Get off my lawn!
New body camera footage from an arrest last month in Warren County, Virginia, shows a 77-year-old man being slammed into the back of his truck as deputies sought to make an arrest after an early morning pursuit.
Ralph Ennis, a Pennsylvania resident, was later taken to the hospital, where he died about two weeks later. Ennis, who was previously the subject of a Silver Alert, had recently begun struggling with dementia, according to his family.
The encounter with deputies is now being investigated by Virginia State Police and the Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney.
The body camera footage was obtained earlier this week by the Royal Examiner news website in Front Royal, Virginia, via a public records request. It comes from a body-worn camera worn by a Front Royal Police Department officer who observed Ennis’ April 2 arrest.
In comments captured in the video, the officer who observed the arrest called the deputies’ actions “f— unjust” and “un-f— -called-for.”
In a news release first published last month, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office said deputies attempted to pull over Ennis, shortly before 1:30 a.m. April 2, for going 63 mph in a 55 mph zone and for driving his red 2016 F-150 truck erratically.
The pursuit, which lasted for 3 3/4 miles, ended when Ennis pulled into a 7-Eleven gas station parking lot.
In the initial news release about Ennis arrest, the sheriff’s office said Ennis exited the truck following deputies’ commands, but refused to drop his keys. In the original release, the sheriff’s office said a deputy came from behind, grabbed Ennis’ arms to control him and “escorted” him to the back of the truck.
“While attempting to restrain Mr. Ennis, two deputies and Ennis fell over the protruding trailer hitch of his pickup truck,” the news release said.
The Front Royal police officer whose body camera captured the scene described a very different scene. In his written report, which was also obtained by the Royal Examiner, Cpl.
R.D. Lowery wrote:
"I arrived on scene and I observed a male open the driver side door of the Ford F150 and exit the vehicle with his arms down by his side. … Another Deputy ran behind the male and placed his arms behind his back and jerked the male around toward the Ford 150. The Deputy slammed the male into the camper top face first. I observed the male spit something out on the pavement just below his body. Another Deputy came from the side of the male and grabbed the male while the other Deputy had his hands behind his back. The male was pushed over but his legs had caught the hitch on the back of the truck. Two deputies and the male were on the ground at this point.”
In the original news release, the sheriff’s office said Ennis sustained two non-life-threatening injuries — a cut to the ring finger of his right hand caused by the jagged edge of his truck tailgate and a cut above his right brow near his forehead. The sheriff’s office said deputies provided treatment at the scene, and Ennis was transported to Warren Memorial Hospital.
At the hospital, Ennis began exhibiting signs of a hemorrhage in his head and was taken by ambulance to another hospital, Winchester Medical Center.
Ennis died April 15 at Blue Ridge Hospice in Winchester. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner conducted an autopsy but has not yet released the cause and manner of death.
In an interview with NBC Washington on Wednesday, Ennis’ wife, Linda Ennis, said the body camera footage is different from what the sheriff’s office told her about her husband’s arrest.
“It was way overkill. Just … none of that was necessary,” she told NBC Washington.
Of the bodycam footage, she said, “It was very difficult to watch. I wish that I hadn’t watched it now.”
Several weeks before his April arrest, Ennis was reported missing March 11 and was the subject of a Pennsylvania Silver Alert and eventually turned up in Front Royal.
NBC Washington reported Warren County Sheriff Mike Butler stands by his office’s description of Ennis April arrest. This week, the sheriff’s office said it will convene a board of inquiry to review the use of force, which is separate from the Virginia State Police investigation.
“Sheriff Butler recognizes this incident will generate public interest, and perhaps scrutiny; however, wants to ensure the community his office is doing their due diligence under the law,” a follow-up news release stated.
In an email, a state police spokesman said the incident was referred to state police on April 6. “The investigation remains active and ongoing. Once the investigation is completed, the investigative findings will be turned over to the Commonwealth’s Attorney for final review and adjudication.”
One of the deputies involved in Ennis’ arrest is on paid administrative leave and the other was reassigned to administrative duties, which the office said is accepted professional practice and not an indication of wrongdoing.