A New Jersey man is currently recovering in the hospital after he was unlawfully beaten by a group of police officers following a car accident that left him on fire.
According to CBS New York, the tragic case of mistaken identity happened on Sunday (June 4) when police were in pursuit of Leo Pinkston, 48, who caused two car accidents during the chase. Police officers fired shots during the first accident, with Pinkston crashing into a utility pole and causing injury to Miguel Feliz’s car. As the 28-year-old tried to leave his vehicle, he caught on fire. Witness Erik Roberto says police quickly ran up to him. Roberto believed the officers would help, until they started kicking Feliz in the head.
“When I see the cops approaching, they started kicking him and grabbing him, pulling him out of the way,” he said. “I was screaming, ‘help him out, help him out.’ They made a huge mistake treating this guy that way. He wasn’t the one they was chasing.”
Roberto’s footage of the fire and the beating picked up traction online, leading to reactions from activists and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop. “From firing their weapons to the pursuit, to how they interacted with the victim, to having the wrong person,” he said, “It was just poor judgement after poor judgement. So I just think those are people that we don’t want on the Jersey City Police Department.”
He also called for the officers’ termination on Twitter.
Ramon Feliz, the victim’s brother, said he’s shocked by the video. “My brother right now is in very bad shape,” Feliz said. “Thirty percent of his body is burned.”
Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez released a statement about the video and says an investigation has begun. “I’d like to thank the individual who came forward with this video and I’d like the public to know that we welcome their help,” Suarez said. “This video is now part of all the evidence we are considering as we investigate the actions of all individuals who were involved with the events of Sunday night in Jersey City.”
Carmine Disbrow, president of the Jersey City Police Officers Benevolent Association came to the defense of the unidentified officers, suggestion they were trying to help the victim who was on fire. “Mayor Fulop’s statements and actions over the last days, his decision not to allow for a thorough and fair investigation, show again that his thoughts are with politics and not policing,” Disbrow said. “Taking swift action isn’t always elegant, but this video clearly shows that the officers acted quickly to extinguish the flames, and pull this man out of harm’s way.”
It isn’t known if Pinkston was arrested during the incident.