Johnstown officer’s “use of force” determined to be within police policy

Local News

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (WTAJ) — Continuing coverage in which a video surfaced on social media of a Johnstown police officer punching a man, the JPD sent out a release identifying the actions that were taken leading up to the incident.

According to the release, Johnstown Police responded to a call explaining a man who was at the Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center for a 302(mental health) evaluation had left the building, refusing to return.

Police were able to locate George Corson Jr. at the intersection of Franklin and Hickory Streets. Police report when Corson was told they were taking him back to the hospital, he began to walk away. Another officer then arrived to assist. They reported Corson was being taken to the patrol car, uncuffed, when he began to resist.

A 10-second video uploaded to social media showed Corson on his back and an officer’s use of a closed fist to strike him twice in what appears to be his midsection.

Johnstown Police previously reported that the “use of force” incident was being investigated as social media began debating the officer’s actions over the course of the 10-second video.

The video, police say “fails to depict a nearly twenty-six-minute interaction between officers and Corson.”

Due to the level of resistance offered by Corson and fearing that he would escape, officers pinned him against a nearby crosswalk pole.   Corson continued screaming and resisting arrest.  Officers continued to issue verbal commands coupled with attempts at forcing his hands behind his back to gain his compliance to no avail.  It was at this point an officer struck Corson with two closed fist strikes to his left torso area with the intention of gaining compliance and control of Corson’s arm.  This too was unproductive and only led to Corson continuing to resist

Chief of Police Robert F. Johnson

The Johnstown Police Department reported Tuesday afternoon that they have determined that the “use of force” from the officer followed their Use of Force Policy which you can read below.

We have attached the full release from Chief of Police Robert F. Johnson.


On June 17, 2020 officers were dispatched to and appropriately responded, following a report that a wanted individual had walked away from the Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center while receiving treatment.  

Acting on a description provided by the 911 center, which was received from Conemaugh Hospital Security, an officer located George Corson Jr. at the intersection of Franklin and Hickory Streets.  Knowing that Corson had been transported earlier in the day for a 302 (mental health) evaluation, the responding officer established an immediate rapport with Corson.

When advised he would be returned to the hospital for further evaluation Corson began to walk away and the officer on scene attempted to take custody of him by handcuffing.  An additional officer arrived on scene and both officers attempted to cuff Corson in order to be transported back to Conemaugh Hospital in the patrol vehicle.

Officers then escorted Corson, who remained uncuffed, to the rear of a patrol vehicle in preparation for transport to Conemaugh Hospital.  When officers opened the rear door of the vehicle; Corson began using his feet to resist being placed into the cruiser while ignoring clear verbal commands to quit doing so and as such escalated the situation.  He also grabbed onto the window bars and would not let go, which continued for several minutes.  This was witnessed and reported to the Johnstown Police by a passerby.

Fearing that Corson may escape and further harm himself by running into traffic or jumping off of the Hickory St. Bridge, officers placed Corson on the ground as they felt it was imperative to restrain Corson by all means necessary.  As such Corson was pulled away from the patrol vehicle and placed on the ground.

Officers again attempted to handcuff Corson on the ground, but he refused to comply with verbal commands and continued to actively resist as officers actively attempted to take him into custody.

Due to the level of resistance offered by Corson and fearing that he would escape, officers pinned him against a nearby crosswalk pole.   Corson continued screaming and resisting arrest.  Officers continued to issue verbal commands coupled with attempts at forcing his hands behind his back to gain his compliance to no avail.  It was at this point an officer struck Corson with two closed fist strikes to his left torso area with the intention of gaining compliance and control of Corson’s arm.  This too was unproductive and only led to Corson continuing to resist

A request for additional units was then made and following the arrival of a third officer Corson was taken into custody, successfully handcuffed, and placed in a seated position on the sidewalk with his hands behind his back without further incident.

An immediate request for EMS was made to address Corson’s cuts and scrapes and while waiting for EMS; Corson thanked the officers for being with him and he knew they were trying to help him.

The JPD shift supervisor then requested Conemaugh and someone from Crisis contact him directly to further elaborate as to the circumstances surrounding Corson’s departure from the hospital. 

It was learned at this time that in the moments prior to Corson walking away from Conemaugh Hospital that he was actively trying to assault nurses and staff.  This occurred as a 302 warrant was in the process of being secured for him.

The officer who struck Corson twice with a closed fist reported the strikes were utilized to gain compliance and control of Corson’s arm and intended to bring his resistance to a swift conclusion.  These strikes were applied to a non-vital area consistent with his training.  The intent of the involved officer was to bring Corson into compliance and gain control over him to prevent further injury to him, the public, or the involved officers. 

The ten (10) second video on social media fails to depict a nearly twenty-six-minute interaction between officers and Corson.  

Chapter 5 of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code details use of force, 18 Pa. C.S. 508, peace officer’s use of force in making an arrest:

“He is justified in the use of any force he believes to be necessary to effect the arrest and of any force which he believes to be necessary to defend himself or another from bodily harm while making the arrest.”

Furthermore the City of Johnstown Use of Force Policy, 1.3.1 states

“Personnel shall never use a greater degree of force than that which is lawful, reasonable and necessary for the specific situation.  Such reasonable and necessary force may be used to effect an arrest, to overcome unlawful resistance, to prevent an escape from custody to neutralize an unlawful resistance, or to neutralize an unlawfully assault upon an officer or another person.  The use of physical force will end immediately when resistance ceases or when the arrest has been accomplished.”

In reviewing the use of force applied by the officers I determined that the use of force was appropriate and justified given the totality of the circumstances

If there was any question as to potential misconduct by any of the involved officers, our Department’s internal review would have been immediately halted and forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office in order to launch a criminal investigation.  There is nothing to indicate any criminal wrongdoing by the officer(s) and as such a request will not be made of the District Attorney’s Office to conduct an investigation.

Robert F. Johnson , Chief of Police

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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