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Video: White Asheville police officers pin Black man by neck; 'He can't breathe'


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Language Warning for the video


article under the video




Joel Burgess

May 17

ASHEVILLE - White police officers pinned a Black man by the neck, searching for a gun he did not have, according to video by the man's fiancé.

Members of a May 13 crowd gathered in the Erskine-Walton neighborhood sounded alarmed and shouted for the three or more Asheville Police Department officers to stop as they struggled with Devon Lewis Rayshawn Whitmire on the ground.

One bystander can be heard in the video shouting, "He can't breathe," drawing comparisons by local community activists to high-profile fatal police encounters with other Black men, including George Floyd.

Three police officers pinned Devon Lewis Rayshawn Whitmire to the ground May 13 in the Erskine-Walton neighborhood searching for a gun but found none. Neighbors sounded alarmed and shouted for the police officers to stop as they struggled with Whitmire, saying "He can't breathe."

Whitmire, 27, was arrested and charged with multiple counts of assault, including assault on a government official inflicting serious injury. On May 17 he remained in the Buncombe County Detention Facility under an $85,000 bond. His next court date is June 2.

The encounter, which was captured on video and posted to Facebook, led to criticism and protest by activists, with one prominent community leader calling the police actions an "assault."

"It could have been de-escalated, but It was a choice to continue that assault on that young man. And it was an assault," said former mayoral candidate Michael Hayes.

What transpired in the Devon Whitmire video?

Whitmire has his left arm in a sling and is holding his phone with his right hand with his back against a parked car when the video begins. Three officers surround him. After a brief conversation, most of which is not audible, the officers reach in to grab him, starting a struggle that led to him pinned on the ground.

Police officers push Whitmire's head multiple times onto the pavement and curb and at one point an officer's arm can be seen pinning Whitmire's neck to the ground. Voices in the crowd get progressively louder protesting police actions while one yells that Whitmire can't breathe.

Whitmire struggles and at one point kicks out an officer with a bare foot. One officer was treated at the hospital and released, according to an APD news release.

Officers were attempting to serve an arrest warrant for communicating threats, the release said, which described the crowd as "hostile" and Whitmire's resistance as "extreme." Whitmire gave them a different name and did not cooperate, according to the May 15 press release, with officers reporting hearing him say, "Can y’all just back up, so I can get my gun off of me?"

But Whitmire's fiancé, Carrie Speigle, 24, told the Citizen Times, "I thought I heard him say, 'I don't have it on me,'" regarding the gun.

During the struggle, Speigle and Whitmire can be heard shouting multiple times he did not have a gun. Once he is subdued, police search him but produce no gun.

Asheville Police Department's response

APD spokesperson Samantha Booth declined to confirm that no gun was found or say whether the encounter was recorded on body camera. Booth also declined to say why the level of force was warranted when Whitmire made no threatening motion and appeared to be injured, with his arm in a sling because of a broken arm, according to his fiancé.


"What I can say is, as with any response to force incident, it is standard operating procedure for the incident to be reviewed by administration. The review of this response to force incident is ongoing," Booth said.

Activist gather at Pack Square Park

About 35 activists gathered May 17 at Pack Square Park near the jail, Buncombe County Courthouse and City Hall to protest the violent arrest. Afterward, Hayes and others went to the police station to speak with APD Chief David Zack but were turned away and told the public area was closed for the day.

A peer-support specialist who focuses on psychological trauma, Hayes said the neighborhood residents, and possibly officers, reacted as they did because of trauma and that they needed training. He compared the hold used on Whitmire to the way Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd died in what a jury ruled was murder by white police officer Derek Chauvin.

Hayes said those gathered, dubbed the "Apply the Pressure Committee" would return every day "until the police chief chooses to meet with our community members so that we can have a conversation about how we can collectively come up with a plan so that this doesn't happen again."

Daniel Young, who works with the nonprofit My Daddy Taught Me That as a "violence interrupter" questioned the role of race in police actions.

"When police come to arrest a white guy with a knife, they're going to deescalate that, and he's got a weapon. They come to us, they want to throw us on the ground and treat us like dogs. We don't want that anymore," Young said.



Edited by Auburn85
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