When Is A Punch To The Face Justified?

Officers have many go-to tools at their disposal for use when arresting unruly suspects, such as pepperspray, batons, firearms, and hand-to-hand techniques. And they’re trained to use those weapons when faced with situations that threaten their safety and the safety of others. Officers are also trained to do what it takes to make a lawful arrest.

This incident in Seattle has raised the eyebrows of many across the nation. An officer was stationed at a particular section of roadway because a local school requested police presence to reduce student jaywalking. As a result, an officer attempted to arrest a 19-year-old woman for a jaywalking offense. She resisted the arrest, and during the struggle a 17-year-old female walked up, began arguing, and then pushed the officer. His response to the girl’s physical contact/assault was a closed-fist punch to the girl’s face.

Both females were arrested.

The question is whether the officer used an appropriate level of force to gain control of the situation. Well, I’ll agree that the video is disturbing, but until you’re in a situation like this officer was in you’ll never understand his response. He was faced with arresting two unruly suspects, one of which had assaulted him. It was obvious that they were not complying with his commands and were trying to flee. He had no idea what their next move would be. He also had to worry with the growing crowd that had begun to close in on him.

The officer was making a legal arrest. So when the first woman began resisting he had the right to use whatever force necessary to effect the arrest, which he was doing. He was using appropriate arrest techniques—joint control and pain compliance. However, when the second female entered the scene and put her hands on the officer, attempting to free her friend, the level of danger escalated, which also called for a higher level of use used by the officer. At this point he would have been justified in using a baton or Taser. In fact, the situation was very close to becoming one where lethal force would have justified. All it takes to cross that line is for the officer to feel that his life was in danger.

Personally, and as a former instructor/instructor trainer of defensive tactics and officer survival, I believe the officer was justified to deliver the strike (based on the video). And I think the suspect is lucky she’s not dealing with the after-effects of baton strikes and searing hot pepperspray. I also think the officer is lucky. The crowd seemed to be a second away from attacking him.

What do you think? Was the officer’s action justified? Should police officers be allowed to punch someone while trying to gain control of the situation? Is it okay to strike combative men, but not women (which has been part of the reaction)?

I do have a question, though. Why wasn’t the first woman, the jaywalker, issued a summons instead of being arrested? That would have prevented the entire situation. However, we’ve only seen the physical part of this scenario. The officer may have attempted to issue a citation and she refused to sign.

On another note, the video may be an illegal video since it includes audio. But that’s an issue for another day.

12 replies
  1. Tom
    Tom says:

    I have commented in favor of citizens filming police here. This is a prime example as to why it should be allowed. This officer is clearly justified in the use of force displayed. He was being assaulted while attempting to subdue a resisting suspect. In my view this film vindicates the officer’s chosen use of force. I have no doubt that a “lady” that is willing to assault an officer is more than willing to lie and say that she didn’t attack him. This provides the proof that he was justified regardless of the initial intent of the video.

    If the initial suspect was unjustly arrested that is a completely different issue. This recording does not provide evidence in support nor against the justification for the arrest.

  2. Gerrie Ferris Finger
    Gerrie Ferris Finger says:

    Justified. You have to wonder about the two women. This is a jawalking offense, no reason to get physical. I can understand a few cuss words, but this appears to be a “hate the cops” move – a reason to react to perceived police racism.

  3. David B. Schlosser
    David B. Schlosser says:

    Justified. It seems clear from the video that the officer was trying to use the appropriate techniques to restrain the second woman, even if he had to start with a punch to clear her out of his space. The combination of gender and race makes the spectacle particularly compelling, but doesn’t ultimately change the facts of the case: a person trying to interfere with a legitimate arrest encountered exactly the response that person should have expected.

  4. Kaye George
    Kaye George says:

    I love that the PR guy says the violent action of the LEO was not warranted. How about the violent action of the girl? I’ll go with justified. The punch didn’t look very hard to me and I didn’t see blood.

  5. Pat Brown
    Pat Brown says:

    I’d say he took minimal action to stop an escalating situation. I also know that ever since the Rodney King video sparked a nation and was shown thousands of times and never put into context (not to mention cut by 10 seconds) I don’t trust video ‘encounters’ since it’s too easy for either the station who airs it or the person who posts it on Youtube to edit the piece to make it look bad for the police and no one ever feels the need to question its accuracy. It’s like once it’s seen live, people have gut reactions to it and never ask ‘Well what happened BEFORE this was taken’

    So, yeah, justified. She’s lucky he didn’t taser or pepper spray her.

  6. Lynn
    Lynn says:

    Anytime when you lay hands on another individual you should expect a reaction. The second woman was looking for trouble.

    However, I would like to know a demographics of the neighborhood? Would a black officer have as many problems?

  7. Joyce
    Joyce says:

    Definitely justified. I also think that if it had been a white male who was punched, there wouldn’t be such an uproar about it.

  8. Falcocop
    Falcocop says:


    Your next to last sentence is quite important. We are not aware if anything happened prior to the filming taking palce. As you and I know it can be quite amazing what the camera catches and sometimes more importantly what the camera hasn’t caught. It is difficult to make a constructive comment on a few seconds of film but I am totally aware of what it can be like for a Cop that is confronted with just one lady that wants to take a pop at you let alone two. It is less common to be confronted by ladies that want to fight but when it does happen it can be a very threatening and difficult situation to deal with.


    “I see dead people”

  9. Ukiah
    Ukiah says:

    This video makes me a cringe a little bit inside, but…I’m going to have to go with justified. I think most men feel protective of women in general and don’t like to see them hurt, aka punched in the face.

    However, this lady kind of had it coming. You do NOT fight with police officers. If he needed to deck her to keep himself safe and to deal with the situation, so be it. However, I can see the media having a field day about police brutality.

  10. Required
    Required says:

    Justified, but it’s not pleasant to see.

    I definitely resist the idea that the video ought be “illegal” due to the audio, or for any other reason. That’s an underhanded way for Law Enforcement to prevent the public from keeping public servants in check. If you’re not doing anything wrong, you should be thrilled you were caught on tape — and at full freakin’ volume.

    Keep trying to make it so citizens can’t legally record officers in the performance of their duties, and the police are going to end up having more and more hostile encounters like the one shown in the video.

  11. Gary
    Gary says:

    Justified. When the second person came in, the officer was threatened and had to control the situation.

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