SARASOTA (WWSB) - Community members took their concerns to the Sarasota City Commission on Wednesday after they say they witnessed an incident of police brutality in Newtown.
Video shows Sarasota Police conducting a traffic stop on Sunday, February 17. A crowd quickly gathers around officers as several of them force a man to the ground and attempt to restrain him.
Witnesses can be heard telling officers that the man, 40-year-old Govinda Howell of Sarasota, is handicapped. His family says he suffers from a mental disorder and was unable to comply because he was scared and unaware of what was happening.
Jason Bradley was there. He says he saw the police hitting and choking Howell.
“You can hear me on there saying, ‘The guy is handicapped, the guy is handicapped.’ So from there on the cops ended up grabbing him, throwing him to the ground. I saw physical blows with six guys on one guy, punching him," he described.
Gilda Williams, woman who raised Howell, says he’s now in a coma at the ICU.
“It’s about that boy’s life. I’m not standing here for any money. I’m standing up for him, that he gets better. I hope he wakes up; I hope he opens his eyes. That’s what I want," she said.
The video has gone viral on social media and police are responding.
Police say just before 8 p.m. on Sunday, they saw a vehicle on 23rd Street that was stopped in the middle of the road. The driver of the vehicle then drove westbound in the eastbound lanes of 23rd Street to the intersection of Maple Avenue, where it failed to stop for a stop sign, according to police, who say that’s when they initiated a traffic stop.
When officers activated their lights, they say they saw Howell turn around from the rear of the vehicle to look at officers and then begin to make furtive movements around the seat in front of him. Officers say they told Howell to show them his hands, but he ignored their commands and continued to reach for something under the front passenger seat.
Police say that's when they told Howell to step out of the vehicle and put his hands up. When he didn't, for safety reasons officers say they removed him from the vehicle to pat him down.
In the video, you can hear Howell yelling at officers to "tell him why" throughout the whole process. Officers say Howell was extremely agitated and appeared to be under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
Police say Howell resisted arrest but was ultimately put into handcuffs and during the struggle, Howell put narcotics in his mouth to chew and destroy them. Officers weren't able to recover any of the narcotics they say Howell consumed.
After his arrest for resisting/obstructing officers without violence, Howell was taken to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, where he remains. Police say he was taken there to be treated for “narcotics consumption and aggressive behavior.”
The driver of the vehicle was cited for failing to use a designated turning lane.
Police say they were made aware of the video circulating on social media on Monday and that they launched a formal internal affairs investigation after concerns were raised by the community.
The Newtown NAACP President said they “have been in contact with all parties involved and have asked for a complete and thorough investigation. We want to get to the bottom of the incident and if there were any wrong doings by SPD, they must be held accountable.”
Anyone who has video of the incident is asked to call 941-954-7027.