Mentor Police Department responds to Carl Monday investigation into police brutality claims

Mentor Police Department responds to Carl Monday investigation into police brutality claims

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - The Mentor Police Department confirms it is conducting an internal review of a January incident involving two police officers.

On January 21, James Buckley Jr., 30, was arrested and charged with two counts of felonious assault on a police officer and several other offenses. Buckley and his family, however, are accusing the officers of brutality, saying surveillance video of the incident shows an officer punching the Mentor man in his face while he is on the ground and his arms are behind his back.

Surveillance footage sent exclusively to Cleveland 19 News shows Buckley, an employee of Vehicles Unlimited, entering the Mentor Ave. business at 5:36 a.m. on Jan. 21. A press release sent out by the Mentor Police Department on Friday says, "On that day, a Mentor Police officer observed a person in a suspicious vehicle parked outside a closed business."

Mentor Police identified the officers involved in the incident as Officer Paul R. Balongie and Officer Ryan T. Heramb. According to personnel files, Officer Balongie was highly trained in defensive tactics. He'd previously arrested a male with one punch to the chest.

Both officers remain on the job while an internal investigation into the incident is underway.

RELATED: Family of man arrested for assaulting police officers says video tells a different story

Buckley's sister Ann Marie says her brother has a long history with the Mentor Police Department, but claims recently officers have been harassing him at his place of work.

Tony Kinds, co-owner of Vehicles Unlimited, confirms police contacted him on the morning of Jan. 21 and had contacted him previously, questioning whether or not Buckley, who has keys to the auto repair shop, was supposed to be on the property – which he was.

Police records show officers were also at Vehicles Unlimited in the early morning hours of December 14, 2017, December 29, 2017, and January 10, 2018 investigating "suspicious activity".

On the morning of Jan. 21, ten seconds after the door to Vehicles Unlimited closes behind Buckley, a police officer can be seen approaching the man's pickup truck and looking inside the vehicle with a flashlight.

According to police, the officer "observed open alcoholic beverages as well as illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia in plain view." The officer can then be seen approaching the Vehicles Unlimited door and motions for Buckley to come outside. Police say Buckley refused and indicated he would not comply. Buckley's sister says her brother refused to step outside because he feared for his safety.

At 5:38 a.m., a second police officer can be seen arriving on the scene. According to the department's release, the second officer was there "to assist with the suspect’s arrest and further investigate his entry into the building." 

The release continues, "After several minutes of refusing to comply with officers' orders to exit the building, the officers opened the unlocked door." At 5:41:03 a.m., the surveillance video shows an officer open then door and a struggle between all three men immediately ensues.

It is unclear if Buckley crosses the threshold on his own or if one of the officers pulled him out, but the department claims Buckley "immediately assaulted both officers with punches to their face and chest areas."

During the struggle, the officers can be seen on video punching and kicking Buckley. The department says, "all three persons were forced to the ground." 

Once the officers get Buckley onto the ground, his hands are placed behind his back.

Then, at 5:41:29 a.m., the surveillance footage shows one of the officers punch Buckley in his face while his arms are still behind his back.

Buckley's mugshot was posted on the Mentor Police Department's Facebook page, along with a synopsis of the incident that says Buckley "punched our officers and was taken into custody following a brief struggle."

According to the police department, "The suspect's assault on the officers, and active physical resistance, continued until he was handcuffed and in custody approximately 79 seconds later."

Both officers were transported to a local hospital for treatment of their injuries. The Mentor Police Department says Buckley refused medical treatment, but his sister says that isn't true.

Ann Marie Buckley told Cleveland 19 that her brother was experiencing concussion symptoms and requested medical treatment. She says she also requested medical treatment, including x-rays, for her brother, but claims her request was denied.

Buckley says her brother's tooth was also broken during the incident.

James Buckley Jr. was transported to the Mentor Jail where he was charged with two counts of assault on a peace officer, resisting arrest, obstruction of official business, possession of marijuana <100g, possession of marijuana paraphernalia and open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle in connection with the Jan. 21 incident.

Buckley was later transferred to the Lake County Jail. His assault and resisting arrest charges were recently bound over to the Lake County Court of Common Pleas.

The Mentor Police Department says the Jan. 21 incident has been the subject of an ongoing internal review since January 22 and that ,"results of the investigation will be made available upon completion."

Buckley has filed a formal complaint against the two officers involved.

"It's not OK for police or a person to treat a human being like that, whether you're a police officer or not," said Ann Marie Buckley.

"They're supposed to be doing what's right. It's not like he was at a place where he shouldn't have been. He had a key to the shop, so what does that mean?" said Ann Marie Buckley."  Any normal civilian, they're just gonna rip out of their place of work and throw him on the ground and punch him in the face? I just wanna get this issue resolved, not have my brother become another part of the system."

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