By Hannah McDonald
For the Pittsburgh Current
ERIE, Pa. — News of a 3-day suspension for an Erie police officer caught on video kicking an incapacitated protester has provoked angry reactions on social media, with some accusing police of a “double-standard.”
“When a cop kicks a protester it’s a suspension. If a protestor [sic] kicked a cop it would be assault. The double standard is ridiculous,” Drew Zimmerman, an Erie Facebook user, wrote in the comments of a story by GoErie.com.
Other comments range from, “Slap on the wrist … .Shameful!!!” to “He did nothing wrong! She was told to move and didn’t do it. Gave her a shove and she fell over.”
While Mayor Joe Schember has not identified the Erie police officer recorded on video kicking 21-year-old Hannah Silbaugh, he announced Monday that the officer would be suspended for three days without pay.
After the three-day suspension, the officer will be assigned to desk duty until he completes sensitivity training now mandatory for all Erie officers.
The goal of these actions — in addition to other steps Schember vowed to take — are to strengthen public and police relations, he said.
Still, the outrage over the event itself and the city’s management has earned sharp criticism on both the local and national level. The assault of this protester by police has become an iconic image of Erie after video of the May 30 incident went viral on Twitter.
The three steps Schember is taking in the wake of the incident were outlined in this address at City Hall. Schember said the city will be “revising the police policies and procedures based on new city, state, and federal initiatives and reforms.”
— Nick / nak5132 🍐 (@the7goonies) May 31, 2020
“I’m more encouraged by the statement saying the department will be reviewing and changing their policies so that situations like this will be handled differently in the future,” wrote another Facebook commenter, who identified themself as Rachel Morey. “However, I also think a three day suspension is nothing more than an attempt to appease the public… And I don’t think it’s going to work.”
The 3-day suspension was based on a two-week investigation by Erie Police Inspector Mark Sanders.
“As part of the investigation I learned that this is a veteran officer who has no prior complaints and has never exhibited any kind of behavior that warranted disciplinary action,” Schember said. “He is a well-respected, upstanding member of the community.”
Erie Police Chief Dan Spizarny also defended the officer.
“The protester was in a sitting position and in that split second, the officer made the decision to utilize his foot to push the protester to get her to move,” he said. “Upon review of several videos, it is clear that the officer lifted his leg and used the bottom of his foot to push on the left arm of the sitting protester. It was not a striking kick. It was not to the head. Under our current department policies and procedures, the use of force was justified.”
Erie County District Attorney Jack Daneri is conducting his own investigation into the incident and officer.
Hannah McDonald is a reporter for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star where this story first appeared.