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June 29, 2018

Lancaster mayor says video of police using Taser is 'great concern'

Police Race
Sean Williams Lancaster Police Jay Jay/Facebook/Lancaster Bureau of Police/Contributed Art

A viral video (pictured left) shows Lancaster police using a taser on Sean Williams (pictured right) while he sat on the curb. Police said he refused to comply with instructions and was causing a disturbance, but Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace said she was 'upset' by the video, echoing a message from many on social media. The incident is under investigation.

Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace says an investigation is underway into an incident captured on video showing a police officer using a Taser on a man.

The video, recorded Thursday and originally posted to Facebook, shows Sean Williams, 27, sitting on the curb as officer gives him instructions. One officer tells him to put his legs straight out. When Williams doesn't initially put his legs out, the officer pulls out the stun gun and walks behind him, repeating the instruction.

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Another officer then is heard telling Williams to put his legs out straight and cross them. Williams slowly begins to put his legs out and then pulls them back in. That's when the first officer fires his Taser.

The man then complies with further police instructions and is handcuffed.

"Like you, when I saw the video, I was upset by it, and it is of great concern to me," Sorace said in a video statement. "We take the use of force very seriously."

Police said the incident followed an emergency call around 10 a.m. of a man who allegedly threatened a group of three people with a bat. Officer Shannon Mazzante arrived at the intersection of South Prince Street and West Mifflin Street and three men were telling Williams to get away from them, police said. Mazzante told Williams repeatedly to sit down but he refused, police said. (LancasterOnline identified the first names of the officers involved.)

According to police, Officer Philip Bernot arrived at the scene as Williams and a woman were in a dispute over a social securtiy card. Bernot instructed Williams to sit on the curb, and warned the man a Taser would be used if he didn't comply, police said.

Police said Bernot used the Taser because Williams refused to comply with instructions. The others involved in the incident told police that Williams had been acting erratic, stated he wanted to fight and had stopped the female from getting into her residence.

Williams said earlier he would fight if he wasn't wearing flip flops, then left and returned to the scene wearing sneakers allegedly looking to brawl, police said. No bat was found at the scene and the group said Williams didn't have one.

Williams was arrested on an outstanding warrant for possession of a controlled substance and public drunkenness. Police said he was checked by emergency medical staff because of the use of the Taser. He was taken in for arraignment and released on $5,000 unsecured bail.

Lancaster police all incidents where force is used are reviewed.

"There is an investigation that has already commenced regarding the use of force in this incident, and we are in communication with other civil rights groups and other individuals to address the concerns," Mayor Sorace said. "We'll be continuing the investigation over the coming days."

Sorace also said the incident proves further need for a police body camera program, adding that the city is awaiting approval of federal grant money from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Many on social media viewed the incident as the latest instance of police using unnecessary force, specifically against a black man. Several prominent figures and others responded to the video.