'Disturbing' video shows deputies beating man after horse pursuit

Written By kolimtiga on Jumat, 10 April 2015 | 12.56

A group of San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies are seen in a video shot Thursday repeatedly kicking and punching a suspect at the end of a bizarre horseback pursuit in a scene the county's sheriff described as "disturbing."

A KNBC Channel 4 helicopter captured the chase, which appears to show the deputies striking the man, identified as 30-year-old Francis Pusok, even after he was on the ground with his hands held behind his back.

"It is disturbing and it appears on its face that there are violations of policy, but that will ultimately be determined in the investigation and to what degree," said Sheriff John McMahon.

He said he has ordered an internal investigation into the pursuit and a separate criminal investigation into Pusok's actions and those of the deputies involved in subduing him.

"We'll figure out exactly what happened and proceed from there whether there was criminal wrongdoing on the part of our deputies," McMahon said.

Deputies are equipped with digital audio recorders, which will be reviewed by investigators along with video footage and interviews with witnesses, McMahon said.

Former Los Angeles Police Capt. Greg Meyer, an expert on police use of force, described the video as "ugly."

"This is a highly concerning video," Meyer said.

Pusok had "obviously surrendered, followed commands to keep his hands behind his back — that would be the time for the deputies to drop the knees on him and get him handcuffed," Meyer said. "But it didn't happen, and they will have to answer for the force they used on him."

During the beating, which involved as many as 11 deputies and lasted for about two minutes, Pusok was kicked and kneed about a dozen times and punched more than two dozen times, according to the video footage. 

The violence bookended a chase that began about 12:15 p.m. when deputies arrived at a home in unincorporated Apple Valley to serve a search warrant in an identity theft investigation, according to a statement from the sheriff's department.

Pusok was the "prime suspect" in the alleged identity theft, Bachman said, but when deputies arrived at the home, he was already in a car.

He fled, starting a nearly three-hour chase through Apple Valley and Hesperia. He led deputies through narrow trails and rugged terrain in Hesperia, requiring the California Highway Patrol and sheriff's department to bring helicopters and motorcycle teams to help track him, Bachman said.

After Pusok dumped his vehicle, he stole a horse from a group of people at Deep Creek Hot Springs, Bachman said. 

A team of deputies came upon him around 3 p.m. near Highway 173 and Arrowhead Lake Road, sheriff's officials said.

Deputies used a Taser on Pusok but it "was ineffective due to his loose clothing," according to the sheriff's department.

Pusok had his hands behind his back as he lay on the ground when two of the deputies began landing blows, including a kick to the groin, according to the video footage. More deputies soon arrived, and the video shows one trying to get one of the original deputies to step away from Pusok.

He was transported to the hospital and his condition was not immediately available.

Three deputies were also transported to the hospital; two are being treated for dehydration and one was kicked by the horse, according to the sheriff's department.

Pusok's brushes with the law span more than a decade through several counties in California, according to public records.

He has pleaded no contest to felony attempted robbery in a 2006 incident as well as several misdemeanors, including resisting arrest, disturbing the peace and animal cruelty. In December, he was charged in San Bernardino County with a misdemeanor count of resisting arrest; he pleaded no contest.

The ACLU of Southern California lauded McMahon for promptly launching an investigation into the deputies involved in the beating but called on the department to thoroughly scrutinize its use-of-force and Taser policies.

"Once again video has provided an important account of what really happened, this time in San Bernardino County," said Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California.

The incident comes about a month after a video of Los Angeles police fatally shooting a homeless man on skid row made national headlines. In that case, the LAPD said the officers opened fire after the man tried to grab one of the officer's guns.

On Tuesday, a video emerged showing a South Carolina police officer shooting motorist Walter Scott in the back as he running away in a public park. That officer has been charged with murder.

The horse involved in the pursuit sustained numerous injuries to its legs, but Bachman said the animal was released to its owner for medical treatment.

For breaking news in California, follow @MattHjourno and @LAcrimes. 

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times

10:33 p.m.: This story was updated to include comments from the ACLU of Southern California.

9:50 p.m.: This story was updated throughout with additional detail and comments from Sheriff John McMahon.

5:49 p.m.: This story was updated with a statement and incident details from the San Bernardino County sheriff's department.

This story was originally posted at 5:15 p.m.

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