An Illinois police department came under fire after video surfaced that appeared to show an officer pepper-spraying two handcuffed boys, ages 16 and 17, at police headquarters.
An Alton police officer walked into a holding area where two teens sat on a bench with their hands cuffed in their laps, according to video obtained by KMOV Tuesday.
Dated January 26, the footage shows the officer speak briefly before blasting a substance at one of teens, who began twitching and stomping his feet in apparent pain.
The officer then sprayed at the other teen before walking out and shutting the door. The second boy did not appear affected by the spray.
The Alton Telegraph identified the cop as Vince Warlick, but Pfc. Emily Hejna said she could not confirm his identity because the department is not releasing his name.
“The chief takes (the allegations) very seriously and will be imposing discipline as he deems necessary,” Hejna told the Daily News, noting the investigation into the officer of 18 years is still pending.
Hejna said she could not disclose the names of the teens, who reportedly live at a local Catholic orphanage, because they are juveniles.
She also declined to say why the teens were arrested before checking the status of their charges.
Chief Jason (Jake) Simmons said he learned about the video in March and did not receive a report on the incident until May 6. He said the office will investigate why the report took so long.
“I don’t want anyone to lose faith in the Alton Police Department. It is disheartening,” Simmons said at a board meeting Wednesday. “People want their officers to be held accountable for their actions, and this officer will be held accountable.”
The video was turned over to the Madison County State’s Attorney’s Office and Illinois State Police for an outside investigation, authorities said.
Alton is about 15 miles away from Ferguson, Mo., where the fatal shooting of Michael Brown sparked outrage over police brutality.
KMOV said the president of the Alton chapter of the NAACP, James Gray, handed over the video after receiving it in the mail this week.
“He has to know about this and possibly many more things like this they haven’t sent to me,” Gray said.
Simmons said it was suspicious that KMOV obtained the tape just a day before the city board was scheduled to vote on his retention after two years with the department.
Wednesday night, the Alton Board voted 4 to 3 not to reappoint Simmons, as Mayor Brant Walker argued for Simmons to keep his job, citing lower crime rates, KMOV reported. He will retain his job because the mayor has the final say over police personnel matters, KMOV reported.
“The drama of the vote had nothing to do with (the video),” Hejna said. “Our chief is cleaning out home and some people are unhappy that there’s been discipline.”
Last year, the board voted to keep Simmons after officers, including Warlick, fought for him, according to the Alton Telegraph.
“I think we’ve got it right,” Warlick said at the time. “One thing I can depend on is (Simmons) being fair.”