Florida cop on leave after video of him tossing peanuts to prisoner

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 28, 2015 2:51 PM

By Karen Brooks

(Reuters) - A Florida police officer has been placed on leave after jail video showed him throwing peanuts to a handcuffed homeless man as though feeding an animal, authorities said on Tuesday.

A surveillance video from inside the Sarasota County Jail showed Officer Andrew Halpin of the Sarasota Police Department standing near the man and trying to toss peanuts into the man's mouth, according to the video released Monday by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

The man is unable to catch the peanuts and they land on the floor. The 2 1/2-minute video continues with the man, wearing a medical boot on his left foot, sinking to the floor trying to scoop up the peanuts with his mouth.

Halpin, who has been with the department since 2006, is seen pointing at the man from behind the counter, drawing the attention of other officers and then coming near the man and kicking the peanuts toward him on the floor.

"I'm disappointed in what I saw in this video," Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino said in a statement. "Due to the actions I've seen on camera, I immediately initiated an internal affairs investigation."

Halpin is on paid administrative leave pending the results of the investigation, DiPino said.

A witness told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, which first obtained the video through an open records request, that Halpin was making "dog commands" as he tossed the peanuts at the man.

The newspaper, citing the arrest report, said the man had been picked up for trespassing after numerous run-ins with police in Sarasota, on Florida's Gulf coast, about 35 miles south of St. Petersburg.

The statement did not indicate when the video was taken but the Sarasota newspaper said the arrest was on July 18.

Police said they were made aware of the video by the Sarasota County Sheriff.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

(Reporting by Karen Brooks in Austin, Texas; Editing by Bill Trott)