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Virginia officer faces charges for using stun gun on black man who yelled 'I can't breathe'

Virginia officer faces charges for using stun gun on black man who yelled 'I can't breathe'
© Fairfax County Police Department

A Fairfax County, Va., police officer has been arrested after using a stun gun on a black man who cried “I can’t breathe.”

In body camera footage of the Friday incident released by the department, Officer Tyler Timberlake uses the stun gun seemingly unprovoked.

Chief of Police Edwin C. Roessler Jr. said in a Saturday news conference that the footage depicts “criminal acts” and a clear violation of departmental policies on the use of force.

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"The video also erodes the public's trust of police officers, not only in Fairfax County," Roessler said, according to CNN, "but throughout this world. These acts are unacceptable."

The footage depicts the officer emerging from a patrol car to address a man walking on a residential street. Emergency medical technicians ask the man if he needs oxygen, after which the man seemingly tells them he wants to go to detox before apparently changing his mind.

As the man continues to walk in circles, another officer approaches the man, releases his stun gun and rolls the man onto his stomach while kneeling on his back, at which point the officer activates the stun gun on the back of the man’s neck.

Timberlake, who has been with the force for eight years, faces three charges of assault and battery and could serve up to 36 months in prison if convicted.

Roessler said all officers at the scene have been “relieved of duty” while criminal and administrative investigations take place, which is department policy.

"We can all agree that the footage of this incident is unsettling," Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve T. Descano said. "I want our community to know that we are pursuing charges that are in line with current law and supported by the evidence with which we have been presented."

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Descano implied the officer would not have been charged without the footage, saying that without it “we would have a very narrow and distorted view” of the incident.

“I can’t breathe” has become a rallying cry for Black Lives Matter activists, with two men whose deaths have been the focus of the movement — Eric Garner in 2014 and George Floyd in 2020 — having been seen saying the phrase in footage of their arrests.

The victim, who has not been identified publicly, has since been treated at a local hospital and released, CNN reported. Roessler said he has told the victim and his mother that “justice will be served” in the case.