Two SPPD officers disciplined for improper use of force

Two St. Pete police officers were disciplined for excessive use of force in separate cases, Chief Anthony Holloway announced Thursday morning.

In the first case, home surveillance video caught Officer Matthew Kirchgraber hitting a suspect back on April 5. Chief Holloway says Kirchgraber was helping a Pinellas County deputy arrest Tyrin Thompson outside a home along 4th Avenue South. The footage shows Kirchgraber and the deputy approach Thompson, who was laying on the porch after fleeing, then strike him several times as they pulled him up.

“This is not a technique taught by the department as a routine way of gaining compliance from a suspect,” his disciplinary letter noted.

A review board determined the use of force was “improper.” Kirchgraber was disciplined and must receive training on proper use of force.

Holloway said that while "distractionary blows" are taught in police academy and are legal, they should be used as a last resort.

"My question to the officer was, 'Could you have done something else?'" Holloway said.

It was not immediately clear if the deputy was also disciplined.

The second case happened back on May 2, when suspect David Barker allegedly fled from police after they tried to pull over his pickup truck. He tried to flee on foot but later began to surrender to officers with his hands in the air when he was hit with a stun gun fired by Officer Andrew Viehmann.

Helicopter video provided by the department appears to show Barker sitting on the ground with his hands in the air when Viehmann fired the Taser.

“There was no obvious reason for the use of the taser,” the review board concluded. “At no point were they any signs the suspect was going to attempt to flee or become violent.”

Viehmann’s discipline included a two-week unpaid suspension. He must also undergo training for proper use of force.

A second officer who witnessed Viehmann's use of the Taser was also disciplined for failing to report the incident.

The police chief said every officer in the department will undergo additional self-defense tactical training as a result of the officers' actions. However, he said the incidents are not indicative of the department as a whole.

"This one act is not all 562 of us. It was two officers out of 562," Holloway said, referring to the total amount of officers working for St. Pete police. "This shouldn't have happened, and it shouldn't happen again."