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Pennsylvania police chief defends officers in viral arrest video, says they did nothing wrong

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Mensah M. Dean

The Philadelphia Inquirer

A video posted to Facebook this week showing two uniformed Haverford Township police officers wrestling, kicking, and repeatedly striking a man with a baton captured “the tail end of a very violent arrest” Sunday by officers who did not use excessive force, Police Chief John Viola said Friday.

The officers, whom he declined to name, have been cleared of wrongdoing by the department, Viola said. Both were wearing body cameras that have been turned over to the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office, he said.

Marjorie McAboy, a spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office, declined to comment about the Facebook video — which was posted by a pedestrian — but said the officers’ body camera videos and the arrest are being reviewed by detectives and the deputy for special investigations.

One officer is a nine-year veteran and the other is a four-year veteran, Viola said.

The 1:20 p.m. clash on a Sunday in the empty Kohl’s department store parking lot on Township Line Road near West Chester Pike began as a medical call concerning a man sleeping in the lot, Viola said.

The man, whom he identified as Christopher Ricciuti, 30, was incoherent and became combative when awakened by the officers. Ricciuti later told officers that he was homeless and that he had ingested “some type of seed,” Viola said.

Ricciuti told the officers that he was going to walk to his parents’ home in Marple Township. After he failed a field sobriety test, the officers tried to place him in custody for his own safety, Viola said.

“When they put one handcuff on, he became extremely violent, broke away from the officers, began fighting with the officers, and ran away with one handcuff on,” Viola said.

They chased him and used a Taser on him twice “with no effect on him whatsoever,” the chief said.

“He continued to run toward Township Line Road, and one of the officers ran after him and finally tackled him in the driveway,” the chief said. “This is when the bystander video comes into play.”

While the officers fought with Ricciuti, he grabbed one of the officers’ Tasers with two hands, which led the other officer to begin striking him with his baton, which Ricciuti grabbed, Viola said.

“They were striking him, there’s no doubt about. At that point they finally did get him under control,” Viola said.

During much of the Facebook video, Ricciuti was lying on his back or seated on the ground shouting for help and for someone to call the police, while the officers repeatedly shouted at him to get on his stomach. One officer landed at least 17 baton strikes to Ricciuti’s back, legs, and feet.

Ricciuti declined medical assistance and was charged with disorderly conduct, public drunkenness, resisting arrest, and a felony count of disarming a police officer.

Online court records show that Ricciuti paid the required 10% of his $10,000 bail and was released from jail Friday. No lawyer was listed for him, and his next court date was not indicated.

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