Sunday, April 12, 2015

Ten California deputies put on leave after shocking helicopter footage shows them 'punching and kicking horse thief as he lay on the ground with hands behind his back'

Ten deputies have been placed on leave after a shocking video emerged showing them punching and kicking an alleged horse thief for two minutes following a chase through the California desert.

In the video, captured by an NBC helicopter, Francis Pusok, 30, is seen falling off the horse he was suspected of stealing after being pursued several miles by the San Bernardino County officers.

Seconds later, two deputies catch up to Pusok and stun him with their Tasers. They then stun him again, and again, as lies splayed face-down on the ground, with his arms placed behind his back.

As the camera keeps rolling, the officers apparently kick the suspect in the head and crotch, before other deputies arrive on the scene. One clearly draws back his leg and swings it at Pusok's head.

Chillingly, after the beating, a deputy whispered in the suspect's ear: 'This isn't over,' according to Pusok's attorney Jim Terrell, who said the man was left 'scared to death for himself and his family'.

Now, San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon has placed 10 deputies on paid administrative leave for their alleged roles in the graphic footage, which he said had 'disturbed and troubled him'.

McMahon said the video, captured on Thursday, appeared to show an excessive use of force. He added that he was launching an internal investigation into the actions of the unidentified officers.

'I'm not sure if there was a struggle with the suspect,' he told NBC. 'It appears there was in the early parts of the video. What happens afterwards, I'm not sure of, but we will investigate it thoroughly.'

In a tweet via the San Bernardino Sheriff's Office, McMahon said: 'We have identified 10 deputies involved in the use of force during the arrest & they have been placed on paid admin leave.'

Earlier on Thursday, Pusok had allegedly fled by car after deputies had tried to serve a search warrant in an identity-theft investigation. He later dumped the vehicle in the Hesperia area, it is said.

The suspect, dressed in bright red clothing, then reportedly stole a horse and made his way across the desert near the town of Apple Valley, east of LA, before being tracked down by deputies.

In the video, Pusok can be seen 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 suspect then 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.

As more officers join in, the men huddle in a pack over Pusok, continuing to pummel their fists and feet into his back and head. Meanwhile, one deputy stands calmly holding the horse by the saddle.

Following the incident, two deputies were taken to a nearby hospital for injuries, including abrasions, a twisted knee and a back injury from being struck by the horse, the sheriff's office said.

Pusok was treated at the hospital for abrasions and bruising. He was then released to be booked on suspicion of felony evading, theft of a horse, possession of stolen property and reckless driving.

After the video was broadcast by NBC, it sparked outrage on the Internet, with many users noting that Pusok was lying on the ground in a 'surrender' position when he was beaten by the officers.

On Friday, Mr Terrell told KABC that the attack seemed never-ending. 'This is as bad, if not worse, than what they did to Rodney King. This was terrible. It kept going and going and going,' he said.

Rodney King, who died in 2012, rose to national fame after he was captured on video being beaten by Los Angeles Police Department officers following a high-speed car chase in March 1991.

Although four officers were charged with assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force, they were later acquitted in a series of verdicts that are thought to have caused the 1992 LA riots.

Also Friday, McMahon said an internal investigation is underway into the deputies' actions in the arrest of Pusok. A criminal inquiry into the actions of the suspect is also being carried out, he said.

However, he said that the department will not release the names of deputies - which apparently include a sergeant and a detective - until they are sure that multiple threats made are not 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.

Ken Cooper, a use of force expert, said the deputies were clearly frustrated and appeared to take that out on the suspect. One, he said, appeared to be striking Pusok with the 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 department-wide 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 in Apple Valley, where he had allegedly made threats to kill a deputy and shot a puppy in front of family members.

Pusok's beating came as recent violent episodes by officers dealing with suspects have hit the headlines, including the killing of Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina, last weekend.

Pusok's girlfriend of 13 years, Jolene Bindner, said her long-term boyfriend has had several run-ins with the law. However, she insisted that he is a great father who did not deserve the brutal beating.

'I'm not going to stand here and say that he's perfect, because who is?' she said. 'I couldn't believe it,' Bindner said after seeing the video. 'The first thing I said was 'they cannot do that.''

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.

Original report here

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