Florida deputy gets 8-hour suspension after video of Black teen’s arrest goes viral
A Florida teenager said he is outraged by the “slap on the wrist” sentence a deputy received for throwing the handcuffed teen against a wall and claiming he had no First Amendment right.
Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Deputy Charles Rhoads was given an eight-hour suspension after video went viral showing him shoving Kevin Wygant, 19, into a wall and suggesting he had no right to freedom of speech, according to a Thursday report from The Sun Sentinel.
Wygant condemned the short punishment, saying he thinks the officer’s discipline “should have been a lot longer.”
“They get a slap on the wrist and I still have to pay all these court fees and things like that,” said Wygant, who is still facing a pending trespassing charge from the altercation. “Being a Black man in America, it’s on me. I always get the bad end of the stick.”
Rhoads and another deputy involved in the August incident, Jeffrey Taschner, were placed on leave pending an investigation, which ultimately concluded that they violated the agency’s standards of conduct by using profanity.
Rhoads received the short suspension, while Taschner received training and counseling, according to the outlet.
Officials were called to a Wellington restaurant named Tijuana Flats on Aug. 15 around 9 p.m. due to reports of a disturbance, local outlet WPTV reported at the time. The arrest report states that Wygant was asked to leave the front of the restaurant several times but kept returning so he was arrested for trespassing.
Wygant maintains he was trying to break up a disturbance among other people, according to the Sun Sentinel.
The 13-second video of the interaction does not show the events proceeding Wygant’s arrest. One of Wygant’s friends reportedly began recording the encounter as things started escalating.
While standing in handcuffs with Rhoads standing behind him, Wygant asserted his First Amendment right.
“Yes, I do have freedom of speech,” he is heard saying.
“Not to us, you don’t,” Rhoads responded.
“I don’t have the freedom of speech to you?” Wygant asks incredulously.
Rhoads then grabs the teenager by the back of his shirt and shoves him into a wall face first.
“I’m going to show you what f—ing freedom of speech is,” Rhoads is heard saying, leaning in close to speak into Wygant’s ear.
Bystanders are heard on camera attempting to intervene, asking the officer, “What are you doing, bro?”
“Get them the f—“ Rhoads is heard responding before the video ends.
The video prompted widespread backlash, especially after it was tweeted out by civil rights attorney Ben Crump. The clip shared by the lawyer, currently representing the family of George Floyd, had raked in nearly 345,000 views on Twitter as of Thursday.
“Police can’t take away your 1st amendment right to freedom of speech! … This is UNACCEPTABLE behavior!!” Crump wrote.
Police can’t take away your 1st amendment right to freedom of speech! This Palm Beach cop arrested Kevin after he witnessed a fight & said “I’ll show you what f***ing freedom of speech is!” Only trying to help, Kevin was ARRESTED for trespassing. This is UNACCEPTABLE behavior!! pic.twitter.com/H6mRgiuD9y
— Ben Crump (@AttorneyCrump) August 16, 2020
The agency said in August that Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw did “not condone the behavior of our deputy and takes this matter very seriously.”
We have ID’d the Deputy on the video circulating social media. @RicBradshaw does not condone this behavior and takes this matter very seriously. He’s requested an IA investigation into this incident. Our deputy has been placed on leave until the conclusion of this investigation.
— PBSO (@PBCountySheriff) August 17, 2020
During the internal investigation, both deputies involved said they knew their actions did not reflect well on the department, according to the outlet.
This was not the first time that Rhoads had been named in a use-of-force case.
The Sun Sentinel reported that he has been the focus of 10 cases since he joined the department in 2008. He had been cleared in all of them prior to Wygant’s arrest, including one where video showed him placing 18-year-old Kellen Means in a chokehold while telling the man’s girlfriend that “I’m going to f— him up in two seconds.”
The incident report claims that Means was “battering” his girlfriend, which Means’s attorney Brad Sohn rejected. Means was charged with battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest, but those charges were later dismissed.
Sohn told the newspaper that he plans to file a lawsuit requesting the Palm Beach sheriff’s office to pay for his client’s medical bills for injuries he received during the arrest.