By Bill Cotterell
TALLAHASSEE Fla. (Reuters) - The Tallahassee Police Department suspended an officer on Wednesday pending an investigation of his use of a taser on a 61-year-old woman who was walking away from him during a confrontation caught on video in a black neighborhood.
Police Chief Michael DeLeo called a pre-dawn news conference to express concern about the incident, which occurred on Tuesday evening in an area he said police were patrolling because of citizen complaints of drug sales.
Community policing officers were talking to some men on a residential street when Viola Young, 61, approached them and asked what was happening.
"Officers advised her to stay away, to stay back, and a second officer approached Ms. Young and attempted to place her under arrest," said DeLeo. "The officer then deployed his taser, striking her in the back."
He said Officer Terry Mahan was placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation.
An unidentified resident recorded the incident on a cell-phone camera, showing Mahan talking with the woman, following her as she walked away and then firing his taser into her back. She fell face-first on the street, rolled over and was handcuffed by officers, who put her in a squad car along with three other people whom they had arrested.
Emergency medical workers checked the woman before she was taken to the Leon County Jail.
"Viola Young caused me to take my focus off of one of the arrestees and engage her," Mahan wrote in a probable-cause affidavit. "Young's actions obstructed officers while in the course of completing their legal duties."
Mahan, who is white, said he told the woman she was under arrest but she "yanked away, turned and began to move away from me in an attempt to defeat her lawful arrest."
Young, the mother of one of the men arrested, is black. All were charged with resisting arrest without violence.
DeLeo promised "a thorough investigation" of the incident. He called a news conference at 3:15 a.m. — 10 hours after the incident — and released the video "to be transparent with the community" in his handling of the case.
"The investigation will determine not only if the officer's actions were legal," he said, "but whether those actions were consistent with the expectations that I have for officers and the way that we treat members of our community with dignity and respect."
(Editing by David Adams and Sandra Maler)