Man Files Lawsuit Against Pennsylvania Police Officer Who Shot Him With Stun Gun in Viral Video

Police say the officers acted appropriately but some who viewed the viral video believe the use of the stun gun was not necessary

A man is filing a lawsuit against the officer who shot him with a Taser in a viral video, as well as the Lancaster City Police Department. 

The lawsuit, filed by Sean Williams, 27, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, accuses Lancaster Police Officer Philip Bernot of using excessive force and denying Williams' civil rights while also racially profiling him. 

Police say they were called to S. Prince Street around 10:15 a.m. Thursday in Lancaster after a person reported that a man armed with a bat was chasing after three other people.

An officer who arrived at the scene says she saw three people telling a man, identified as Williams, to get away from them. The officer says she repeatedly told Williams to sit down but he didn’t listen. Williams kept telling a woman that he wanted her to give him his Social Security card, according to the officer.

A second officer, identified as Bernot, then arrived at the scene. It was at this point that a witness, Juan Almestica, began recording the encounter.

The video, which was posted on Facebook, shows Bernot instructing Williams to sit on a curb. Williams sits down and Bernot then repeatedly tells him to put his legs “straight out.” As Williams’ knees remain bent, Officer Bernot tells him “legs straight out or you’re getting tased.”

A second officer also tells him “put your legs straight out and cross them now.”

“This is done as a measure of control to insure that if someone is going to flee or offer physical resistance, they will have to move their legs under them to do so,” a Lancaster Police spokesperson wrote. “Non-compliance is often a precursor to someone that is preparing to flee or fight with Officers.”

Williams puts his legs out and then moves them back toward the curb. Officer Bernot then shoots him with a stun gun causing him to writhe on the ground in pain.

“You’re really gonna tase him? He was sitting down,” Almestica says.

The officers then order Williams to lie on his stomach and put his arms out. A total of four officers then gather around him, place him in handcuffs and take him into custody.

Almestica later told WGAL Williams may have been confused by the officers’ commands.

“He first put them straight and then she said cross your legs, so he tried to cross his legs, tased him in the back,” Almestica said. 

Police say a group of people claimed Williams had been acting erratically in the days prior to his arrest. The group said Williams had wanted to fight with them and was also trying to keep a woman from entering her apartment, according to police. However, contrary to the 911 call, the group also said they did not see Williams holding a bat and a bat was never found at the scene.

Williams had an outstanding criminal warrant for his arrest prior to Thursday’s incident, according to police. He was originally charged with possession of a controlled substance (PCP) and public drunkenness. 

Lancaster Police
Sean Williams

Williams was taken into custody on the outstanding warrant, transported to the station and checked by EMS, according to police. He was then cleared, arraigned and released on unsecured $5,000 bail.

Williams told WGAL he followed all the directions he was given and didn’t know why he was shot with the Taser.

The lawsuit disputes the Lancaster police report, claiming Williams was outside a friend's home when police arrived and that he had done nothing wrong. The lawsuit also states Williams complied with the officers and followed their orders but was stunned anyway.

Williams was held in police custody for several hours while in extreme pain, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit accuses officers of not offering him any medical attention or water. The lawsuit also states Williams continues to suffer severe head, neck, and shoulder pain as well as anxiety following the incident.

"Upon information and belief from publicly available sources, there is a clear racial disparity in Lancaster and the LPD has a history and pattern of intentionally discriminating against African Americans and other minorities," the lawsuit states.

The video of police tasing and arresting Williams went viral and sparked anger from some who believed the use of a stun gun was not necessary. The video also prompted a response from Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace. Sorace posted a video on Facebook stating that an investigation was underway regarding the use of force in the incident.

“Like you when I saw the video I was upset by it and it is a great concern to me,” she said. “We take the use of force very seriously.”

Sorace said she was in contact with civil rights groups and that the investigation into the incident would continue over “the coming days.” Sorace also said the incident affirmed her resolve to implement a body camera program for Lancaster.

“We are currently awaiting word related to some federal grant funds from the Department of Justice related to funding and look forward to continuing to keep the public abreast of those developments as well as the outcome of this investigation,” she said.

Lancaster Police have not revealed whether or not the officers involved in the incident were placed on administrative leave.

NBC10 reached out to Lancaster Police for comment on the lawsuit. We have not yet heard back from them.

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