JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (WJXT/CNN) – A Florida man was charged with battery on a law enforcement following a confrontation at a Jacksonville Walmart, but a witness says it was the off-duty officer who threw the first punches.
Cell phone video shows the violent confrontation between a JSO officer and 44-year-old Yoel Rodriguez. When all was said and done, Rodriguez was left bloodied, then hauled off to jail.
The incident happened Sunday night at the Walmart inside River City Market Place.
An eyewitness who didn’t want to be identified says he and his wife were waiting in the same checkout line as Rodriguez.
“His wife was in line. He went off to get something and came back,” the witness said.
According to the witness, his wife and the arrest report, some employees had walked over to Rodriguez to tell him the store was closed and he couldn’t keep shopping.
But the witness said it was obvious Rodriguez did not understand what they were saying to him in English.
“If he had any English, it would have been a one- or two-word English vocabulary,” the witness said.
According to the report, an off-duty uniformed JSO officer was called over to talk to Rodriguez.
“I don’t know exactly what the cop said, but I think he was telling him he had to leave. He wasn’t going to get to pay for his stuff. And he was like, I just need to pay. I just need to pay. And then the cop kept trying to grab his arm and he was like, don’t touch me. What are you doing? Why are you touching me? Don’t touch me. And the cop just whaled back and just popped the due in the nose,” the witness recalled.
Another video angle shows the officer continue to hit Rodriguez as his wife screamed. She also doesn’t speak English.
The men got down on the floor and Rodriguez was eventually handcuffed and hauled off to jail.
“They tell me the officer asked Yoel to leave, but Yoel didn’t understand what was going on. He was just shopping. I don’t understand why the officer did what he did,” said Yoel’s brother, David Rodriguez.
The Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police issued a statement that reads in part: “It is abundantly clear that the defendant in this case not only hit the officer’s arm, but he was actively pulling away and resisting the officer. We are thankful that the officer was able to overcome the resistance and prevent severe injury to the defendant, injury to himself, or injury to innocent bystanders.”
But the witness thinks the situation could have been handled differently.
“That cop should have never been called. I think he’s 40% at fault because he punched the guy. But Walmart should have never escalated it to the point where they’re harassing one of their customers, just because he’s grabbing something extra while his wife’s waiting in line.”
A Walmart corporate spokesperson said they are looking into how the situation was handled.