least the third time he asked — to let go before she complies and the officer puts Miller in the patrol car.
Hall said the officer’s actions were justified.
“The officer’s detention of this individual allowed for code enforcement to complete their duties,” he said. “As a result, the individual was only detained and was released without any further charges beings filed.”
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