Officer Reprimanded for “Attitude Arrest ” of Homeless Man

by Arnaud and Naja Girard…….

A Blue Paper report about the rough arrest of Kristopher Knight in front of Key West’s Publix grocery store last month created quite a stir among our readers. The initial bystander video showed Mr. Knight screaming in pain while Key West police officers were handling him. His hands were already cuffed and his legs had been tied with some sort of leash [a hobble strap]. It was not clear what kind of resistance the short 25-year-old would still have been able to show the officers. The level of pressure used on Knight was disturbing for some of our viewers; others found it perfectly justified.

In the course of three weeks, after all the available reports and body cam video was collected, the footage showed Mr. Knight dozing, while sitting down in front of Publix at Key Plaza. One officer, Officer Julio Gomez, wakes him up, and inquires about his condition. He is obtaining reasonable answers and compliance from Knight who he continues to address politely.

Another officer however, Officer Michael Chaustit immediately breaks into foul language and a confrontational attitude. Knight is ordered off the property. He complies, but as he is walking and once he gets about 30 feet away, he yells loudly “Fuck y’all Motherfuckers!” Officer Chaustic is heard saying, “Nope!” Gomez asks: “You want to take him?” Answer, “Yep”.

Chaustit follows behind Knight. He orders “Stop!” Knight raises his hands over his head but keeps walking “Man I didn’t do nothing.” Officer Chaustit, who is twice Knight’s size, throws him into what appears to be some plastic drums then grabs him again and throws him, flying across the walkway, where his head stops inches from a cement column. From that moment on and at all times thereafter Chaustit uses one form or another of “pain compliance.”

The whole thing is captured by KWPD’s new body worn cameras, to one exception: the really disturbing scene, where Knight is completely restrained and yet constantly subjected to pain, that part, is not recorded. The footage however resumes immediately after, as Knight is being put back inside the police cruiser.

After publishing the video documentary of the incident, we asked Key West Chief of Police, Donie Lee, if the arrest was consistent with KWPD policy.

The chief responded saying he had sent the incident for review by his Professional Standards Department.

This week we received this statement from the Chief:

“We have concluded our review of the arrest of Kristopher Knight by Ofc. Chaustit on Feb. 4, 2017.  Although we believe there was probable cause for the arrest, we believe the arrest was based on an emotional reaction to provocation by Knight.  My expectation is that our officers always strive to maintain their professionalism and avoid attitude arrest. Ofc. Chaustit also didn’t use his body cam according to policy.  Ofc. Chaustit has been disciplined for his actions.  He is a good officer and has accepted responsibility for his actions. We have determined that the use of force in this arrest was within policy.”

To our readers who believe we have an “anti-police agenda” we pledge to try to show you that we don’t. The reporting we did of Knight might have dispelled this “agenda” perception had we focused more on contrasting the opposing methods used by the officers on scene: Officer Gomez, who was recently awarded for the work he did to successfully deescalate a very tense situation at Depoo Hospital and Officer Chaustit, whose previous numerous encounters with Knight got the best of him that afternoon.

Our reporting on the police, contrary to many of our misled readers, has nothing to do with politics, we are neither conservatives or liberal. However, it is our job to investigate and report on serious matters such as how well local police officers are performing in different situations and whether the officers remain within the boundaries of the law, regardless of the color, or social status of the suspect.

11 thoughts on “Officer Reprimanded for “Attitude Arrest ” of Homeless Man

  1. Not surprised that Lee would say this. Fact is this clearly shows misuse of force and violation of policy. He defended murder so why not assault. He basically said the force was caused my an aggravated cop and while I can understand that it still was misuse of power. Paybacks could be hell or deadly. Lee will never find one of his officers guilty. So as public do we get to hear what the punishment was ?
    Nothing will happen as usual unless Knight files a charge of assault. Lee is nothing more than an ass wipe puppet ran by the city. Actions such as this will result in riots and scare off tourism. To those that live in KW keep in mind your main source of income is from tourists. Without them your jobs go away and property values drop. If cases like this and Eimers get national attention you will see tourist being scared off.

  2. There is no question that Officer Chaustit got over-emotional, and then out of line, and he needed a reprimand. I still think it would be a kindness to him, and to our city, for him to be given police work that tends to keep him away from homeless people. And, I think his punishment should be made public. The public is entitled to know the punishment, to evaluate it and Chief Donnie Lee.

    However, based on the videos I watched, Knight was hardly complying at first. He seemed out of it due to chemicals. He did not respond well to the officer’s verbal inquiries/interventions. He was sleeping, dead drunk, apparently, on a sidewalk, in a busy shopping center in the day time. He mouthed back to the officers. He said he wasn’t doing anything wrong, which he knew was not true.

    Based on other readers’ comments in previous blue paper articles on this awful incident, Knight has a history of that kind of behavior.

    It’s a mess dealing with someone like Knight, who looks to me in the videos, should be forced to do rehab. But I don’t think that is legal. So being in jail got him started down that road. He did the DTs. Now he’s back on the street, yes?

    If Key West had its own drunk tank, where homeless and non homeless dead drunk people like Knight are put by police, instead of in jail for 8 hours, under Marchman Act, then released, to find on foot their own their bicycle, car, that might get their attention – some.

    Maybe more so, if they got put in the drunk tank every time they got drunk. For Knight, that might be every day. Or night.

    Perhaps a steady diet of being put in the drunk tank would get Knight’s attention enough to cause him to want to leave Key West and the Florida Keys? With a one-way, don’t come back, Greyhound bus ticket.

    Maybe a steady diet of the drunk tank would cause Knight to want to do rehab.

    Maybe it would cause Knight to dive into the ocean off of White Street Pier and try to swim to Cuba.

    Whatever, the current method of trying to deal with Knight, and others kinda like him, IS NOT WORKING. I have heard that a definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result.

    I can tell you that County Commissioner David Rice, at the count-city homeless summit in the Harvey Government Center, in Key West, a few years back, agreed with my citizen comments about Key West needing its own drunk tank and use it as described above.

    Rice is a psychologist, PhD. He ran the Guidance Clinics of the Florida Keys for many years. He saw lots of homeless addicts and non-homeless addicts come through the Guidance Clinic’s detox and rehab program.

    Rice also agreed with me at that summit, that you do not put homeless addicts in the same homeless shelter with homeless people who are not using – well, not if your goal is to help the homeless who are not addicts turn their lives around, get off the street. But, if that is not your goal … Rice did not complete his sentence.

    None of Rice’s and my remarks at the summit were reported in local mainstream newspapers, nor by any local radio news programs. Only I reported that at my websites.

    Jiminkeywest, just my opinion. If you are going to attack Police Chief Donie Lee with those kind of words, be a man and put your real name on your words.

    Meanwhile, “actions such as this” have not scared off tourism, and I doubt ever will scare off tourism. Charles’ Eimers’ death by KWPD did not diminish tourism.

    Perhaps “actions such as this” will get onto the homeless grapevine and cause some homeless people to change their minds about coming to Key West. Or cause one or two homeless living here to leave. That does not justify “actions such as this,” but it might be a motivation for “actions such as this”.

    This former practicing attorney still doesn’t see any lawyer wanting to represent Knight and sue the city for damages. Nor do I see the FBI, the US Attorney, or the US Department of Justice, wanting to intervene in Knight’s behalf.

    Maybe Knight can get the ACLU to take up his noble he has every right to drink himself stupid if he wants to cause. God knows, that’s a serious pastime in Key West. And not hardly with just homeless people. Without booze, Key West’s economy, and its tourist trade, would dry up.

    1. Somehow we seem to see this same video and do not view it the same.

      1. Yes the cop put up with verbal abuse but as a cop he is expected to put up with it unless threatened bodily.

      2. Is it ok for a cop to say FUCK ?

      3. Did I miss something here ? The cop ordered him to leave. Yes he put up with or should we say traded insults. Bottom line is he let him leave and was doing exactly that. Yes he made a few remarks as leaving but clearly the only reason he assaulted him was because of his remarks while walking away. This still falls under level 1 unless he got up to him within a few feet and said the required words of POLICE STOP. And was no need to do anything. Within less than a minute he would been off the property. This was just a simple case of anger management and perhaps he should be required to pass and pay for such a class.

      Will agree the drying out time likely helps but not just 21 days. Thinking more like 90 days to a year.

      If you have respect for Lee that is great and on a few issues he has done a great job. But when he needs advised as to how to handle his staff then he clearly is not in control.

      1. Jiminkeywest, my comment began with:

        “There is no question that Officer Chaustit got over-emotional, and then out of line, and he needed a reprimand. I still think it would be a kindness to him, and to our city, for him to be given police work that tends to keep him away from homeless people. And, I think his punishment should be made public. The public is entitled to know the punishment, to evaluate it and Chief Donnie Lee.”

        First, I think I misspelled Chief Lee’s first name. I think it’s Donie.

        Second, since I come from a perspective of having lived on the streets in Key West and elsewhere in the past, and now am doing it again in Key West, my views are shaped by that up close and personal existential experience, and not by remote viewing, so to speak.

        This homeless man, Kristopher Knight, is a public nuisance. Not picking on him, because he has plenty of company in the Key West homeless tribe, so to speak.

        Based on the videos, the cause of Knight, and his tribe, being public nuisances is not being homeless, but drinking and perhaps using spice and/or other street drugs, and perhaps high sugar and caffeine drinks and snacks, as if there is no tomorrow.

        Knight’s ongoing drunkness is why we are having this discussion. For that is what caused him to be where he was, sleeping where any homeless person in Key West knows it is not okay to sleep, at night or during the day.

        In the big picture, Knight and his chemicalized tribe mirror the very same malaise in mainstream Key West, and in the city’s tourists, in the main.

        As I have written here (the blue paper) before in comments on this incident, booze is mother’s milk in Key West. Without booze, Key West’s economy would sink to the bottom of the sea. As I also have written here, Naja and Arnaud have told me a number of times, that just about everyone they know uses drugs, and they did not mean booze.

        The non-homeless in Key West, local and visitor, mostly drink/drug inside, in their vehicles, at their and friends’ homes, in lodging places and they pass out and sleep inside. Otherwise, they are no different from the one human family homeless drunk tribe :-).

        Yet, the non-homeless drunks-druggers are not viewed as public nuisances, even though when they get into or onto their vehicles and drive, they are public menaces. Compared to them drunk-drug driving their vehicles, Kristopher Knight and his drunk-drug homeless tribe are saints. Yet they are criminalized in Key West, not because they are drunk-drugged, but because they are homeless.

        I have long felt, and have written here and elsewhere, that KWPD should do random drug screens on its officers and staff, all the way to the very top: Chief Lee. Of all people, police should not be under the influence when they are on duty. Under the influence of booze, other drugs, steroids, performance enhancing drugs, and doctor-prescribed narcotics, such as, say, Xanax, Oxy, Valium, etc.

        It’s the massive drug usage in Key West, Kristopher Knight and his tribe mirror back to Key West. Not that I think there is anything that can be done about it, but that is what is at the root of what Knight experienced with KWPD.

        Key West is costing the Sheriff, thus the COUNTY taxpayers, a lot of money. by having its police use the Sheriff’s jail as the city’s alternative homeless shelter and drunk tank. Key West believe it has every right to do that to the Sheriff and the COUNTY taxpayers. I disagree, and I know plenty of people living outside of Key West and some of the county commissioners and the Sheriff also disagree.

        The city needs to build and operate its own drunk tank. For its homeless and non-homeless drunks-druggers, local and visitor. That’s what I see Kristopher Knight’s case is really about. That, and Key West is addicts paradise, unless you are homeless.

  3. We have requested the file associated with the Professional Standards investigation. Will have more details once those are provided.

  4. Naja you seriously should run for Mayor next term. You know how to uncover everything they try to hide. And am sure you will get this to the finish. Keep up the great work.

  5. Should we perhaps look at this from a safety side. Clearly Knight was either on drugs or drunk. So now in the interest of Knights safety regardless of the trespass charge should he been allowed to walk to such a busy street as Roosevelt ? A proper charge would been public intoxication. But that is normal on Duval st so maybe hard to after.

    Did I miss the video of the cop walking up behind Knight telling him to stop ? Or was this another I forgot to turn the cam on.

    1. Jim,

      RE: “Perhaps we should look at this from the safety side”.

      Excellent point! That is exactly what these officers set out to do…taking into account not only “public safety” but the “safety” of Mr. Knight. That Officer Chaustit may have “lost his cool” is but a minor side issue. These incidents can escalate in a heartbeat…and often do: In my view, we went from “level 1” on this “threat matrix” to “level 3”. Remember…expletives (implied threats) were yelled by Mr. Knight, requiring a corresponding action(s): This guy had NOT been frisked…the officers had no idea if he might have been armed. Owing to his actions, they had no idea as to what he may have intended to do. That is why he was restrained…from harming others or himself.

      Yes, he could have ben charged with public intoxication. That would have had NO effect on the process of arresting him, though.

      As for the officers being required to announce “STOP! POLICE!” is concerned…you’re all wet: The very reason Mr. Knight was moving at all was due to the fact that he acknowledged the presence and authority of the police.


  6. These officers should be charged for pre-meditated assault. In the video you witness a police officer initially doing his job but quickly going overboard. The man is ordered to leave the area and complies with the request. Knight curses the officers and then is violently assaulted and charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct. So how is it possible to trespass when you comply with the officer’s instructions? And what was disorderly? Sleeping on the sidewalk or was it his foul language? Knight was initially released from custody so it must have been the language, but as you see in the video, the officer cursed the man first, and we both know that cursing an officer is not an illegal act. Furthermore the officers knew that they wanted to beat him up and did not want any video evidence, so they intentionally turned off their body cameras. That shows premeditation and intent. Furthermore the charges were bogus and filed only to protect the officers actions. No where did the young man resist.
    I am sending a letter to the States attorney to ask that he prefer charges against the police. I don’t have hight hopes of justice but lets see what Mr. Ward does. Anywhere else those officers would be at the least fired. I know that there has to be honest police officers on that department who are tired of this behavior, but I’m sure that if they speak out they fear the consequences.

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