Author: The Office of Justice Programs’ National Institute of Justice (NIJ)

By Alicia Adams Northwest Florida Daily News

FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. — After a cellphone video went viral on Facebook regarding a disturbance at a local restaurant, police have shared body cam footage from that night with the public.

Fort Walton Beach police responded to the Waffle House on Miracle Strip Parkway about 1:30 a.m. May 2 regarding a disturbance between the staff and two customers.

According to the incident report, an employee at Waffle House called the Police Department to report a heated argument between Donald Copeland, his girlfriend — whose last name is Hart, but no first name was provided — and a server. The argument reportedly was over the price of a drink.

“We feel it is important to set the record straight and have attached a link below of the officer’s body-worn camera, where citizens can view the video in its entirety,” the Police Department posted on its Facebook page Tuesday night. “The Fort Walton Beach Police Department conducted a full review of the incident and the actions our officers took that evening.

“Video from the officer’s body-worn camera was reviewed in its entirety and conveyed our officers followed proper protocol when dealing with violations involving Florida State (Statutes).”

Hart — known as Tamera Earl on Facebook — posted a 4-minute video she took on her cellphone during the incident on Facebook. It has more than 105,000 views, 3,800 shares and 750 reactions.

According to the Police Department, the cellphone video only shows a small part of the incident. It does not include that Copeland and Hart were released after the situation calmed down and the bill in question was satisfied — which the officers said was what they were trying to achieve from the beginning.

The 22-minute body cam video shows an officer pulling up to the restaurant, walking to the door and gesturing at Copeland to come outside. He and his girlfriend argued with the officers, saying they were waiting to get the server’s name so they could “call the 1-800 number.”

They eventually came out to talk to the officers, who asked them to pay for their food. Copeland tried to explain the situation, and the officers asked again for him to go inside and pay for their food.

At one point during the confrontation, an officer pointed a Taser at Copeland because of his “irate behavior.” He and Hart were then handcuffed and detained in the back of a patrol vehicle.

They were later given the opportunity to pay for their order, which they accepted. Copeland and Hart were released with no criminal charges.

“We met with other interested parties in regard to this matter, and all parties involved determined that while there was no misconduct of the officers, that the situation could have been handled differently by both parties involved,” the Police Department said.

©2018 the Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.)

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