CC student “Fly Benzo” goes on trial after heated confrontation with SFPD

This confrontation between Debray “Fly Benzo” Carpenter and SFPD took place in October 2011.

A second video, shot by bystander Gerald Robinson, records Benzo’s arrest and can be seen on YouTube.


By Alexander Schmaus
The Guardsman

Bayview-Hunters Point political activist and City College student DeBray “Fly Benzo” Carpenter is currently on trial for allegedly obstructing and assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest.

The court case stems from an incident on October 8, 2011 when two San Francisco police officers and a group of Bayview-Hunters Point residents had a heated confrontation in Mendell Plaza.

The incident began when officers Joshua Fry and John Norment arrived at the plaza, and Fry pulled the plug on a community boombox.

Officer Fry testified that music was playing so loudly that he could not hear the sound of his own radio or earphones.

“I could have walked 20 feet away to hear, but I didn’t because that is historically a high-crime area,” said Fry. “It’s our job to be there so people feel safe.”

When asked if there was a noise ordinance that applied, Fry said, “no, it’s not applicable, because nobody complained.”

Mendell Plaza, located at 3rd Street and Palou Avenue, is an important public gathering place in the heart of Bayview-Hunters Point.

“People have been plugging in that boombox right there for years,” said Benzo’s lawyer, Severa Keith. “That corner is used for everything.”

After the music was silenced, angry neighborhood residents were heard yelling, “You wouldn’t bother white people like this!”

Fry and Norment began filming the crowd with their cell phones, and in response, Benzo recorded them as well.

“They were harassing me,” said Benzo, “and officer Fry took out his iPhone and started recording me first.”

Benzo recorded Fry trying to smack the phone out of his hand.

A second video, shot by bystander Gerald Robinson, records Benzo’s arrest and can be seen on YouTube.

Robinson’s video shows Norment shake his pepper spay can in front of the angry crowd.

In court, Norment acknowledged that shaking the pepper spray “may have been” perceived as antagonistic.

Fry and Norment both testified that they were concerned about their own safety.

“I was afraid he was going to hit me,” said Fry, referring to Benzo.

“I thought we were going to be attacked,” said Norment.

However, Benzo appears non-violent throughout the video, while Fry is shown smacking Benzo’s arm.

Benzo continued to film. Then Fry grabbed and twisted Benzo’s arm while other officers closed in and forced him to the ground.

Rodney Fitzgerald, one of the other officers involved, testified that the crowd was, “yelling and screaming about police brutality.”

Norment fell and hit his head while apprehending Benzo, and allegedly suffered a concussion.

He was treated at San Francisco General Hospital 10 days later for localized neck pain and a bruise on the back of his head and did not report to a doctor about suffering from headaches until nearly three weeks after the incident.

The doctor who treated him in October said it would be “unusual” for a person to feel concussion symptoms after so much time had passed.

“My theory is that the police started it,” said Keith.

“An officer cannot disrespect a person and use their anger as grounds for arrest.,” she said.

When asked if pulling the plug on a group’s boombox was disrespectful, Fry answered, “Depends on context and history.”

The police department’s “community policing” policies are key to Keith’s argument, and she asked both Fry and Norment whether they were familiar it.

Both confirmed they were.

The policy directs officers to maintain respectful and courteous relations with community members, to practice open communication and to have knowledge, understanding and respect for the history and culture of the communities they serve.

The prosecuting attorney argued that police should be granted discretion to determine which situations require reasonable use of force.

Benzo is currently out on $95,000 bail and faces up to four years in prison.

Closing arguments are expected to wrap up Feb. 21.

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