Internal probe finds officer filmed striking patient on stretcher didn't use unnecessary force

The officer said the patient was "extremely aggressive" and spitting on paramedics


Melissa Hanson
masslive.com

WORCESTER, Mass. — A Worcester police officer has been cleared of using unnecessary force after a video showed him slapping a man in a stretcher in July.

An internal affairs investigation obtained by MassLive determined that the officer did not use unnecessary force but did fail to report the use of force to a supervisor right away.

The investigation pertaining to Officer Ryan Joyal was obtained by MassLive through a public records request. Joyal was previously given a 5-day suspension following the completion of the investigation.

The internal affairs investigation was launched after a video appeared to show Joyal employing a “use of force” by slapping the man on the stretcher. Police had been called to a Main Street address for a mental health issue. The use of force was not initially reported on July 21 but was brought to attention in a supplemental report on July 22.

Police investigated whether the use of force by Joyal was proper as well as the way Joyal reported that use of force. Four potential violations of department policy and procedure were examined: whether Joyal used unnecessary force; that the use of force was not initially reported; awareness of the use of force reporting procedure; and failing to report the use of force to his supervisor in a timely manner.

Chief Steven Sargent Sargent sustained a violation against Joyal for failing to verbally report the use of force to his supervisor and for his knowledge of the use of force reporting procedure. Joyal was exonerated in the areas of unnecessary force and for failure to report the use of force, according to documents signed Sept. 21, 2020.

In his initial narrative filed for the July incident, Joyal noted that the man involved was “extremely aggressive” during the police encounter. It was the second time within a month that a Community HealthLink doctor requested the man for Section 12 and did not inform the man of the section, Joyal wrote.

Joyal wrote that the man “attempted to spit” on officers multiple times as the man was placed onto a stretcher waiting outside. The report did not mention any use of force, documents show.

In a supplemental incident report filed the next day, Joyal reported the use of force.

“Due to concerns with the transfer of bodily fluids and the multitude of potential sicknesses associated with bodily fluids, my reaction was to deliver an open hand distraction technique to move his face away from me to momentarily redirect his attention from spitting on myself as well as the other officers and paramedics on scene,” Joyal wrote.

Paramedics grabbed a face mask to prevent the man from spitting more and Joyal used sanitizing foam from the ambulance to clean his arm and uniform, the officer’s report notes.

“Probable cause existed to charge [the subject] with assault but due to the concerns about his mental health I decided not to file a criminal complaint or arrest [the subject],” Joyal wrote.

Joyal’s supervisor was notified of the use of force at 2 p.m. on July 22, records indicate. The incident happened at 5:17 p.m. on July 21, according to records.

Department training issued in fall 2019 authorizes “an application of force” to stop an assaultive subject from causing injury to officers or a third party.

“As you know, a subject displaying assaultive behavior allows for officers to defend themselves and others by utilizing strikes with their hands as well as authorized equipment,” Lt. John Bossolt wrote in an email included in the internal investigation.

The department policy does call for use of force to be verbally reported to a superior as soon as practically feasible and included in an incident report, documents note.

In questioning for the investigation, Joyal noted that the subject was immediately combative and tried to lunge at another officer on the date of the incident. When officers tried to get the man onto the stretcher, the man spit on Joyal.

“Due to concerns with the transfer of bodily fluids, heightened then by COVID-19 pandemic, my natural reaction was to deliver an open hand distraction technique to move his face and mouth away from my direction, and to momentarily redirect his attention from spitting on myself or others,” Joyal said.

The man screamed and used profanities during the incident, officers noted in documents.

Joyal told investigators that his training advised that an open hand technique could be used if a suspect or person attempts to spit at an officer.

In explaining why his use of force was not recorded in his initial report, Joyal said it was not mentioned because the technique was “a quick and natural reaction.”

“At the time I was more concerned about the saliva on my chest and arm,” Joyal said. “Along with that call, I responded to an additional fourteen incidents that night and my attention was quickly diverted to these other incidents.”

A phone call from union president Dan Gilbert and Lt. Sean Murtha around 2 p.m. on July 22 alerted Joyal to the video showing him use force on the man on the stretcher.

“After reviewing the video, I observed my open-handed distraction technique, which I did not remember from the day before,” Joyal said. “At that time, I immediately called my direct supervisor Sgt. Carlson and notified him of the video. I then immediately went to the station and filed all the appropriate paperwork for that incident.”

The investigation highlights a portion of the department’s use of force policy, which notes that an office can use a level of non-deadly force that is objectively reasonable to bring an incident or subject under control.

Joyal stated that he was in compliance with policy by filing a supplemental use of force report within 24 hours of the incident.

The investigation notes that Joyal may have a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of policy in regards to verbally reporting a use of force to a supervisor. Department policy requires verbal notification as soon as practically feasible.

Joyal monitored himself for symptoms of the coronavirus after the incident, according to records. The man was taken to the hospital, where he remained hostile until he was sedated, documents indicate.

Joyal, who joined the department in 2017, was not placed on paid leave during the investigation.

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(c)2021 MassLive.com, Springfield, Mass.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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