Erie police open internal investigation after video of officer kicking a young woman goes viral

(Image via Twitter)

*Updated to include comment from Erie Police Chief E Daniel P. Spizarny Sr.

ERIE, Pa. — A video taken in downtown Erie during a riot on Saturday night has gone viral, helping to fuel the growing nationwide debate of the excessive force used by law enforcement during protests over the death of George Floyd.

The two-second clip, taken between 11:30 p.m. and midnight on Saturday, shows 21-year-old Hannah Silbaugh, of Erie, apparently being kicked by an Erie police officer as she sat on the ground.

The video has been widely re-shared on Twitter, where it was viewed more than 6 million times, and other social media channels. The story has been picked up by such nationwide news outlets as Rolling Stone.

Erie Police Chief Daniel P. Spizarny Sr. said Monday that the officer shown in the video kicking Silbaugh had identified himself on Sunday morning after learning about the video. The department is not releasing any identifying details about the officer at this time. An internal investigation is being done to determine how to handle the situation, Spizarny said.

Taking to Twitter on Sunday, an enraged Lt. Gov. John Fetterman wrote that “this level of unnecessary use of force, along with all other instances of it across Pennsylvania … is unacceptable and diminishes us all.

“This officer needs to be identified, and held accountable,” Fetterman wrote. 

It was not immediately clear Monday when — or if — that might happen. 

On Sunday, Erie Mayor Joseph Schember told GoErie that he had seen the video “but I don’t have any comment on that,” he said in response. “It was only two to three seconds long, and there was a lot that happened around that,” he said.

Schember further told YourErie that,  “It looked like the video might have been doctored. We are trying to figure out the answer to that for sure, but this is an instance that we will evaluate.” 

Schember said there are “hundred of hours” of video to go through from cameras around downtown municipal buildings and businesses that captured the events Saturday. 

On Twitter, Silbaugh reposted another 20-second video that has surfaced — different than the one she first referred to — of Silbaugh being assaulted by officers, taken from a different angle by a bystander.

On Sunday, the Erie Police Department released a statement that failed to mention either clip directly. City police did say, however, that  “in terms of the videos circulating online and the cameras all around downtown, we have several hundreds of hours of videos to watch. We will review all footage in the coming weeks. We are not aware of any civilian injuries.” 

The video provoked immediate condemnation on social media.

“That is an assault under color of authority,” Twitter user Lisa Boeving-Learned, a self-identified “soldier, police officer, writer, activist,” wrote. “This officer must be identified fired and charged.”

After getting off to a peaceful start, protests turned violent on Saturday night, resulting in seven arrests. Eleven businesses were damaged, and 12 police were injured, Schember told reporter Chelsey Withers for Jet24-Erie. 

When demonstrators began vandalizing municipal buildings, city police declared that the protest had become an unlawful assembly. On the third warning to disperse, “the SWAT Team, which was on stand-by in the basement, came out,” EPD said in a written statement. 

“There was definitely intent on the part of some of the protesters, perhaps 30, to hurt officers and cause damage to property,” Erie police said in the same statement. The department believes that, “there were professional rioters present from out-of-town.”