A veteran police officer is on unpaid leave after a video showed him striking a man in the face at a Fairfield gas station.
Detective Gary Lavender, a retired Birmingham detective who joined the Fairfield Police Department 10 years ago, has been suspended for five days without pay pending the ongoing investigation.
“I regret the whole incident took place. I don’t think that what took place is necessarily reflective of all of our officers,” Mayor Ed May II said in a sometimes-hostile press conference on the steps of Fairfield City Hall. “We aren’t going to have problems with accountability in the City of Fairfield while I’m mayor.”
The 10-second video of the incident, which happened Tuesday afternoon at the Citgo gas station, was posted to social media mid-afternoon. The video showed the detective yelling and walking up to a black male before striking the man in the face.
What led up to the incident has not been made public, but authorities said the 28-year-old man was arrested, along with his two brothers – ages 37 and 39 – who had active arrest warrants. The 28-year-old man, authorities said, was trying to take the brothers’ car after their arrest, but police said the car needed to remain on the scene for evidence.
“I am now aware of the full scope of what took place out there,” May said. “I’ve had an opportunity to hear both sides of the story and I’ve had an opportunity to make a decision on the action that I feel is appropriate at this moment to be taken.”
Heads of the Outcast Voters League, the Jefferson County Millennial Democrats, Black Lives Matter and other organizations went to Fairfield demanding officials fire the officer who struck the 28-year-old defendant. Both the officer and the defendant are black.
Activist Carlos Chaverst was among those who went to the police department, and he was arrested after he and officers got into an argument while there. He was charged with obstructing government operations, and released about two hours later after posting a $1,000 bond.
Those activists were at May’s Wednesday press conference as well. The mayor said he’s received multiple texts and phone calls, and asked for patience.
“Your passions cannot be my only concern. I’ve got an entire city to worry about,” May told the crowd. “I’m disappointed, to a degree, of what appears, and I may be wrong, to be the unwillingness of the people to give me an opportunity to address the situation which only recently developed. It hasn’t been 24 hours.”
“I have every attention of addressing these matters of concern, but I would like to do it in a fair and timely manner,” he said.
May said he doesn’t yet know whether the detective’s actions were just justifiable, but said, “On appearance I want to say his actions are questionable and because of the questionable nature, these questions demand answers and what I intend to do is get the answers.”
He said he met with the detective, and hoped to meet with the the man who was struck. That man attended Wednesday’s press conference, and was about to meet with the mayor when the activists and his representative halted the meeting.
The press conference grew confrontational at times, and May said he deserves the respect of the people. “I don’t intend to be intimidated or bullied with any decision I have to make,” the mayor said. “Don’t come out here and instead of trying to help a n….r, destroy a brother.”
May said the police department’s Internal Affairs Division is investigating the incident, and he hopes to have answers by the end of the week.