Alabama police admit officer punched black shopkeeper who reported robbery after ‘mistaking him for suspect’

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David Griner
David Griner

An Alabama police department has admitted one of its white officers punched a black shopkeeper after he called 911 to report a robbery because he mistook him for a suspect, according to multiple reports.

Both AL.com and the Associated Press reported that Decatur police admitted the mix-up on Monday.

At a news conference on Monday, department chief Nate Allen played new body cam video showing the the arrest of Kevin Penn in March but did not release it separately. The video appeared to have been edited with overlays and a slowed-down portion, and cut out at the moment that previous footage suggests the punch was thrown.

It shows police entering the Star Spirits & Beverages store on 15 March with guns drawn, before an officer ahead of the body cam-wearer asks Mr Penn to put down his own weapon, being held on the counter. A person, possibly the alleged robber, can be seen prone on the ground.

Mr Penn then says: “My gun is there, my gun is here, I’m not going to put my gun down if you got guns.” The same officer issues a further warning as Mr Penn states that he has “a right to have my gun”.

The police video ends as the officer with the body camera points their gun towards Mr Penn, before the third officer strikes the store owner.

It came amid nationwide protests against systemic racism and police violence sparked by the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by Minneapolis police last month.

Mr Penn has alleged his jaw was broken in the incident, while US media reports said he had been charged with obstructing the officers’ investigation of the robbery.

In a later statement, the police department said it believed no robbery had taken place, though a shoplifter was later arrested.

CCTV footage of the incident has previously circulated online. It appears to show Mr Penn beckoning the officers into his shop and reloading the magazine of his weapon – meaning it was not inside the gun at the time. The three Decatur police officers enter the shop and one immediately punches Mr Penn.

Two other officers then step in and help wrestle Mr Penn to the ground.

Decatur police chief Nate Allen said at Monday’s press conference that he would “rather have a punch than a shooting”.

He also confirmed that the officer who punched Mr Penn had been placed on administrative duty during an internal investigation.

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