Officer initially hit woman in face before viral video showed second officer repeatedly striking her, police say

Photos of Christina Pierre taken one day after an encounter with police. - Attorney Lauren Newton

Police in North Carolina confirmed an officer who was involved in an initial encounter with a woman, who was later seen on video getting struck 17 times by a second officer, hit her in the face but claimed the woman assaulted him first.

In a statement posted on X, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said Thursday evening an ongoing investigation shows Christina Pierre striking the first officer “multiple times in the face as she is resisting arrest.”

“We can now confirm based on interviews and witness accounts that an officer, in response to being physically assaulted, returned a strike to Ms. Pierre’s face one time,” the department said. “This strike occurred during the initial encounter at the bus stop with the responding officers prior to the struggle on the ground involving several other officers.”

Police said two officers on patrol Monday afternoon saw two people smoking marijuana at a bus stop. The officers informed the two people, identified as Anthony Lee and Pierre, they were under arrest. Police said both Lee and Pierre resisted arrest, and in the struggle that followed “the female individual struck an officer multiple times.”

Pierre continued to resist arrest, lying down on her hands and ignoring verbal commands, according to police. An officer “struck the female subject seven times with knee strikes and 10 closed fist strikes to the peroneal nerve in the thigh to try to gain compliance. The officer was intentional about where the strikes were made,” police said, noting it was “consistent with training.”

Police Chief Johnny Jennings said during a Wednesday news conference the officer’s body-worn camera was knocked off during the struggle, so the initial encounter is barely visible. He said there was a struggle between the initial responding officer and Pierre before backup arrived.

When asked on about a photo showing an injury to Pierre’s face, Jennings said: “There’s nothing that shows that she was struck while she was on the ground in the head or face area.”

Jennings said at the time he asked his staff to review all the videos from the incident to determine where Pierre’s facial injuries came from, but acknowledged it was “consistent with either a punch or an abrasion.”

On Thursday evening, the department said state law allows “anyone to use reasonable force to defend themselves” and authorizes officers to do so in order to take a resisting person into custody.

Police have not publicly identified the officer they say hit Pierre in the face but said Thursday they continue to “review video, conduct interviews and work closely with Internal Affairs.”

CNN has asked CMPD about the identity of the officer who initially struck Pierre and that officer’s status in the department. CMPD has not responded.

Jennings said Wednesday it was too early to say whether the officers would be disciplined. The chief identified the officer seen repeatedly striking Pierre as Vincent Pistone, who has been temporarily reassigned from the patrol division to an investigative division.

Civil attorney Lauren Newton, who represents Pierre, said she watched hours of police body-worn camera footage of the incident on Friday.

“It’s clear that my client was already subdued when over a dozen, 10 or more of those punches thrown by the second officer to hit her were delivered. She was already subdued,” Newton told CNN.

“She had an officer around her head area and an officer with his knee in her butt and an officer holding down her legs when they’re essentially telling her to move her arms and put them behind her back,” the attorney said, describing what she said she saw on the videos.

Jennings said it may take months for the public to see the footage because North Carolina law requires a judge’s order to release such video. A hearing has been set for November 30.

Pierre and Lee were each charged with simple possession of marijuana and resisting officers, the department said. Pierre was additionally charged with assaulting a government official, while Lee was charged with carrying a concealed firearm.

They were each released on a $2,000 unsecured bond the day they were arrested. Pierre and Lee are scheduled to make their first appearances on December 12 at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse.

CNN was unable to determine whether Lee has legal representation.

Witness disputes claim that woman hit the officer first

A witness who told CNN she saw the entire arrest happen disputes that Pierre hit the officer first.

“I never saw her raise her hand to hit him. And I never took my eyes off of them,” said Donna, who asked that CNN not use her last name. “The officer balled his fist up, drew back and punched her square in the face.”

Donna told CNN she was eating lunch in a Bojangles parking lot Monday afternoon when she saw two officers walking up to a couple sitting at a bus stop by the fast-food restaurant.

She said the officers appeared to ask the couple what they were smoking and “the girl held up a cigarette.” Donna told CNN the couple – later identified by police as Pierre and Lee – continued to tell the officers they weren’t smoking marijuana.

“Before I realized what was happening, they grabbed the man to arrest him. And when they did, the girl jumped up and started questioning them, like ‘Why are you doing this? Why are you trying to arrest us? What did we do wrong?’” Donna recalled.

Donna recalled witnessing Pierre’s initial encounter with an officer, saying “it was like he was fighting a man.”

“He balled his fist, drew back, and he punched her in her cheek,” Donna explained. “I was just shocked. And I’m still shocked.”

Donna said the officer who she saw hit Pierre in the face during the initial encounter is not the same officer seen on the now viral video of the arrest repeatedly striking Pierre on the ground.

She said she gave police on the scene a statement recounting the events in the same way she described them to CNN and told the department she had witnessed the first officer punch Pierre in the face.

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