Atlanta Cop Cleared in IHOP Brawl

Atlanta (AJC)-The off-duty Atlanta police officer involved in a scuffle with several women at a Buckhead IHOP did not violate the APD’s maltreatment or excessive force policies, according to a report from the agency’s Office of Professional Standards. Officer Jose Vidal, who was hired by IHOP to provide security  April 23, will receive a written reprimand, however, for not following APD’s procedures while working off-duty jobs.

“Officer J. Vidal’s use of force was reasonable and necessary given the totality of the circumstances that were present during the incident,” said the conclusion of the internal affairs report, released to the media Tuesday. “However, the investigation did reveal that Officer Vidal failed to follow APD’s Standard Operating Procedures concerning the enforcing of “house rules” while working off-duty jobs,” an APD statement said.

The 17-page report includes brief statements from police officers, IHOP patrons and a restaurant employee. Some of the officers said they arrived after the women were arrested and did not witness what happened before that.

The incident, captured on video, started with Vidal confronting one woman because she was loud and shouting to people at another booth. It ended with four women being arrested. One faces felony charges.

The accounts offered by the women involved differ from reports by police officers.

The AJC and Channel 2 Action News interviewed two of the women – Cynthia Freeman and Roberta Caban – in front of a lawyer days after the incident. Freeman, who has a pending job application with the APD, said she was focused on two men dressed as Star Wars characters when she entered the IHOP and didn’t know that Vidal was a police officer when he came over and told her to shut up.

Vidal wrote in his report he came over because Freeman was shouting to people in another booth. He told her to be quiet or leave.

The situation escalated. Another woman, Ashley Leavell, came over to the booth and told Vidal to leave Freeman alone.

According to the videos customers recorded and later posted on the Internet, Leavell touched Vidal, Vidal slapped her and Leavell hit back.

According to the newly released internal affairs report, Leavell, “immediately attempted to strike the officer three times with a closed fist. The officer then delivered a closed fist strike to the face of Ms. Leavell.”

The APD conducted two internal reviews from the IHOP incident. The first, a 10-day review to determine if any changes need to be made in Atlanta’s police training program, also said Vidal followed departmental rules in the incident.

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