A Pennsylvania police chief has been suspended without pay after a viral video showed him harassing and shouting at a pregnant Black woman ahead of him in line at a pharmacy.
The local borough council in Homestead, a suburb of Pittsburgh, suspended Police Chief Jeff Desimone for three days without pay on Thursday following backlash over a video showing him confronting Kamahlai Stewart at a drive-thru Giant Eagle pharmacy last week, according to NBC affiliate WPXI.
The video shows Desimone, who was not in uniform and driving an unmarked car, angrily demanding that Stewart leave the pharmacy before receiving her prescription so that he could get his sooner. Stewart says that the shouting started soon after Desimone turned on his car’s police lights.
“What were you thinking to put myself, my unborn child and my 5-year-old ill son in danger like this?” Stewart told the outlet, addressing Desimone. “I was shocked, appalled. I can’t believe you, of all people—you’re the chief of police—for you to turn on your lights and try to intimidate me was totally an abuse of power.”
Stewart began recording on her phone after Desimone approached her car and started cursing, then calling for police backup. Desimone is later seen in the video shouting at a pharmacy employee that Stewart’s “prescriptions are not ready” as another officer stands by her car window.
Desimone insisted that the confrontation has been unjustly blown out of proportion, describing it as a “little dispute” and suggesting that it was reasonable to use his position as chief of police to demand that Stewart pull over to let him jump the line.
At Thursday’s council meeting, multiple Black residents said that the chief had exhibited inappropriate behavior in the past and argued in favor of him being fired rather than given a short suspension. One woman called the suspension a “disgrace,” describing it as a “vacation” rather than a punishment. Homestead Mayor Betty Esper defended Desimone.
“Everybody’s got a different disposition,” Esper told WPXI. “He’s [been] here 20-some years. I mean, come on, he’s never abused anybody. There’s two sides to every story, also.”
Some members of the council were in favor of punishing Desimone more severely, while others argued that even his brief suspension was too harsh. Both Kamahlai Stewart, who retained a lawyer after the incident, and her husband Maurice Stewart said that the suspension was “a start” but that Desimone “needs to be removed.”
Newsweek reached out to Homestead Borough for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.