A Maryland police officer who allegedly filmed a shirtless man speaking nonsensically to officers — after the man was punched and stomped in the street — has been suspended, Prince George’s County Police Department Chief Henry Stawinski said.
Though Stawinski did not identify the person in the video by name, friends and former teammates have said the man is former NBA player Delonte West, and tattoos on the man’s left arm and shoulder match West’s ink.
The department has launched an investigation into how the video was made public, Stawinski said.
West has reportedly struggled with mental illness. The chief understands the sentiment that releasing the video might result in the man getting the help he needs, but the video is part of an ongoing investigation, he said.
“That said, it’s irresponsible for that (video) — taken by a Prince George’s County police officer — to be in the public’s hands,” he told reporters Tuesday. “The department owns that, and that is the issue that I’m addressing. … That’s evidence.”
CNN’s attempts to reach West were unsuccessful. A number linked to a Fort Washington address was no longer valid, and another phone number linked to West rang busy.
Chief: ‘Troubling’ video may be misleading
There are two videos making their rounds on social media. The first is a video of the Monday altercation, which appeared to stop traffic near an overpass on a two-lane road in Oxon Hill. A second video, taken later, shows a handcuffed West incoherently answering a police officer’s questions.
In the first video, taken by a commuter, West lies listlessly in the street as a man in a dark jacket repeatedly stomps and punches him. The driver who shot the video posted it to social media with the caption, “So former NBA player Delonte West got beat up in front of my truck this morning.”
As “troubling” as that video is, Stawinski said, a witness who spoke to police at the scene said the man on the ground hit the other person with a bottle. Essentially, the man seen being beaten was the aggressor, the witness told police. The chief declined to identify either man.
The second video was taken by police, Stawinski said. In it, a shirtless West sits handcuffed on the curb. Much of what he says is garbled.
He begins by telling an officer he was walking down the street when someone approached him with a gun. Asked where the gun is, West twice says, “I don’t give a f**k.”
The former NBA guard then launches into a largely incomprehensible rant in which he proclaims to be the leader of the Navy SEALs and later appears to say he’s the “real f**king president.” The video was not recorded on the officer’s body camera and may have been captured with a mobile phone, Stawinski said.
Officers learned during their 45-minute investigation at the scene that the men had been involved in a separate dispute a half hour before the beating in the road was filmed, the chief said without elaborating.
The men were examined by paramedics but declined medical treatment and refused to go to the hospital or cooperate with the investigation, the chief said. Neither man wanted to press charges, he said.
A promise of harsh punishment
By the end of his interaction with police, the shirtless man was “lucid and calm and communicating and able to answer questions clearly,” Stawinski said.
Once investigators determined the men posed no danger to themselves or the public, they let them both go, the chief said.
“We can’t compel people to get medical treatment. We can’t compel people to charge someone,” he said.
Officers, including those from the department’s mental health unit, are reaching out to the men involved, he said, and investigators will seek to determine how the video was made public.
“If it turns out that … evidence was mishandled by that (officer who filmed West) or any individual representing this institution, they will be dealt with harshly,” Stawinski said.
The 36-year-old West’s travails — which include bizarre behavior, money woes, a 2009 run-in with the law and a 2008 diagnosis of bipolar disorder that West later questioned — have been well-documented since he joined the NBA in 2004.
Following a stellar junior season in which he led the Saint Joseph’s Hawks to a 30-2 record and a deep run into the 2004 NCAA Tournament, the Boston Celtics took West late in the first round of the NBA Draft.
West played three seasons in Boston before becoming a journeyman, taking the court for the Seattle SuperSonics, Cleveland Cavaliers, the Celtics again and the Dallas Mavericks. After his 2011-12 season with the Mavs, West spent time in the NBA G League and in professional leagues in China and Venezuela.
Stars, ex-teammates want help for West
While many saw this week’s social media videos as an open door to mock the father of two, others have reached out to him or prayed that he gets help.
Among those expressing concern are former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, ex-teammate Lance Allred, WNBA center Imani McGee-Stafford, comedian DL Hughley and ESPN’s Louis Riddick, Tony Reali and Jay Williams.
Former St. Joe’s teammate Jameer Nelson said in a social media post that he was sick to his stomach after seeing the videos. He and West had spoken in recent months, he said, and he encouraged those suffering from mental illness to seek professional help.
“One thing I do know is if (you’re) having mental, emotional or physical setbacks in life you need to talk to somebody,” Nelson wrote. “And when I say talk to somebody, I mean like a doctor … not your parents, homeboy, wife, cousin, etc. — somebody that has credentials in helping people for what (you’re) going through.”
He admonished those who would post videos of someone experiencing a mental episode, saying, “You may think (you’re) helping but you might be hurting them even more. People have kids and their kids don’t deserve to be embarrassed. Please pray!”
Phil Martelli, West’s coach at St. Joe’s, told his Twitter followers to hear Nelson’s words and said, “We are reaching out to our basketball network to get the professional help Delonte needs. This is so very painful.”
The school issued a statement saying it had reached out to West to offer help.
“The Saint Joseph’s community was deeply saddened to see the recent news regarding Delonte West ’05, who is and always will be a member of our community, but heartened to see the outpouring of care and support from Hawks around the country.”