A California sheriff has placed 10 deputies on paid administrative leave after an area TV station recorded a violent arrest that he says appeared to be excessive force.
San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon announced the action Friday in the aftermath of the arrest of Francis Pusok, who fled by car and then on a stolen horse when deputies tried to serve a search warrant in an identity-theft investigation Thursday.
McMahon says an internal investigation into the incident has begun. In addition, two criminal investigations have begun — one into Pusok’s actions and the other into the deputies’ actions.
The sheriff says he was “disturbed and troubled” by what he saw in the video recorded by a KNBC-TV helicopter crew.
The beating of Pusok, who is white, follows other recorded violent actions by police officers dealing with suspects — such as the shooting death of an unarmed black man as he ran from a police officer last weekend in North Charleston, South Carolina — which have provoked outrage across the nation.
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.
Pusok, 30, initially fled in a car from officers who showed up at his residence. He later ditched the car and stole a horse. The chase continued until deputies on off-road vehicles and in a helicopter finally caught up to him.
The aerial footage shows Pusok fleeing on horseback, falling from the saddle, briefly scrambling to his feet and then throwing himself on the ground, spread eagled on his stomach with his arms out, and two deputies run up with stun guns drawn.
In the video, run up to him with stun guns and pounce on him, taking turns punching and stomping on him. Several other officers join the fray, delivering repeated blows and kicks for at least two minutes.
The sheriff’s statement said a Taser was fired at Pusok but was ineffective because of his loose clothing.
“The video surrounding this arrest is disturbing, and I have ordered an internal investigation to be conducted immediately,” McMahon said in an earlier statement. He added that members of a “specialized investigations detail” would be conducting a criminal inquiry.
Attorneys for Pusok told KNBC-TV Friday as they left the jail where he was being held that their client is in pain, with a badly swollen eye and marks from the beating over his face and body.
“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.