BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — When Austin Carter saw her outside his apartment building in Five Points South on Thursday, he asked if she was okay.
“Where is everybody else?” Carter asked her.
Carter was familiar with the woman, who he said had been facing homelessness. She would often hang out with other folks outside Cortland Vesta, the apartments where Carter lives on Highland Avenue. Carter gave her extra food from Chick-fil-a he’d just ordered and went inside. He said she was calm, telling him she just wanted to go to sleep. Minutes later, Carter said he looked on from above as the woman was repeatedly struck in the face by a Birmingham police officer.
A video captured by Carter shows the woman sitting on the concrete ground struggling with two officers as they try to detain her. A few seconds into the video, one of the woman’s arms appears to slip from the officers’ grasp. One of the officers then strikes the woman with an open hand on her face.
The woman responds, flailing her arm backward toward the officer, who strikes the woman again twice, the officer’s hand closed into a fist.
Birmingham police said in a statement that they are aware of the incident and are investigating.
“Officers responded to a call and encountered a combative subject which is not seen in the circulating video,” Lt. Rodarius Mauldin wrote in the statement. “The use of force was reported, and immediate actions were taken.”
Officials initiated a “preliminary investigation,” headed by the Internal Affairs Division, the statement said.
BPD has not identified the officer in question and has not responded to questions about whether any disciplinary action has been taken against them.
Carter said he doesn’t believe that the woman in the video was combative before she was struck by police. He called what he witnessed “foul and disgusting.”
“I know [her] personally and she’s a sweet soul — just lost because of past traumas,” he said. “And she is always the only one targeted and arrested… They are always rough with her. Like a rag doll.”
Carter said he reported the incident to police but has not yet heard back.