Mississippi police release video showing struggle between officers, man during arrest

Published 5:33 am Sunday, July 18, 2021

A Mississippi police department has released video clips from a dashboard camera and an officer’s body camera, showing a struggle between a pair of officers and a man now charged with assaulting them.

WTVA-TV filed a public records request for the clips after other video of the encounter was posted online by a bystander. The Tupelo Police Department clips show that while a white officer punched the Black man, the officer did so only after the man threw punches first.

Reports filed by Tupelo police officers Derek Scott and Mike Gazaway said Scott pulled over an SUV because the driver was not wearing a seat belt, according to the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. The TV station reported that when the passenger, 33-year-old Jasper Copeland of Plantersville, got out of the SUV, a small plastic bag fell to the ground and officers suspected it contained narcotics.

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The bystander’s video showed one of the officers punching Copeland in the face with a closed fist. The video clips released by the police department show more of the struggle, including Copeland punching one of the officers trying to arrest him.

Police video showed that as Copeland was wrestled to the ground and handcuffed, he said: “I can’t breathe, man.” Scott responded, “Neither can I,” and, then, later, “I’m not going to put my knee on your neck, you hear me?”

Copeland was charged and booked Wednesday on two counts of assault on a police officer. City law enforcement also indicated plans to pursue drug charges through the grand jury process. It was not clear whether Copeland is represented by an attorney who could comment.

Before the public release of the footage, Tupelo Mayor Todd Jordan’s administration invited Lee County NAACP President Charles Moore to watch the footage. Based upon the video he watched, Moore told the Daily Journal that he believes police officers showed restraint.

“Mr. Copeland did initiate the violence and the officers returned and defended themselves and put him in custody, and they did it safely,” Moore said. “It could have gotten worse.”

Scott asked about the name of the passenger in the vehicle — who was Copeland — and claims to have recognized Copeland as someone known “to resist and to aggressively fight officers.” After Gazaway arrived on scene, two active warrants were identified for Copeland.