Decatur police release body camera footage after video of officer punch surfaces online

Decatur

DECATUR, Ala. – Decatur Police Monday addressed a viral video that shows a black business owner being punched and arrested. The incident occurred in March 2020, after he called police to respond to a robbery at his business.

Star Beverage owner Kevin Penn’s jaw was broken and he lost several teeth in the encounter, according to his attorney, Carl Cole.

The store owner filed a formal complaint the day after the incident. The store owner’s attorney notified the city of his client’s right to file a lawsuit. The video below is from the store’s surveillance camera obtained by WHNT News 19.

Chief Nate Allen played a portion of body camera footage Monday afternoon from one of the officers involved in the March 15 incident at Star Beverage. He says a Decatur police officer who punched Penn while responding to a robbery wasn’t sure if the owner was a threat to the officers’ safety.

“I was always taught to abide by a police officer,” Allen said. “If a police officer tells you to do something that was legally and morally correct, then you are to do it – especially when it comes to weapons.”

Cole says they notified the Decatur Police Department shortly after the encounter.

“In early April, we turned over security cam footage to the DPD. They have had it for over 2 months. Today is the first we have seen of any body cam footage and the first we have have heard of the status of the officer that broke Mr. Penn’s jaw. I doubt we would be having this conversation today, but for the outcry on social media,” Cole said.

The surveillance video appears to show the store owner was not holding a gun. The chief was asked about that Monday during the press conference.

“The officers didn’t see that,” Allen said. “The only thing they saw when they got there is the gun on the counter and he had something still in his hand, and he said ‘I’m not going to put my gun down,’ so that gives the impression to the officer that he still has a gun in his hand.”

The body cam footage shows police hollering commands at multiple people in the store. Allen says the officers weren’t sure if Penn was the robber. He says his officers are trained to use the least amount of force possible to resolve a situation.

“I would much rather have a punch than an officer-involved shooting,” he said.

Police did arrest one person for shoplifting, but Penn was also charged with obstructing governmental operations, a misdemeanor.

The incident is still under investigation in the department, Allen said. The officer who threw the punch is currently on administrative duties, he said, and the other two are on regular duty.

Cole’s statement continued:

“The audio and video, released today for the first time, fully supports what Mr. Penn told me.  He waived the officers in.  He unlocked the door to allow them to enter.  He unloaded the gun, by removing the clip and ejecting the round from the chamber.  He placed the gun on the counter.  Before he was struck he placed the clip on the counter.  He did this, he told me, because ‘as a black man he felt like he was making himself safer and would make the officers feel safer,’ yet he was met with the officer’s service weapon in his face. He did not threaten the officers. The gun was already put down before he was told to put the gun down.  He was moving away from the gun pointing his finger at them saying he would file a complaint when he was struck. Like Chief Allen, I am also grateful that no one was shot, but I refuse to believe that the only two possible outcomes in this circumstance are getting shot or getting beaten.”

Carl Cole, Attorney