Video Shows Deputies’ Beating Of Unarmed Suspect

(April 10) Video news footage recorded by a Los Angeles television station helicopter of several San Bernardino County deputies beating a surrendering unarmed suspect after an extended pursuit over rough desert terrain has resulted in an investigation of whether excessive or unnecessary force was used in making the arrest.
According to a sheriff’s department press release, On Thursday, April 9, 2015 at 12:12 p.m. deputies from the Victor Valley station went to [a residence in] the 25300 block of Zuni Rd., an unincorporated area of Apple Valley, to serve a search warrant related to an identity theft investigation.  Upon arrival the suspect, Francis Pusok, fled the location in a vehicle.  Deputies pursued Pusok through the unincorporated area of Apple Valley, the town of Apple Valley and further into the unincorporated area of Hesperia.  Pusok abandoned the vehicle southwest of Bowen Ranch and fled on foot.  Deputies were actively searching for Pusok on foot, using off-highway vehicles and helicopters.  Within minutes, deputies received information that the suspect came into contact with a group of people near the Deep Creek Hot Springs and stole a horse.  He fled on horseback on dirt trails, through very rugged, steep terrain, causing numerous injuries to the horse.”
The six minute and two second long Newschopper 4 video  starts from a vantage point with a top view of both Pusok, wearing red clothing, on the horse and a hovering sheriff’s department helicopter. Pusok rides in the opposite direction from the sheriff’s department helicopter’s heading. The Newschopper 4 video stays trained on Pusok and the sheriff’s helicopter moves out of the field of view, while Pusok appears to be scouring the lay of the land for some route of escape.  At 44 seconds into the video, the sheriff’s helicopter again comes into view, approaching Pusok and the horse head on, flying low and passing over horse and rider at 46 seconds. This clse encounter with the helicopter spooks the horse and both the horse and rider brush against some scrub vegetation, at which point a deputy on foot comes into the Newschopper 4 camera’s field of view. At 48 seconds, Pusok, unable to deal with the jostled horse, falls from the saddle and hits the ground. He initially, but only fleetingly, attempts to hide behind another clump of scrub vegetation. He then gets up and attempts to flee, as a second deputy comes into the camera’s field of vision. At that point, 56 seconds into the video, the first deputy discharges his taser at him. With the second deputy approaching, Pusok appears to be totally compliant, laying out prone on the ground, with his arms and legs spread.  At second 58, the first deputy tasers him again, causing Pusok to react by springing upward momentarily, but he immediately lies down once more and is prone and spread out at the minute mark of the video. At one minute and one second he appears to be complying with the deputies’ commands by placing his arms behind him at the small of his back as he lies face down on the desert floor. Simultaneously, however, the second deputy kicks him in the head. Over the next 19 seconds, with the horse nearby, both deputies appear to be kicking and striking him and then pummeling him on the head, neck and upper and mid-torso with what appears to be the taser gun or their fists. At one minute and twenty seconds, two other officers come into the camera’s field of view. At 1:22 one of the officers slaps the horse on the rump and it moves away from the fracas. Initially, the other just-arrived officer, at 1:24, pulls the second officer back from Pusok but only seconds later, at 1:28 into the video, he too begins to stomp and beat Pusok. The rough treatment of the suspect continues for the next 14 seconds. At 1:42 two other deputies have moved up to join the swarm over Pusok and by 1:46, yet two more. One of the officers appears to continue to kick him about the head while four others appear to be trying to pin him to the ground. At 2 minutes and one second, the concerted beating appears to have stopped. With six deputies hovering over him, an effort to handcuff or tie him in some fashion seems to be progressing. But at 2:19 and again at 2:23, one of the deputies appears to stomp on him. The last unequivocal overt display of physical force against Pusok on the video comes at 2:34 through 2:38, when two other deputies appear to be punching and kicking him. From 2:53 through 2:58, with several of the deputies yet hunched over Pusok, one of them is visible swinging his arm back and forth rapidly, though it is not clear whether he is punching Pusok or perhaps cinching up some form of ligature.
From the video, it is evident that at least ten deputies other than the helicopter personnel were on the scene when Pusok was arrested. According to the sheriff’s department press release, “A sheriff’s helicopter inserted a team of deputies in the area of Hwy 173/Arrowhead Lake Rd. to take the suspect into custody.  Deputies made contact with Pusok and as they approached, the horse threw him off.  A taser was deployed but was ineffective due to his loose clothing.  A use of force occurred during the arrest.  An internal investigation will be conducted regarding the use of force.”
The press release noted that “Pusok was transported to a local hospital with unknown injuries.” It also state that “Three deputies were injured during the search, two suffered dehydration and a third was injured when kicked by the horse.  All three were transported to the hospital for treatment.”
The press release, which bore the routine suggested headline, Deputies Arrest Suspect Following Vehicle/Horse Pursuit, did attribute the following statements to sheriff John McMahon, “The video surrounding this arrest is disturbing and I have ordered an internal investigation be conducted immediately. In addition, members of the specialized investigations detail are responding to conduct the criminal investigation.”
By sundown Thursday night, several media outlets, including three in Los Angeles, had picked up on the incident. A former San Bernardino County sheriff’s department sergeant who had repeatedly reviewed the video, told the Sentinel the widespread attention to the incident would force McMahon to undertake an exacting review of what had occurred and that the likely firing of at least three of the deputies and perhaps as many as five will result.
“They obviously thought the news helicopter was 40 King [i.e., a sheriff’s department helicopter],” he said. “Everyone who is there will have to write a report. With what is on video, they are not going to have an easy time of it. The ones who weren’t involved will have to sell the ones who were down the river. This isn’t good.”
And it could get worse, he said, if Pusok sustained substantial injuries, as appears possible. “If the suspect is permanently disabled, this could cost the county and it would take the investigation into a whole other direction.”
The likelihood of any of the deputies being prosecuted, the retired sergeant said, “would be up to the district attorney.”
Ironically, the incident came just a day after McMahon publicly stated he stood by the department’s taser policy. At least some of the deputies involved in the Thursday incident might seek refuge in the claim that Pusok, who appeared to be compliant shortly after falling from the horse, grew combative after being shot with the taser, thereby justifying their action.
Pusok has had previous run-ins with law enforcement, having been arrested on at least five occasions and convicted of robbery, animal cruelty, resisting an officer, fighting/using offensive words, and driving at an excessive speed on a sidewalk in San Bernardino County.  He has served time in county detention centers but not in state prison.

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