ST. LOUIS — St. Louis police said Tuesday that they were conducting an internal investigation after a video was posted on YouTube showing an officer beating a man with a nightstick outside a convenience store on New Year's Day. The store's owner says witnesses have told him the officer was defending himself.
Police said in a statement that all the circumstances were not known, but that "what is seen on the video is extremely disturbing to us."
"Force is to be used only when absolutely necessary, and this department takes the use of force very seriously," the statement said. The officer, who was not publicly identified, was placed on administrative duty until the investigation is complete.
Police said no complaints had been filed with the department as of Tuesday and they only learned of the video after media inquiries.
The video was shot early Saturday outside Joel's Shell Food Mart by an uninvolved person in a vehicle that apparently was getting gas at the time. YouTube had taken down the video by midafternoon Tuesday, citing a violation of its policy on "shocking and disgusting content."
Store owner Joel Platke said the video is misleading because it doesn't show what witnesses say was happening on the ground.
Platke, 49, said he was not at the store at the time of the encounter, but said two employees, two customers and a delivery man have told investigators the young man was cursing and grabbing at the officer's ankles and that the officer was protecting himself.
Platke, who has owned the store for 20 years, said the off-duty officer was working at the store New Year's Eve and early New Year's Day, something he's done for the past four years.
The officer "is one of the most straight-laced, outstanding, even-tempered gentlemen you'd ever meet," Platke said.
Witnesses told Platke that a group of young men came in in the early-morning hours. One was drunk and belligerent and his friends removed him from the store, Platke said.
The YouTube video picks up outside as the officer begins questioning the man, who is seated sideways in the driver's seat of a car with the door open. A female voice on the video says, "Oh my God, that guy told the cop to shut up."
The officer is shown dragging the man to the ground, but nothing is visible below the officer's knees. A few seconds later, he pulls out the nightstick. The video shows the officer taking seven swings.
The camera moves away for a few seconds and the female can be heard saying, "Oh my God, he just got pepper-sprayed." She later says the man's mouth is bloody. The officer eventually pulls the man to his feet.
E-mail messages sent through YouTube to the person who posted the video were not returned.