Atlanta Police Investigate IHOP Scuffle

10:25 AM, Apr 20, 2012   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- A woman caught up in a scuffle last year at the Buckhead IHOP is speaking out to clear her name.

Roberta Caban says the incident has haunted her for the last year. More than that when we first reported the story we made an error and gave the impression she was the one who slapped the police officer. She was not and now she wants to share her story.

Investigation Finding & Recomm & Vidals Statement
Stoddard Contd & Offrs Mustafa Leach Chiang Whitmire & Caban statement
Caban contd & Citized Eugene Brown interview.pdf

Roberta Caban sat down with 11Alive in a 30 minute interview. She was at the IHOP last year when a scuffle broke out between with an off duty Atlanta police officer, working for IHOP, who accused a group of women of being disruptive. The officer tried to remove the women when one woman started slapping him and he punched her in the face.

At the time 11Alive, incorrectly, identified Roberta Caban as the one who slapped the officer.

"It says that it's me but it's actually not," Caban told us.

Caban was actually sitting in the corner of the booth watching events unfold.  It was Ashley Leavell who is accused of slapping the officer. Caban says she didn't know Leavell, who, she says was coming to their aid. 

 "His knuckles we're going into me and it was painful so I was trying to guard myself and it hurt," she said demonstrating how she got involved. 

The officer was Jose Vidal and although cleared of using unnecessary force, an internal investigation determined that because he was working for a private company he violated police policy, "when he attempted to enforce the policies of a private enterprise through the use of his police power."

According to Caban the women had just walked in and she says a photo taken right before the scuffle proves everyone was calm. She believes the officer mixed up one of her party with a woman he had escorted out earlier.

Caban is still facing a charge of obstruction.

"Look how ridiculous this is and I just can't believe that we're sitting here a year later still charged with no information, Miss Leavell's charges have been escalated and we just want to have our life back. That's all. That's all we want," she said.

We reached out to the Fulton County District Attorney's and the Fulton County Solicitor General to find out about the status of the charges. We've now learned the case against Leavell has been filed with a State Court judge and it will need to be assigned a trial date. As for Caban and the other women charged, Fulton County's Solicitor General, Carmen Smith, told 11Alive News Friday April 20th, 2012 that she is reviewing the cases to determine whether to file them with a judge.

Two different videos posted on YouTube appear to show the officer punching a woman after she hit him.

The videos show a chaotic scene inside the Buckhead IHOP early Saturday morning, but they do not show exactly what led to the confrontation.

The video starts with an Atlanta police officer trying to arrest a woman sitting at a booth, when another woman reaches in to try to stop him. 

Then it appears the officer slaps the woman in the face. She responds by hitting back, again and again, until the officer throws a punch, hitting her the face. 

Another police officer steps in, as the first one wrestles the woman to the ground and eventually puts her in handcuffs. 

The incident report from the confrontation included a narrative of what happened, from the arresting officer's point of view. 

It said that the arresting officer, J. Vidal, was working at his second job as a security officer at the Buckhead IHOP Restaurant, when he asked a woman, who he said was yelling at another booth, not to talk so loud. 

"Ms. (Cynthia) Freeman responded that she is a criminal justice major and she knows the law. She stated that this is a public place and she knows her First Amendment right. I advised her that IHOP is private property, and that I am employed by IHOP," Vidal said in the report. "I also advised her that she would have to leave the property if she continued to keep yelling." 

Roberta Caban who is Freeman's friend disputes those comments, in writing, in an email to 11Alive. She stated: I never yelled or stated: I knew the law and/or refused to leave. We did ask for management several times.

According to Vidal's report, Freeman and her companion, Roberta Caban, continued to yell at Vidal, saying they knew the law and that they were not going to leave. Vidal then asked the women to leave the restaurant. 

"I ain't going anywhere," Freeman said, according to the report, insisting that she was going to call the "real police." 

"I advised her that I was the real police and that she was now under arrest," Vidal's report said. 

The report continued, saying Freeman wanted to see the manager, but Vidal tried to get her out of the booth, saying that she was under arrest. 

Vidal said Caban grabbed his arm as he tried to get Freeman out of the booth. He said that at that point, he radioed for assistance. 

The report said that Freeman began punching his body to stop him from arresting her. Another woman, Ashley Leavell, came to the booth and yelled at Vidal to leave Freeman alone. 

At that point, a second officer, C. Heflin, arrived to help get the situation under control. 

"Officer C. Heflin advised Ms. Leavell to stay back," the report said. "Ms. Leavell punched me in the left side of my face. I returned the punch and struck her in her face. I then grabbed Ms. Leavell and tried to put her into custody. Ms. Leavell resisted arrest. After a short struggle, I placed her into custody." 

Vidal's report said that Leavell's breath smelled of alcohol, and that she used vulgar language and continued acting in "a boisterous manner." 

A fourth woman, Vanessa Chancey, was pulling at Vidal, according to the report, trying to get him to stop taking Freeman into custody. 

All four women were taken into custody; Leavell and Freeman were checked out by ambulance crews before being taken to jail. Freeman's blood pressure was high; she was taken to the detention area at Grady Memorial Hospital. The other three women were taken to the Fulton County Jail.

RELATED: Moms side with officer in scuffle

Carlos Campos, the Public Affairs Manager of the Atlanta Police Department issued a short statement on Wednesday afternoon stating:

"The officer involved in the arrest and confrontation with a patron at the IHOP in Buckhead has been placed on administrative duty pending the outcome of an investigation by the department's Office of Professional Standards. Use of force by police officers is a matter the department takes seriously, and the OPS investigation will determine if the officer acted within established guidelines. Chief Turner has pledged to have the OPS investigation concluded in 10 business days."

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