Baytown police officer seen punching suspect in viral video

BAYTOWN, Texas (KTRK) -- A shocking video circulating around Baytown shows an officer caught on camera throwing punches at a suspect in a convenience store.

Many who have seen the video are wondering what led up to the confrontation.

Baytown police say the suspect, identified as James Thomas Liberto, had been released from jail earlier in the day on a public intoxication charge.

Liberto apparently did not want to leave the lobby of the jail, and police say he pulled the fire alarm in the building before being escorted out.

Police say not long after that, he showed up at the convenience store.

Store workers and Baytown police say the confrontation started as a call for help from the business.

Liberto was apparently acting strangely and speaking incoherently, according to witnesses.

"The suspect basically verbally challenges the officer," said Baytown police Lt. Scott Dorris. "When the officer grabs the suspect's arm, to escort him out of the store, the suspect throws a hot cup of coffee in the officer's face, and that of course is what leads to the officer striking the suspect several times in the face."

Wednesday afternoon, Baytown police released two still images from the officer's body camera and the surveillance video, showing the coffee in mid-splatter. The department has not released the full video of either surveillance or body camera.

Video that's gone viral was shot by a store employee from the surveillance camera and then posted on Facebook.

The video shows the officer punching Liberto four times as he falls to the floor.

The officer then tries to drag him out of the store, but Liberto regains his footing and tries to hold the door shut.

Moments later, the officer's K-9 partner appears in the video, manages to get inside the door, and then takes Liberto to the ground.

Within minutes, back-up arrives and Liberto is placed under arrest.

The video has been seen thousands of times on Facebook, but few knew the details leading up to the encounter.

ABC13 spoke with customers about the video. They are reserving comment until they get more information from Baytown police.

"I would have to know their side. There is two sides to every story," customer Kevin Helm said. "In a growing city like Baytown, with so much going on, that the police would just randomly attack that guy? I don't believe that one bit."

Baytown police say the officer has been with the department for 14 years.

They say he was wearing glasses, so he was not severely burned by the coffee, but his vision was blurred during the confrontation.

The incident is under internal review. The officer was back at work Wednesday.

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