SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) — A California sheriff placed 10 deputies on paid administrative leave Friday after news video recorded the violent arrest of a man fleeing authorities on horse.
San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said the video “disturbed and troubled him” and appeared to show an excessive use of force.
McMahon announced the action after 30-year-old Francis Pusok was arrested by deputies in a violent encounter filmed by a KNBC-TV helicopter. Pusok fled by car and then on a stolen horse, traveling several miles while deputies chased him on foot, after deputies tried to serve a search warrant in an identity-theft investigation Thursday.
The video shows the man dressed in bright red clothing falling from the horse as a deputy runs up and uses a stun gun on him. McMahon said the stun gun was believed to be ineffective because of the man’s loose clothing.
The man falls face down with his arms and legs outstretched and put his hands behind his back. The video shows two deputies appearing to come up and kick him in the head and crotch. Other deputies arrive moments later.
Two deputies received injuries including abrasions, a twisted knee and a back injury from being struck by the horse. Pusok had abrasions and bruising. He was booked on suspicion of felony evading, theft of a horse, possession of stolen property and reckless driving.
McMahon said there is an internal and criminal investigation, which looks at Pusok’s and the deputies’ actions.
He said the department won’t release the names of deputies, including a sergeant and a detective, until they’re sure that multiple threats made aren’t valid.
“I’m asking for some patience while we complete a thorough and fair investigation,” McMahon said. “I am disturbed and troubled by what I see in the video. It does not appear to be in line with our policies and procedures … I assure you, if there is criminal doing on the part of any of our deputy sheriffs or any policy violations we will take action.”
The deputies were wearing audio recorders, but McMahon said he had not listened to them and the recordings will be part of the investigation.
Attorneys for Pusok told KNBC-TV Friday as they left the jail that their client has a badly swollen eye, marks from the beating over his face and body, and is in pain.
“He remembers being beat, and he remembers that he wasn’t resisting, that he laid still, he complied immediately. He says that he didn’t even move a muscle because he didn’t want to be continuously beat, yet it still happened,” said attorney Sharon Brunner.
After the beating, a deputy whispered in his ear: “This isn’t over,'” attorney Jim Terrell said.
“And that’s why he’s scared to death for himself and his family right now,” Terrell said.
Ken Cooper, a use of force expert, said the deputies took their frustration out on the man and that one even appears to be striking Pusok with his expensive, department-issued Taser.
“It doesn’t look good. It looks like his hands are behind his back even when they’re doing the blows,” Cooper said. “The justification for using force is to gain compliance from the suspect, and the suspect seems to be complying. So what this looks like is those blows are not justified, they’re not necessary and they’re not professional.”
Cooper said the officers should be disciplined, retrained to deal with stress especially, and the video should be used for training. He said the officers allowed their emotions and adrenaline to overtake their professionalism. But training helps “inoculate” officers from responding improperly during high-stress situations.
“When chasing a fleeing suspect, in high stress, you have to control that. It’s your obligation as a professional. You can lose it sometimes,” Cooper said.
McMahon said deputies had previously been called to Pusok’s home where he allegedly made threats to kill a deputy and shot a puppy in front of family members. “We were very familiar with his aggressive nature,” McMahon said.
The beating of Pusok came as recent violent episodes by officers dealing with suspects have provoked outrage after being captured on video, including the shooting death of an unarmed man as he ran from a police officer last weekend in North Charleston, South Carolina.
The American Civil Liberties Union released a statement saying it is “deeply troubled by the video images” and applauding McMahon’s call for an investigation.
Taxin reported from San Bernardino.
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