A Fairfax County police officer was acquitted Friday of using excessive force on a Black man during a violent encounter in 2020 that garnered widespread attention after video of the incident spread on the Internet.
The incident occurred in June 2020 during the height of protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and drew attention in part because Gladney uttered the same words as Floyd in his interaction with officers: “I can’t breathe.”
The Fairfax County NAACP condemned Gladney’s treatment.
Fairfax County prosecutors argued during the five-day trial that Gladney, who was pacing in circles and mumbling incoherently in the middle of a road, was not a threat and Timberlake’s use of force violated department policy.
Lyle Burnham, an assistant Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney, said Timberlake was reckless for shocking Gladney about 10 seconds after showing up to the scene.
“The only information that Officer Timberlake has is someone is in a residential area and needs oxygen,” Burnham said in his closing statement. “He doesn’t see Mr. Gladney with a weapon. He doesn’t see Gladney acting violent. Officer Timberlake shot first and decided to ask questions later.”
Timberlake, who is White, testified for hours in his own defense, offering a range of justifications for his handling of the situation.
Timberlake told jurors he mistook Gladney for another man who was wanted for violent offenses. He was also worried Gladney posed a threat to first responders on the scene and the general public because Gladney appeared to be on PCP and acting erratically. Tests that were entered into evidence showed PCP and cocaine in Gladney’s system.
Timberlake also said he felt he had grounds to arrest Gladney for being intoxicated in public.
Ultimately, he said he wasn’t trying to hurt Gladney, but get him help.
“It was first and foremost we needed to get him medical treatment,” Timberlake testified. “It’s common to have to take into custody individuals on PCP in order to get them medical care.”
Timberlake told jurors his Taser was the best way to do that because people on PCP can be unusually strong and often don’t respond to pain the same way a sober person does, so other tools like a baton or pepper spray are ineffective.
Gladney did not testify during the trial and was not seen in the courtroom. An attorney for him did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the outcome of the case.
The encounter unfolded on the afternoon of June 5, 2020. Fairfax County police officers and firefighters were called to Fordson Road for a report of a person needing oxygen.
Fairfax County police officer Kyle Schaefer and firefighters were the first on the scene. Schaefer’s body-camera video, which was played for jurors, showed Schaffer and paramedics trying to coax Gladney into an ambulance as he paces in circles and speaks unintelligibly.
“I’m here to help you,” said a medic at one point. “Just tell me what you need.”
Gladney appears to say he wants to go to detox, before veering off and continuing to pace around the residential street. Timberlake’s squad car soon pulls up, he gets out and strides toward Timberlake.
Timberlake calls after Gladney but refers to him as Anthony — the first name of the man he mistook Gladney for — and orders him to get on the ground. Moments later, he shoots his Taser at Gladney.
Gladney falls on his back and Timberlake orders him to roll over, before Timberlake puts his knee on the man’s back and another near his neck.
Gladney shouts for help. Timberlake hits him in the head and the officers and then firefighters all wrestle Gladney. Finally, Timberlake deploys the Taser again before Gladney is subdued and placed in handcuffs.
Timberlake was facing three counts for deploying the Taser on Gladney twice and for hitting him on the head.
The day after the incident Fairfax County’s then-Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler and Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano called a news conference to announce the charges against Timberlake.
Roessler called the use of force “horrible” and said he had reached out to Gladney’s family to express his disgust. Descano said in a statement Friday he was “disappointed” with the outcome, but not surprised given the challenges of prosecuting police officers.
Timberlake declined to comment on the verdict, but his attorney said he plans to remain with the Fairfax County Police Department. Timberlake still faces a civil suit over the incident and an internal affairs investigation.
The quick charges against Timberlake angered many rank-and-file police officers, who felt the case was not properly investigated. Dozens of officers attended the trial each day.
After the verdict, a group of officers gathered outside the courtroom and clapped loudly when Timberlake emerged.
“Thank you all for all the support,” Timberlake said. “It means the world to my family and I.”
Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis said in a statement that the department respected the jury’s decision.
“Policing in America is difficult,” Davis said. “So much of our success as a police department is dependent upon community partnerships. We understand and accept the scrutiny associated with our profession.”