A Florida deputy received a brief sentence for shoving a Black teenager against the wall and telling him he had no First Amendment rights.
The use-of-force incident, which happened last summer, involved Palm Beach sheriff's deputy Charles Rhoads and another deputy, Jeffrey Taschner.
Both were placed on leave pending an investigation which concluded they violated the agency's standards of conduct by using profanity.
Rhoads got an eight-hour sentence—a punishment Wygant said "should have been a lot longer" and called it a "slap on the wrist."
The 13-second video sparked outrage and caught the attention of Benjamin Crump—the civil rights attorney who has worked on cases involving Black people and police misconduct. Crump is currently working with George Floyd's family.
The attorney shared the video of Wygant's arrest to his 700,000 followers on Twitter, asserting:
"Police can't take away your 1st amendment right to freedom of speech!"
"This Palm Beach cop arrested Kevin after he witnessed a fight & said 'I'll show you what f***ing freedom of speech is!' Only trying to help, Kevin was ARRESTED for trespassing."
"This is UNACCEPTABLE behavior!!"
Police can’t take away your 1st amendment right to freedom of speech! This Palm Beach cop arrested Kevin after he w… https://t.co/1ZiVv8U3Ln— Ben Crump (@Ben Crump) 1597633174.0
Update on this incident: https://t.co/85403gSb4X— Ben Crump (@Ben Crump) 1597693978.0
Florida deputy gets 8-hour suspension after video of Black teen's arrest goes viral https://t.co/Pw9TLa50Yk https://t.co/tgXCoRLCtl— The Hill (@The Hill) 1617965346.0
On August 15, Wygant was arrested around 9 p.m for a trespassing charge at a Wellington restaurant called Tijuana Flats.
The restaurant's manager had reportedly called the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office (PBSO) due to Wygant and another man "causing a disturbance in the restaurant."
The arrest report said the teen and his friend were asked to leave the front of the restaurant several times, but when they kept returning, they were arrested for trespassing.
According to Yahoo News, Wygant claimed he was trying to deescalate an altercation among a group of people. Things escalated when deputies arrived, and one of Wygant's friends began recording.
The video did not show the events leading to the arrest, but Wygant was heard saying:
"Yes, I do have freedom of speech."
To which Rhoads said, "not to us you don't."
When the teen asked Rhoades, "I don't have the freedom of speech to you?" the deputy grabbed the back of the teen's shirt and shoved his face into the wall.
Rhoades told Wygant:
"I'm going to show you what [expletive] freedom of speech is."
When another person off-camera tried to intervene, Rhoads warned, "Get the [expletive]—," before the video cut out.
People online wondered about the effectiveness of an eight-hour sentence.
@thehill 8 hours. Now that's gonna teach him. 🙄— Johannes (@Johannes) 1617965406.0
@thehill What’s 8 hours going to do!?!? That’s the equivalent of a college football player... getting suspended for… https://t.co/zrgJ68cmb4— G. Chris Brown (@G. Chris Brown) 1617965468.0
@thehill A 8 hour break. How is that punishment.— Randy Osmond🇺🇸🇨🇦 (@Randy Osmond🇺🇸🇨🇦) 1617965522.0
@thehill Wtf that’s literally a night’s sleep...— Dallas (@Dallas) 1617970995.0
In an internal investigation, both deputies involved in the incident admitted their actions did not reflect well on the Sheriff's Office.
A spokeswoman for Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said last year the Sheriff "does not condone the behavior of our deputy and takes this matter very seriously," adding:
"He has requested an internal affairs investigation into this incident. Our deputy has been placed on administrative leave until the conclusion of this investigation."
We have ID'd the Deputy on the video circulating social media. @RicBradshaw does not condone this behavior and take… https://t.co/9PbE0maKzf— PBSO (@PBSO) 1597681673.0
Social media users are exhausted over a pattern of law enforcement misconduct.
@AttorneyCrump I am so sick & tired of our people being treated as 3rd class citizens— Anthony Armbrister (@Anthony Armbrister) 1597665354.0
@AttorneyCrump Fire this man right now— Yertle (@Yertle) 1597633341.0
@AttorneyCrump @KissMeInThe_Am BULLY COMPLEX WTF— #BlackLivesMatter✊🏽🤎 (@#BlackLivesMatter✊🏽🤎) 1597641704.0
@AttorneyCrump America is being controlled by a bunch of gangsters with suits and badges! WTF !!👹👿😈— Igor Philantrope (@Igor Philantrope) 1597644232.0
According to an internal affairs file, as mentioned in the Sun Sentinel, Rhoades has been the focus of ten use-of-force complaints since joining the Sheriff's Office in 2008.
Sheriff's records also indicated he was cleared in each of those cases prior to Wygant's arrest—including one where Rhoades was seen on video placing 18-year-old Kellen Means in a chokehold while telling the teen's girlfriend he was "going to f'k him up in two seconds."
Means was charged with battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest outside a Wellington Whole Foods on Aug. 30, 2019.
The charges were later dismissed.
Rhoades claimed in a report he witnessed Means "battering" his girlfriend—which was disputed by Means' attorney.