Screengrab from video
It was Thursday at a suburban town plaza in Tamarac, Florida, about 6 miles and 14 months removed from the high school massacre in Parkland. A group of teenagers gathered where kids were known to have caused disturbances in the past. A Broward County sheriff's deputy, a member of the force criticized for its response to the Parkland attack, saw one teenager who had previously trespassed, according to arrest records.

That teen's phone bounced onto the pavement. A 15-year old went to pick it up and, in a widely circulated video from a bystander, he did so in front of a pepper-spray-wielding deputy. The deputy triggered the spray at the teen's face, and the deputy threw him to the ground.

Another deputy, Christopher Krickovich, straddled him, smashed his forehead into the asphalt several times and punched him in the head. The teen extended his arms.

"What are you doing?" a girl shouted. "He's bleeding!"

The arrest and charges against the teenager, coupled with the video, led to criticism and prompted an investigation. But they have also posed a difficult question for a community concerned by what many thought was a passive police response to violence: Is this the inevitable result of public demand?

The Broward County Sheriff's Office began more physical and aggressive training after a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year - implemented by the new Broward County sheriff, Gregory Tony, who was appointed in January.

The training led to violent altercations, some in the office believe, resulting in fractured bones, a detached retina and, in March, bleeding in the brain, said Jeff Bell, president of the Broward Sheriff's Office Deputies Association.

"It's almost like a 'Fight Club' atmosphere," Bell told The Washington Post.

Bell said full-contact takedown training has become a priority, despite concerns over injuries. The new policy is a direct result of the Parkland response's perceived shortcomings. And because of that guideline, Bell said, the deputies acted accordingly in Tamarac.

"People want accountability in Broward County," Bell said. "But what the community screams for, and what they want, are two different things."

Broward County Mayor Mark Bogen disagrees. He called for Krickovich to be fired for the "outrageous and unacceptable" altercation. Tony launched an investigation, saying in a video statement that he was appointed to bring accountability to the force.

"That accountability will be held not just for the sake of when we are right but in cases when we may be wrong," he said.

David Klinger, a criminal justice professor at University of Missouri, St. Louis, said Bell's defense obscures the occasional need to evaluate how use of force policies take shape in reality.

"Oftentimes training doesn't get to the philosophical root to explain to officers why you need to do X, Y or Z," Klinger said. "Rather, it's just 'do X, Y or Z.' It's very easy for officers to misapply."

Klinger added: "If there is a problem with the particular use of force, and (deputies) were doing what they were trained to do and told to do, you can't criticize them. You have to see where it broke down in the chain."

Occasionally, policing doctrine in response to one crime can lead to other infractions, Klinger said.

Thursday's altercation with officers and an unarmed teen reminded Klinger of the police killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old who was fatally shot in 2014 after police responded to a call of a young man pointing a gun at people. Tamir had a toy gun and was killed by police.

Later, the officer said he responded to the call as an active-shooter scenario, even though no shots were fired. That training with contextualizing threats, Klinger said, may have contributed to the killing. "We have to figure out to teach officers how to identify and define things in a very accurate fashion," he said.

Bell, the association president, said the teenager in Thursday's altercation was chased and thrown to the ground after being pepper sprayed to keep him from hurting himself - like being hit by a car, for instance.

An attorney for the teenager, Richard Della Fera, criticized those comments.

"I'm so relieved to hear they're very concerned for my client's safety," he said, with sarcasm.

Della Fera said he will meet with the state attorney's office to discuss the behavior of the deputies and pending charges of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, resisting arrest without violence and trespassing.

The attorney argues that charging documents that described a tense mob of 200 students was overstated; smartphone video recorded the scene. In the video, about 15 or so students appear to be near the deputies.

Della Fera also disputed the idea that his client, whom he declined to name, had a fighting stance when he stood next to the deputy. The teen's arms appear to be at his sides in the video. The J.P. Taravella High School sophomore suffered a broken nose and may have other injuries, Della Fera said.

Della Fera conceded that it was a "chaotic situation" at the end.

"But police should be the calmest people in the situation," he said. "I don't know what this all has to do with Parkland."

The Washington Post