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LA County Sheriff Launches Inquiry into Disturbing Incident: Deputy Tackles Woman, Pepper-Sprays Her

by Michael Nguyen
2 comments
FBI Investigation

The Los Angeles County sheriff has expressed his deep concern over a video captured by a bystander’s cellphone. The footage shows a deputy forcefully tackling a woman while she was filming another man being handcuffed. To make matters worse, the deputy then proceeded to pepper-spray the woman directly in the face. The sheriff acknowledges the disturbing nature of the incident, and various community groups are now urging the department’s new chief to hold his agency accountable.

This event, which occurred on June 24 in the city of Lancaster, adds to the growing scrutiny surrounding the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department due to allegations of excessive use of force by its deputies. It also serves as a test for the reform efforts led by Sheriff Robert Luna, who assumed control of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department in December after defeating the incumbent, Alex Villanueva, and who has since vowed to bring about significant changes.

Following the incident, both officers involved have been removed from field duty, according to Sheriff Luna during a news conference. If misconduct is discovered, they could face disciplinary measures ranging from letters of reprimand to potential dismissal. The deputies have not been identified at this time.

Sheriff Luna revealed that he became aware of the encounter six days after it occurred. The department released the footage captured by the deputies’ body-worn cameras on Monday, alongside additional video footage from bystanders that had been circulating on social media.

During the news conference, Sheriff Luna confirmed that he had viewed both the body-camera footage and the bystander video, stating unequivocally, “It’s disturbing. There’s no ifs and buts about it.”

Efforts to reach the bystander who recorded the incident were unsuccessful at the time of reporting.

The sheriff’s department has initiated an investigation into the deputies’ use of force, informing the county’s Civilian Oversight Commission as well as federal monitors who have been overseeing the department’s reforms since an agreement was reached in 2015. This agreement resolved federal allegations that deputies in the Antelope Valley, including Lancaster, had engaged in racially biased policing and excessive use of force, with a disproportionate focus on stopping or searching individuals from Black and Latino communities.

The couple involved in the incident, whose identities have not been disclosed, were reported to match the descriptions of individuals involved in a robbery targeting a grocery store in Lancaster, located 72 kilometers (45 miles) northeast of Los Angeles, according to the sheriff’s department. The body-camera footage shows the man sitting on a large rock outside the store, holding a cake, while the woman stands a few feet away, recording the encounter.

In the video, one deputy is seen forcefully tackling the woman to the ground, shouting, “Get on the ground!” as he uses his knee to pin her down on her neck and shoulder. The deputy threatens to punch her in the face if she does not comply. The woman can be heard yelling, “I can’t breathe!” while the deputy proceeds to pepper-spray her in the face. She pleads, “I didn’t do anything!” while the man repeatedly informs the other deputy that she has cancer.

Sheriff Luna explained during the news conference that the deputies were responding to a reported robbery in progress after receiving a 911 call from a store employee regarding two customers assaulting “loss prevention employees.” These employees are hired by stores to deter theft and minimize damage.

While it appeared that both the man and the woman were involved in the confrontation inside the market, the exact nature of their relationship remains unclear, according to Luna.

The woman, after being pepper-sprayed, sought medical treatment at a hospital due to eye pain and sustained scrapes on her arms, as stated by the sheriff.

The man wasarrested and cited for resisting and delaying an officer, petty theft or attempted petty theft, and interfering with a business. The woman was cited for assaulting an officer and battery, specifically for assaulting the loss prevention personnel, as confirmed by Sheriff Luna.

At present, it is unknown whether the couple has legal representation to provide a comment on their behalf.

Attorney Tom Yu, representing the deputy who tackled the woman, justified his client’s actions by stating that she was taken down to the ground due to her resistance. Yu explained that deputies are trained to use such force to gain compliance and safely handcuff suspects. According to him, his client approached the woman to detain her, to which she responded with “you can’t touch me.”

Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s tenure was marred by accusations that deputy gangs thrived under his leadership. These groups have been accused of various misconducts, ranging from exerting control over sheriff’s stations and jails to harassing fellow deputies and the communities they served, as well as being involved in harming or fatally shooting civilians as part of gang rituals.

Villanueva resisted efforts from the county’s inspector general and the civilian oversight commission to address these cliques, downplaying their significance within the department and refusing to testify under oath in response to the commission’s subpoenas related to the gangs.

In terms of technological advancements, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department lagged behind other police agencies by only equipping its deputies with body-worn cameras in 2020. In contrast, the neighboring Los Angeles Police Department provided its officers with this technology as early as 2016.

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This report contains contributions from Randy Herschaft, a news researcher at Big Big News, based in New York.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about police brutality

What does the video captured by the bystander show?

The video captured by the bystander shows a deputy violently tackling a woman while she was filming another man being handcuffed. The deputy then proceeded to pepper-spray the woman in the face.

What is the response of the Los Angeles County sheriff to the incident?

The Los Angeles County sheriff has called the video “disturbing” and has opened an inquiry into the deputies’ use of force. He has also stated that both officers involved have been removed from field duty and could face disciplinary actions if misconduct is found.

Are there any ongoing reform efforts within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department?

Yes, the department has been undergoing reform efforts since 2015, following federal allegations of excessive use of force and racially-biased policing. The sheriff has pledged to overhaul the department since taking over in December.

What actions are community groups calling for in response to the incident?

Community groups are calling for the department’s new chief to hold the agency accountable for the incident. They are urging for transparency, disciplinary actions if warranted, and further reform efforts to address issues of excessive use of force.

How has the department responded to the incident?

The department has opened an investigation into the deputies’ use of force. They have notified the county’s Civilian Oversight Commission and federal monitors overseeing the reforms agreed upon in 2015. The deputies involved have been identified and pulled off field duty pending the outcome of the investigation.

What charges were brought against the man and woman involved in the incident?

The man was arrested and cited for resisting and delaying an officer, petty theft or attempted petty theft, and interfering with a business. The woman was cited for assaulting an officer and battery, specifically for assaulting the loss prevention personnel.

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2 comments

CoffeeLover22 July 6, 2023 - 5:51 am

so wait, the sheriff didn’t even know about this till 6 days later?? that’s messed up! they should be more on top of things, especially when it comes to their own officers’ conduct. smh

Reply
CoffeeLover22 July 6, 2023 - 7:55 pm

so wait, the sheriff didn’t even know about this till 6 days later?? that’s messed up! they should be more on top of things, especially when it comes to their own officers’ conduct. smh

Reply

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