Titusville detective cleared of wrongdoing after punching suspect, chief says

'Least amount of force was used' in arrest, chief says

By Adrienne Cutway - Web Editor, Jennifer Ortega - Reporter

TITUSVILLE, Fla. - A Titusville Police Department detective who was seen in a Facebook Live video punching a suspect during an arrest has been cleared of any wrongdoing after an internal affairs investigation, according to Chief John Lau.

The investigation began in December after video circulated online showing the arrest of Amari Nicholas Hair at a Titusville gas station. The video appeared to show Detective Joshua Bernd punching Hair in the face.

"They didn't need to go that far, and from the dash cam, I don't seem him reaching for anything," said Hair's mother, Jennifer Hester.

Lau said Bernd was justified in his use of force because Hair was resisting and refused to let officers search his groin area during a pat-down, which led officers to believe that Hair might have been concealing a weapon.

"The fact of the matter is they felt like he was reaching in his pants," Lau said. 

Fentanyl-laced heroin was later found concealed in Hair's underwear, according to authorities.

"He knew exactly what he was doing in this video. He knew exactly what he was trying to conceal. Really what was happening was (Hair and his girlfriend) were protecting their drug trade,” Lau said. "Police tactics can be ugly when somebody resists a lawful order."

Lau confirmed that Bernd did use what's called a distractor strike on Hair. He said Bernd hit Hair in the nose, which caused a minor injury that did not require stitches, nor did it result in any broken bones.

“We do believe the least amount of force was used to properly control a resisting person,” Lau said, adding that Hair stopped reaching for his waistband after he was struck.

Hair has a documented history of violent, drug-related arrests in Titusville beginning from when he was 15 years old, officials said.

"The juvenile record has nothing to do with this incident," Hester said.

Bernd has been placed on paid administrative leave since the internal affairs investigation began late last year. Lau said he should be returning to work soon.

Hair was charged with possession of heroin and hydromorphone that detectives said were found in his underwear. He was treated at Parrish Medical Center before being booked into the Brevard County Detention Center.

People News 6 spoke to said that even with the investigation being concluded they would still like to discuss putting a board in place. Lau said he is against the idea, but that will ultimately be up to the City Council to decide.

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