An Ohio police officer who went viral in 2015 after dancing with kids was caught on video this weekend punching an unarmed man in the face who was standing and shouting at another officer, prompting outrage and a police investigation.
In the years since Officer Anthony Johnson was captured on video showing his dance moves, he’s become known as Columbus’s “dancing cop” and worked to promote community policing via speaking engagements and a podcast. On his Instagram, @ohnoitsdapopo, Officer “AJ” posts videos that show him joking, dancing, and singing with local teens.
“I grew up hating the police... now I’m a Police Officer,” his bio says. “I grew up in the same streets I now protect.”
But on Friday, Johnson was one of several officers who responded to a neighborhood after a report of shots fired. Cellphone footage showed him pushing, then punching, a man who had been ordered to back away from another officer, and a clip posted to Twitter was shared thousands of times.
The Columbus Division of Police said it is investigating the incident and declined to comment further. On Saturday, the department said Chief Thomas Quinlan had reviewed body camera footage and he believed the officer was protecting bystanders.
“While uses of force can appear shocking the officer on preliminary review was protecting bystanders during a call for service where guns were fired. Full investigation to follow. Be patient,” the department said in a tweet.
Those bystanders included the man’s family members, who said the violence was unnecessary. Jonathan Robinson was arrested after he was punched by the officer, and family members said in Facebook posts they hoped videos from the scene would help them share the truth about what happened.
Officers first arrived at the home Friday after someone set off firecrackers nearby, the sound of which was caught by ShotSpotter, an automatic gunshot detection system, Robinson’s brother Derryle Sloan said in a Facebook video. Sloan said he explained to police that only he and his brothers were in the house with their children, and they did not have a gun.
But more officers continued to arrive at the scene, he said, ordering the adults out of the house while the children remained inside. Sloan said an officer then gave permission for a relative to pick up the children — but he failed to communicate that to other officers.
Videos, which include the clip that went viral as well as 49 minutes of footage from police body and dash cameras, show a woman, identified as Robinson’s wife, crossing the street toward the house where the children were. An officer approaches her, and Robinson runs over, then stops a couple of feet from the officer.
The officer orders Robinson to get back. “Or what?” Robinson shouts in reply. After several exchanges, Johnson then pushes Robinson, telling him to back up, and punches him.
“He sucker-punched my brother,” Sloan said. “And he laughed about it.”
The video released by police includes Johnson’s body camera, which after the punch shows him putting a handcuffed Robinson into the back of a patrol car, then running his license. He asks Robinson if he’s hurt and summons a medic to offer assistance.
“None of this was necessary,” Robinson says from the back seat.
“You did this to yourself,” another officer replies. “You came running up on a scene with your fist clenched. And you swung at an officer.”
Robinson said his only concern was his wife and children.
“What was you ready to do to my wife and kids,” he said. “You were ready to hurt her, was you not?”