A Sunrise Police sergeant is off the streets and under investigation after an incident involving another officer. Investigative Reporter Karen Hensel is at police headquarters with her exclusive.
We have all seen plenty of police body worn camera videos, but not quite like this. What started as an arrest ended with a sergeant putting his hands on the neck of one of his own officers. It’s behavior the police chief calls “disgusting.”
Sunrise Police released this body camera video to 7Investigates after a tip led us to ask about a Nov. 19 incident.
Citing an ongoing internal affairs investigation, the department turned off the sound and obscured almost all of the faces, except for one: Sgt. Christopher Pullease.
Karen Hensel: “When he went up and put his hand on her throat, what was your reaction?”
Chief Anthony Rosa: ” I find this behavior to be disgusting. I think the video speaks for itself.”
Just a minute earlier, the body camera shows a man being walked by officers to a patrol car. He was being arrested for aggravated battery after police say he hit people outside this convenience store.
The man under arrest is already in handcuffs, but officers appear to be having difficulty getting him into the car. Around that time, Sgt. Pullease pulls up and walks up to the suspect.
Sunrise Police Chief Anthony Rosa says he could not tell us what the sergeant said, but says it made the situation worse.
Chief Rosa: “I find it to be inappropriate and unprofessional, because what he did is he escalated the situation when calm was actually required.”
You see the cuffed man back away in the backseat, as Pullease leans into the car.
Karen Hensel: “And we saw that he had pepper spray in his hand. Was he threatening to use that on the cuffed suspect?”
Chief Rosa: “So this, the pepper spray, was out and aimed at the suspect.”
Suddenly, an officer races towards the sergeant and pulls him by the belt with both hands away from the car. Pullease, pepper spray still in one hand, grabs the officer with the other and pushes her against a patrol car.
Chief Rosa: “The initial contact between the sergeant and the officer was his hand against her throat.”
Watch again, from both camera angles. It’s quick, but the sergeant’s hand is at her neck before moving to her shoulder. Seconds later, he walks back to the car with the cuffed suspect, opens the door and closes it before pointing at the officer and saying something.
Chief Rosa says the young officer did the right thing.
Chief Rosa: “So I’m very proud of this police officer. She took some definitive action. I can only imagine what she must be feeling. She’s a newer officer, and he’s a very senior sergeant.”
Just how new? The 28-year-old officer, who we are not naming, has been with Sunrise Police for just over two and a half years. Compare that to 46-year-old Sgt. Christopher Pullease, a 21-year-plus veteran of the force.
Karen Hensel: “If one of us had ever grabbed an officer by the throat, we would be arrested. We would be put in jail. Why is that not happened with him?”
Chief Rosa: “So there’s some details of the investigation that I’ve not disclosed, that I’m unable to disclose right now, and if any of the information that comes up during the investigation rises to a level of criminal behavior or criminal conduct, then we’ll address it appropriately.”
There is a new state law requiring departments train officers on their “duty to intervene,” if they see another officer using excessive force.
Chief Rosa says Sunrise already has policies requiring intervening and de-escalation.
Chief Rosa: “This officer intervening and stopping a situation from getting any worse is a direct reflection of the training that we do do with the police department, and I think that it’s important to note that the behavior is very unacceptable by the sergeant, but the behavior of the officer that intervened is exactly what society’s asking their police officers to do right now.”
And while the department does realize the public is going to want to see and hear all of the video for themselves, the chief offers this:
Chief Rosa: “I’m not releasing the audio at this moment in time. However, once the investigation is done, I’m committed to being completely open and transparent and everything will be released.”
We looked into Sgt. Pullease’s internal affairs history with Sunrise Police. He had two allegations of excessive use of force nearly 20 years ago. He was cleared on both.
As for this case, he is on desk duty and declined to comment through his union.