WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A Black Purdue University student said Thursday that an argument with his girlfriend led to a white campus police officer punching him and using his elbow to pin him down by the neck on the snowy ground.
“He had his hand pressing my face in the snow,” Adonis Tuggle, 24, told The Associated Press. “He was smothering me, almost as if you were trying to drown somebody underwater.”
Part of the incident last Friday on the school's campus in West Lafayette, Indiana, was captured on cellphone video by Tuggle's girlfriend. The video was first reported by entertainment website TMZ.
Purdue University police are reviewing the officer’s use of force.
Tuggle, a junior psychology major, said he was arrested and charged with resisting arrest. He spent about an hour in jail before bailing himself out.
Tuggle said he doesn't know who called the police, only that the officer arrived and screamed at him to get away from the car where his girlfriend was.
“I was already a couple of feet away from my girlfriend,” said Tuggle, who added that his girlfriend tried speaking to the officer. The officer used an expletive while telling her to shut up, he said.
“I told him he had no reason to be disrespectful,” Tuggle said. “He was yelling at her and she was yelling at him. I told my girlfriend to calm down and I heard him scream ‘OK buddy, you’re going down,' and he threw me against the car."
Tuggle said the officer had him on the ground and told him to “stop resisting.” He said the officer also punched him.
At some point, Tuggle said he told his girlfriend, who is white, to start recording. She told the officer he was hurting her boyfriend. She tapped the officer, and he responded by warning that he will use his Taser on her if she does it again, Tuggle said.
When other officers arrived, Tuggle said one proceeded to hold one of his arms while another held his leg.
“I was still screaming ‘he has his elbow on my neck,'" Tuggle said. “He dropped his full weight on my face and neck. In the heat of the moment, the only thing I was thinking about was trying to get this officer off of me.”
“You could hear me say ‘I can’t breathe. You're choking me. You're hurting me.'”
Andrew M. Stroth, a civil rights attorney for Tuggle and his family, said they are demanding a full investigation and the release of police body camera video. He said charges against Tuggle should be dropped.
Tuggle said the 2020 death of George Floyd, who said he couldn't breathe as former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee onto the Black man's neck, is not lost on him.
“Basically, what happened to George Floyd almost happened to me, except I had an elbow not a knee, and fortunately, I’m still breathing instead of being in a casket,” he said.
Tuggle’s mother, Cornelia Dawson, wrote in a letter Thursday to Purdue President Mitchell Daniels, Jr., that she is “very disturbed, disappointed and more fearful for” her son at Purdue University.
“I have seen a video repeatedly, and spoken to several people since this incident, and as I write this letter to you, I am still feeling overwhelmed with emotions that lead to tears running down my face, one week afterwards,” Dawson wrote.
Purdue University Police Chief John Cox said in a statement that the officer responded to the area following a call from a third party who said “it appeared a woman was being held against her will.” The statement did not identify Tuggle.
Internal reviews are conducted whenever an officer uses force during an arrest, the police department said.
The investigation will “include input from all witnesses to the arrest and take into account all available evidence, including video from officers’ body-worn cameras and statements from the students involved,” the department said. It said no one was hurt in the arrest.
In her letter, Dawson also asked Daniels to “do everything within your power to hold the Purdue University police officer accountable for hurting my son; and creating an unsafe and uncomfortable educational experience for him, as well as other students who are now concerned and disturbed about this matter.”
Daniels said in a statement that the inquiry into how the officer handled the incident will be “swift and thorough.”
“As an additional step, following the internal review, the Indiana State Police will immediately commence an independent review of the PUPD investigation and video evidence,” Daniels said. “Should there be a finding of misconduct by the officer, appropriate action will be taken promptly.”
Williams reported from West Bloomfield, Michigan.