As Kendrell Antron Watkins lay unconscious, handcuffed and facedown on his stomach with taser barbs in his groin, Alabama officers laughed and passed hand sanitizer and plastic gloves around.
Over the weekend, police had told local media that Watkins was “conscious and alert” when put into the ambulance.
But that was before the body camera videos were released.
Watkins was conscious when he was tasered, punched, and beaten. But within 45 seconds, he was knocked out and left motionless until medical services arrived ten minutes later.
Just four days earlier Tuscaloosa mayor, William Maddox announced a new community policing plan aimed at building trust between police officers and local residents. But that plan was already failing as Watkins lay dying, ignored by the very people that should have been there to help him.
The incident, captured on body cameras, unfolded last Saturday evening when police were called to a home in response to a man in mental distress. Responding officers were informed by residents that Kendrell Antron Watkins, a family member, was “losing it”, had broken a table on the back porch, and was likely on drugs.
Watkins was gone when police arrived and the family was informed that while Antron’s actions didn’t constitute probable cause for arrest, they would try to locate him to determine whether there was any action they could take with him.
Atkins was located by police over the next hour, questioned for a few minutes, and subsequently released. body camera video that captured that interaction indicates that Watkins was communicative and in that moment neither a threat to himself or others.
“We talked to him. He was very calm, we had no charges at that point.” Said Chief Brent Blankey in a press conference.What happens in the following minutes as captured on body camera video deters from both Blankey’s statements and what officers should do during a standard police interaction.
The responding officer had just completed a voluntary consensual interaction with Watkins relating to the prior incident at his aunt’s residence. Watkins was free to go. However another officer pulled up Prompting the initial officer to ask Watkins to come back. “Does he have charges on him?” The initial officer asks the other? The arriving officer responds that he was “10-96” which is code word for a mental health situation. “If he has charges on him, I was going to chase him down.” The initial officer responds as Watkins can be seen running away down the street.
The released body camera video is edited and goes to black turns on a few minutes later as both officers are chasing Watkins who is now naked, through the streets. Posing no threat, each officer deploys their taser bringing Watkins to the ground. One officer jumps on Watkins and a struggle ensues in which another taser is deployed and Watkins is punched several times. “Don’t fucking grab my nuts bitch!” yells one of the officer between punches and Watkins is eventually subdued and placed in handcuffs.
In the video a responding officer instructs the officers to move Watkins out the street and the officers respond saying “he’s out, he’s asleep right now.” A responding Sgt. asks if Watkins is ok? “Yeah he’s breathing” One of the officers reply and explain that he’s been tasered and on Mojo which is slang for synthetic marijuana.
Over the span of ten minutes officers sanitize their hands, joke around, and the audio is repeatedly redacted when they speak about how and why they chose to subdue Watkins. They never attempt to revive Watkins or administer aid. The responding Sgt. even affirms how Watkins is laid out. “Now that’s not a bad position for him to be in.”
Medical aide eventually arrives and Watkins begins to unconsciously moan as he is placed onto a stretcher and taken away. Watkins would be declared dead at Northport DCH not long after arriving.
The few minutes of edited out video prior to Watkins arrest and subsequent audio redactions raise questions as to what prompted officers to initiate a chase after letting Watkins go.
Chief Brent Blankey claims that Watkins became aggressive, forcing officers to use their tasers but the only thing evident in the body camera video is that Watkins was attempting to flee. The use of tasers against a person who is knowingly under the influence of drugs and having a mental breakdown is equally problematic. There are countless studies that have been done that show there is an increased likelihood of death when deploying tasers under these types of situations.
“Residents who are in mental health distress don’t need to be in jail either” Mayor Maddox said last Tuesday as he outlined their new and more compassionate way of policing in the city.
“Any day in Tuscaloosa somewhere between 25% to 30% of our inmates at the Tuscaloosa County Jail are on psychotropic drugs,” Maddox said. “If the Tuscaloosa County Jail were a psychiatric facility it would be the second-largest in Alabama.”
Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident in the city of Tuscaloosa. In 2015, three officers were placed on leave after using tasers on college students at the University of Alabama when responding to a noise complaint. And just this week a Tuscaloosa Officer was caught on video pulling a taser out on someone videoing an arrest of another U of A student for not wearing a Covid mask.
Kendrell’s family held a protest this Monday where he was killed.
“We just want to really show the police that Black Lives Matter,” said Watkins’ cousin Carrie Pippen in an interview with Patch. “Kendrell, despite how he dealt with life, he was loved. We want justice. Until we get justice, there can’t be no peace.”
Deedee Wells, another cousin to Watkins wished they had tried to de-escalate. “I would have tried to talk to him and see what was going on instead of trying to Tase him and make him out to be a bad person,” she said.