Kenosha police to investigate after forceful arrest of wrongfully suspected father holding baby

A restaurant manager says the incident left employees "upset" and "traumatized."

August 12, 2023, 3:53 PM

Police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, say they've launched an internal investigation into the forceful arrest of a man wrongfully suspected of fleeing a crash. The incident was caught on cell phone video inside an Applebee's restaurant.

According to a criminal complaint filed against the man for resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, a copy of which was obtained by ABC News affiliate WISN, Kenosha police officers were responding to reports of a rollover crash nearby where multiple people fled the scene. The officer was looking for "an African American male and African American female" with a baby who had "run toward Kohl's or Menards," the complaint says. The woman was described as wearing a red shirt with a bun on top of her head.

Jennifer Harris, the manager at a nearby Applebee's who was on duty at the time, says the police initially went into the restaurant asking employees if they had seen any individuals that matched that description, but an employee said they hadn't. Minutes later, another employee spotted two individuals with a baby that seemed to match the description and she called the police, Harris told ABC News.

The complaint states that an officer looking for the suspects from the crash went back to the restaurant and identified a man and a woman who had a baby and matched the description of the suspects.

According to the complaint and court records, the man encountered by police in the Applebee's was identified as Jermelle English. The complaint says officers initially believed he and the woman were involved in the accident and were evading police.

In this screen grab from bodycam video, a man is arrested while holding a baby in an Applebee's in Kenosha, Wis., on July 20, 2023.
Hal Mudge

"After being asked what car they arrived in, they indicated that they did not need to answer any questions and refused to tell" the officer, the complaint says.

Harris says she believes English then got up to change his baby's diaper, but the criminal complaint says he "started walking toward the exit."

In the cell phone video, employees attempt to grab the baby as police try to arrest English. People can be heard yelling "get the baby" as the chaotic scene ensues. An employee yells "Careful, the baby's head" as officers attempt to subdue English.

Once an employee was able to get a hold of the baby and pass it to Harris, multiple officers tackle English to the ground. The cell phone video shows one officer repeatedly striking him while he's pinned down.

The complaint says the woman who was with English was fighting with another officer while English was being detained and that an officer witnessed her "actively pulling her arm away" as police tried to take her into custody.

Police officers "also deployed pepper spray without letting anyone know so we all were having some respiratory issues," Harris says. "Also, that is why I couldn't get the baby to calm down, because I realized the baby had been pepper sprayed — was right there when it happened." She says officers called for EMS when she told them the baby had been exposed to pepper spray.

Police dispute the claim the baby was nearby when the pepper spray was deployed.

"The child was not in the immediate area when pepper spray was used so wasn't directly exposed. It's hard to say if the child was affected due to any particulates in the air," a spokesperson for the Kenosha Police Department said.

Harris says police later found the individuals suspected of fleeing the crash hiding out in the men's bathroom of the restaurant and thinks they "snuck into the Applebee's using a side door and not the front door."

Information on charges for those suspects was not immediately available.

English, meanwhile, was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

In this screen grab from bodycam video, a man is arrested while holding a baby in an Applebee's in Kenosha, Wis., on July 20, 2023.
Hal Mudge

"I think they [Kenosha police] still felt like what they did to the couple was justifiable because he [English] didn't answer their questions so they kind of treated it like it was two separate incidents," Harris told ABC News. "Now, this one is getting arrested for not complying and for resisting arrest, but an arrest that shouldn't even happen."

A police department spokesperson said, "The Kenosha Police Department has an internal process in place to review our officer's use of force that is more robust than what the state requires. We were aware of the incident immediately as a result of that process and started a review of it. Currently it is under investigation. The investigation when complete will be comprehensive and dictate whether the officers acted appropriately or not and if any disciplinary action or additional training is deemed necessary."

The forceful arrest comes three years after a white officer shot a Black man, Jacob Blake, in the back after Kenosha police responded to an alleged domestic dispute. Blake survived the shooting, but was paralyzed from the waist down.

Following an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department in the Blake case, the agency said the evidence was insufficient to prove the officer "willfully used excessive force." The county DA also declined to file charges against the officer and the police department said he acted "within policy."

Harris adds she was fired from her job shortly after the incident.

Applebee's did not immediately comment on the nature of Harris's firing, but sent a statement to ABC News from a local franchisee about the arrest seen on video.

Cas Banaszek, vice president of operations of the local Applebee's franchisee, said in a statement, "The safety and well-being of our guests and team members is a top priority. We are committed to cooperating with the local authorities in their investigation and any additional questions can be directed to the Kenosha Police Department."

Harris says the incident left her and other employees "upset" and "traumatized."