‘Feed­ing frenzy’ lat­est chap­ter in ugly saga

San Bernardino deputies’ beat­ing of sus­pect again puts spot­light on law en­force­ment pur­suits that end vi­o­lently

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Paloma Esquivel, Richard Win­ton and Cindy Chang

Af­ter lead­ing au­thor­i­ties on a nearly three-hour pur­suit by car and horse­back, Fran­cis Pu­sok was ly­ing face down in the dirt with his hands clasped be­hind his back as San Bernardino County Sher­iff ’s deputies moved in.

Then the “feed­ing frenzy” be­gan, as one po­lice tac­tics ex­pert put it.

One deputy kicked Pu­sok hard in the groin area while an­other punched him in the head, a video by a TV news he­li­copter showed. Both deputies be­gan pum­mel­ing him. More deputies ar­rived at the scrum, and the blows con­tin­ued to rain down for about a minute be­fore Pu­sok, 30, was fi­nally hand­cuffed.

The scene on the cha­parral-cov­ered hill­side in Ap­ple Val­ley on Thurs­day was a vivid re­minder of how a pur­suit’s end can turn vi­o­lent. Both the sus­pect and the pur­su­ing of­fi­cers are in full adren­a­line mode, in­creas­ing the odds the in­ci­dent can turn ugly.

Since the beat­ing of Rod­ney G. King by Los An­ge­les po­lice of­fi­cers at the end of a chase more than two decades ago, law en­force­ment agen­cies have worked to im­prove tac­tics with hopes of bet­ter con­trol­ling how of­fi­cers act dur­ing those flash­point mo­ments.

Most chases end with­out in­ci­dent. But there con­tinue to be vi­o­lent mo­ments that are am­pli­fied be­cause pur­suits are of­ten cov­ered live by tele­vi­sion news he­li­copters.

Last year, the city of Los An­ge­les agreed to pay $5 mil­lion to the fam­ily of an un­armed man, Brian Newt Beaird, who was fa­tally shot af­ter lead­ing po­lice on a wild pur­suit in his sil­ver Corvette. The pur­suit was tele­vised live, and Beaird’s hor­ri­fied fa­ther watched as his son was shot to death.

Some high-pro­file pur­suits have re­sulted in pol­icy changes.

Af­ter an LAPD of­fi­cer was shown on tele­vi­sion strik­ing car theft sus­pect Stan­ley Miller 11 times with a large metal flash­light in 2004, then-Chief Wil­liam J. Brat­ton re­placed the flash­lights with smaller rub­ber­ized ver­sions.

The next year, of­fi­cers fa­tally

shot a 13-year-old who led them on a short car chase in South L.A.. The LAPD re­sponded by pro­hibit­ing of­fi­cers from shoot­ing at mov­ing ve­hi­cles un­less a deadly threat ex­ists.

The in­fa­mous King beat­ing in 1991, which was cap­tured by an am­a­teur cam­era op­er­a­tor, led to train­ing that re­stricted when and how of­fi­cers use their ba­tons.

But such rules can only go so far when of­fi­cers are pur­su­ing driv­ers who are putting lives at risk.

“It is dif­fi­cult to man­age your adren­a­line,” San Bernardino Sher­iff-Coro­ner John McMa­hon said Fri­day at a news con­fer­ence in which he an­nounced that the 10 deputies in­volved had been put on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave.

“It is very dif­fi­cult at times to con­trol your emo­tions, con­trol your adren­a­line, but that’s not an ex­cuse for what oc­curred yes­ter­day.”

Ed Obayashi, an Inyo County sher­iff ’s deputy and po­lice use-of-force ex­pert, de­scribed the Ap­ple Val­ley in­ci­dent as “a case of con­ta­gious force.”

“One deputy does it so an­other deputy does the same.… You have mul­ti­ple con­tin­u­ous blows here,” he said. “Dur­ing any pur­suit, ev­ery­one ex­pe­ri­ences an adren­a­line rush. But peace of­fi­cers are trained to con­trol them­selves. You’ve got to keep your mind on the job and use your train­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Charles “Sid” Heal, a re­tired Los An­ge­les County sher­iff ’s com­man­der, said the deputies ap­peared un­aware that a KNBC-TV chop­per hov­ered above, record­ing their ac­tions. Heal said deputies who weren’t even in­volved in the ini­tial en­counter later piled on.

“It went on way too long,” he said. “They took what we call cheap shots.”

McMa­hon urged the public to be pa­tient dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion but con­ceded that the video was trou­bling.

“I am dis­turbed and trou­bled by what I see in the video,” he said.

“It does not ap­pear to be in line with our poli­cies and pro­ce­dures.”

McMa­hon said the deputies’ use of force ap­peared to be ex­ces­sive, though there were points in the video when Pu­sok ap­peared to strug­gle, pos­si­bly mov­ing his hands and kick­ing in re­sis­tance.

The FBI has opened a civil rights in­ves­ti­ga­tion, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive said Fri­day, while the Sher­iff’s Depart­ment has launched a dis­ci­plinary in­ves­ti­ga­tion as well as an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that could lead to pos­si­ble crim­i­nal charges. The ev­i­dence to be re­viewed will in­clude au­dio recorders worn by the deputies.

McMa­hon said he would not re­lease the names of the deputies, who in­clude a de­tec­tive and a sergeant, un­til the depart­ment as­sesses the po­ten­tial threats against them. Pu­sok was treated at a hos­pi­tal for abra­sions and bruises be­fore be­ing booked for felony evad­ing, horse theft and pos­ses­sion of stolen prop­erty, as well as an out­stand­ing war­rant for reck­less driv­ing.

Pu­sok is white. Of the 10 deputies, eight were white, one was Latino and one was African Amer­i­can, ac­cord­ing to the Sher­iff’s Depart­ment.

The in­ci­dent be­gan shortly af­ter noon on Thurs­day, when deputies went to a house in an un­in­cor­po­rated area of Ap­ple Val­ley to serve a search war­rant in an iden­tity theft case. Pu­sok, who was in a car nearby, was not a sus­pect in the case, but he fled at the sight of the deputies, who pur­sued him.

Af­ter aban­don­ing the ve­hi­cle, he stole the horse from a group of eques­tri­ans near Deep Creek Hot Springs. The horse was in­jured as Pu­sok urged it over the rugged ter­rain, sher­iff ’s of­fi­cials said.

Pu­sok was known to the Sher­iff’s Depart­ment. He pleaded no con­test to felony at­tempted rob­bery in a 2006 in­ci­dent as well as to sev­eral mis­de­meanor charges, in­clud­ing dis­turb­ing the peace and an­i­mal cru­elty. In De­cem­ber, he was charged in San Bernardino County with a mis­de­meanor count of re­sist­ing ar­rest, plead­ing no con­test.

On a prior do­mes­tic call, Pu­sok threat­ened to kill a deputy sher­iff and shot a puppy in front of his fam­ily mem­bers, McMa­hon said.

Pu­sok has three chil­dren, and his girl­friend, Jo­lene Bin­der, is preg­nant with a fourth. Pu­sok’s mother, Anne Cle­men­son, called for the deputies who beat her son to be fired.

“I want them done,” Cle­men­son said. “I’ve al­ways thought that po­lice are to serve and pro­tect, and what they did ... it was not called for.”

The ACLU of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia re­cently filed a law­suit against the San Bernardino County Sher­iff ’s Depart­ment seek­ing more in­for­ma­tion about use of force in­ci­dents, par­tic­u­larly those in­volv­ing stun guns.

Adri­enna Wong, staff at­tor­ney for the ACLU of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s In­land Em­pire of­fice, said four in­ci­dents in which peo­ple died since 2008 fol­low­ing the de­ploy­ment of stun guns “raised a red flag” and led her of­fice to begin in­ves­ti­gat­ing.

Robert Gau­thier Los An­ge­les Times

ANNE CLE­MEN­SON holds a pic­ture of her son Fran­cis Pu­sok, who was beaten by deputies. “I’ve al­ways thought that po­lice are to serve and pro­tect, and what they did ... it was not called for,” she said.

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