Actions of deputy who grabbed, hurled woman by her braids deemed ‘reasonable and acceptable’

Viral video shows the deputy holding the woman by her hair and slamming her body to the ground so violently that he rips out some of her braids.

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The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office (JPSO) deputy who was captured on video last year slamming a Black woman to the ground by her hair will not face punishment for his actions, nola.com reported this week. 

After an internal investigation, the JPSO issued a report that states that the actions of 17-year veteran deputy Julio Alvarado were “both reasonable and acceptable.”

TheGrio previously reported that a viral video of the incident shows Alvarado holding Shantel Arnold’s wrist as she is lying on her back on the sidewalk. In the footage, the deputy is seen dragging Arnold along the pavement, then lifting her up and slamming her to the ground several times. At one point, the video shows, the deputy holds Arnold by her hair and slams her body to the ground so violently that he rips out some of her braids. 

At the time of the incident, deputies did not use body cameras. Currently, they use them on a limited basis, nola.com reported. After the video was released, Alvarado was docked a week’s pay, suspended and put on a year’s probation. However, Alvarado — who has been named in at least nine lawsuits alleging excessive use of force during his JPSO career — was disciplined for failure to file a report about the Arnold incident, rather than for the way he interacted with her.

The internal investigation’s findings on the incident rely heavily on the observations of Sgt. Michael Pizzolato, who is the defensive tactics instructor at the JPSO training academy. He deemed the hair-pulling acceptable because Alvarado thought that Arnold’s skin was slippery and that she was drunk.

“The use of her hair was considered leverage to direct Shantel Arnold to her stomach allowing Deputy Alvarado to gain control of her movements and to ultimately affix handcuffs to her wrists and subdue her actions,” the report on the probe concludes, according to nola.com.

Before the encounter with Alvarado, Arnold, 34, had been physically assaulted by a group of teenage bullies. As she was walking home after the attack, Alvarado reportedly pulled up alongside her and asked what happened. When Arnold refused to talk about it and continued to walk home, the deputy, according to witnesses, exited his police car, grabbed her, and threw her to the ground. 

Nola.com reported on Oct. 20, 2021, that the sheriff’s office said in a statement that the 14-second video that circulated on social media did not show the full scope of the situation and had been selectively edited, 

State Sen. Gary Carter, D-New Orleans, is representing Arnold and said in a statement this week, according to nola.com, that he intends to file a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of his client, noting that the case reflects the JPSO’s “well-documented history” of abusing power by being overly aggressive when handling Black people.

“My hope is that Sheriff [Joe] Lopinto sees Shantel Arnold’s federal complaint as an opportunity to turn the page on the dark history of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office,” Carter said, “and implement policies and procedures meant to protect all the people of Jefferson Parish, including women, African-Americans, and people of color, like Shantel Arnold.”

A 2021 investigation into the JPSO found “systematic problems with transparency and accountability” and major disparities in the race of people at whom deputies fired shots during an eight-year period, nolo.com reported last year. More than 70% were Black people, which is more than double the Black population. The probe also revealed that the agency lacked an accounting system for use-of-force incidents and civilian complaints.

Lopinto said to nola.com this week that Arnold admitted “she pulled away” when Alvarado attempted to detain her, and that justifies his violent reaction.  

“The reality is fights don’t look good,” Lopinto said. “Fights don’t ever look good. This is what happens in real life every day. We’re not looking for trouble. Trouble happened and we showed up.”

Two former law enforcement officials with experience in these types of incidents both said they believe that Alvarado went too far, nola.com reported this week.

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