Jersey City, New Jersey, police are coming under fire (no pun intended) for kicking a man shortly after he emerged in flames, in what looks to be a case of mistaken identity.
CNN reports Miguel Feliz was driving home from work on Sunday evening when a vehicle being chased by police crashed into his car and a utility pole, igniting all three.
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Witness video captured Feliz exiting his vehicle and rolling on the ground while attempting to remove clothing engulfed in flames.
Moments later, several police officers approach Feliz while pointing their guns, possibly thinking he was the person they were initially chasing. Some officers appear to kick him, then drag him into the street.
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The incident left Feliz in critical but stable condition, with severe burns to 30 percent of his body, his family told Univision, which first released the video.
The New York Times reports that the bystander filming the scene, Erik Roberto, 36, can be heard shouting: “Help him out! Help him out!”
Instead, one of the officers, whose gun was drawn, appeared to kick Feliz in the head.
Police, however, insist they were attempting to rescue Feliz.
“Taking swift action isn’t always elegant, but this video clearly shows that the officers acted quickly to extinguish the flames, and pull this man out of harm’s way,” Carmine Disbrow, president of the Jersey City Police Officers Benevolent Association, said in a statement.
Roberto said he does not believe the police union’s version of events.
“You can see it completely different in the video,” Roberto said. “He didn’t have fire on his chest and that’s where they beat him.”
Mayor Steven Fulop of Jersey City said in a tweet on Wednesday that the episode was “unacceptable,” and raised the possibility of criminal charges against the officers involved.
The man who led police on the chase that injured Feliz has been identified as 48-year-old Leo Pinkston.
Pinkston was charged last week with “one count of eluding in violation and one count aggravated assault.
The Hudson County prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into the episode before the video was released, as is common practice in cases of officer-involved shootings.
The police had fired at Pinkston, during their pursuit. Pinkston is said to have caused at least one other car accident before crashing into Feliz.