Caught on tape: Questionable force used on elderly woman

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Witnesses are questioning the amount of force used when police in Whitehall, Ohio took down a knife-wielding woman in a Wal-Mart parking lot over the weekend.

The incident was caught on a cell phone camera.

Virginia Dotson was wandering the Wal-Mart parking lot Saturday evening with a steak knife, telling strangers she would cut them and already had cut herself.

Whitehall officers were called to the scene, but some witnesses said officers used too much force in subduing the woman.

Dotson’s daughter said Dotson found a steak knife in their car, cut herself out of her seat belt and took the knife with her while searching for her daughter.

“There was some kids out there talking to this old lady, and they said something about the old lady hitting them or something,” Stan Brown said.

Brown shot the incident on his cell phone.

Another witness called 911.

Whitehall officer Tammy Scott was the first out of the cruiser.

“She didn’t even ask her to drop the knife. The woman told her when the cop came charging at her. She said, ‘I’m not going to cut you. I’m not going to cut you.’ She was just calling her daughter’s name out,” witness Tomya Beatty said.

The video told a different story, though:

“Ma’am: Can you put the knife down? Put the knife down for me,” Scott said.

A crowd started to gather, and the two officers called for backup.

“There was about to be a riot in front of Wal-Mart yesterday,” Beatty said.

“I believe it could have been taken care of a lot easier than that. I kind of think that was too much force with her being that old,” Brown said.

“It’s not pretty, but when we’re looking at what could ultimately happen in that situation, the age can’t really be a big factor. It’s a public relations nightmare in some ways, but the officer did what she had to do,” Dr. Richard Weinblatt said.

Weinblatt is the director of the Institute for Public Safety at the Central Ohio Technical College in Licking County and often is quoted on police-force affairs.

He said with what the officers knew at that second, they had to do something.

Dotson, who is believed to be 84 years old, was treated and released from Mount Carmel Medical Center for the head injuries she received when she was taken to the ground.

Dotson’s daughter said her mother needed stitches to close the wounds and her hand may have been broken.

Dotson’s daughter said she left her mother in the vehicle while she ran into Wal-Mart for a purchase necessary in the move she was making with her mother.

She said she was not concerned because she wouldn’t be gone long and her mother doesn’t know how to open seat belts.

Dotson has not been charged with any crime.