Three Cops Who Pummeled Pusok Bound Over For Trial

Judge Katrina West on Monday rejected motions by defense attorneys to outright dismiss criminal charges lodged last year against three sheriff’s deputies for their beating of a fleeing suspect in a remote desert area that was caught on videotape.
West said there was sufficient evidence to bind deputies Nicholas Downey, Charles Foster and Michael Phelps over for trial on felony assault charges.
West’s ruling came more than ten months after Downey, Foster, Phelps and nine other sheriff’s officers ran Francis Pusok to ground in the rough outback beyond Bowen’s Ranch near Deep Creek and then administered a several minutes-long session of summary punishment at they took him into custody.
After dismissing defense attorney’s first assertion that no crime had actually occurred, she further rejected their fallback position that at worst, the deputies’ actions constituted nothing more than misdemeanors.
The case arose out of the events of Thursday, April 9, 2015. Shortly after noon on that day 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 they encountered Pusok, who was not named in the warrant nor a suspect in the crime being investigated. Upon seeing the deputies, 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.
Sometime later, the end of that pursuit was caught on video recorded by a camera operator aboard Newschopper 4, a helicopter manned by a news crew with the NBC affiliate in Los Angeles. At the beginning of that six minute and two second video, Pusok, clad in red clothes, is yet on the horse and desperately trying to maneuver across the chaparral strewn terrain while a sheriff’s helicopter cruises above him. When a close pass of the helicopter spooked the horse, causing Pusok to be thrown from the animal, at first one, then two deputies came into the view of the Newschopper 4 video and they converged on Pusok. Pusok is shown briefly attempting to hide behind some desert scrub but then lays out prone on the ground in a posture of surrender as it appears he is being shocked with a Taser. Just seconds later, while Pusok is yet face down, one of the deputies kicks him in the head. Over the next two minutes as more and more deputies stream into view, Pusok can be seen being pummeled, stomped and kicked, even as the lawmen swarm over him and bind his arms behind him as he lies face down on the desert floor.
One officer, at 1:24 into the video, pulls another officer back from Pusok but only seconds later, at 1:28 into the video, he too begins to stomp and beat Pusok. This rough treatment 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 and others standing a few feet away, 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. Another 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.
What appears to be twelve deputies are eventually seen in the video. In addition to Downey, Foster and Phelps, deputies Scott Hamilton, David Moore, Dominic Moody, Raymond Perez, Tyler McGee, along with detective William Doemner and sergeant James Evans have been identified as seven of the others present. Two others have not been publicly identified.
No charges have been filed against Hamilton, Moore, Moody, Perez, McGee, Doemner or Evans, the district attorney’s office has said, because their action did not rise to the level of criminality.
At Monday’s preliminary hearing, sheriff’s sergeant Daniel Hanke testified against his three colleagues. Hanke, an 11-year veteran of the department, identified Phelps as the first deputy to physically encounter Pusok and as the deputy administering the Taser charge to the suspect’s back. Downey, Hanke said, was the first deputy to strike Pusok, launching what “appeared to be a kick” to the downed man’s head. A few seconds later, Phelps kicked Pusok in the groin, according to Hanke. Both Downey and Phelps administered further punches and kicks, the sergeant said.
Foster, among the last of the deputies to come into the field of the video, kicked Pusok, Hanke testified. In his investigation, Hanke said he listened to the audio captured on Foster’s belt recorder and heard Foster say to Pusok, “How’d that work out, you dumb fuck?” and then derided Pusok as “crying like a little bitch.”
Defense attorneys, however, including Michael D. Schwartz, representing Downey, Richard Hirsch, representing Foster, and Steven Desi Sanchez, representing Phelps, sought to put the violence that rained down upon Pusok into context, pointing out the arrest was the culmination of a three-hour pursuit that included Pusok crashing his vehicle through a fence and driving at speeds nearing 100 miles per hour, and the theft of a horse. When Hanke was cross examined, he acknowledged that Foster on his belt recorder could be heard telling Pusok to “stop resisting,” “stop kicking” and to “straighten your legs out.”
Hanke also testified that during Pusok’s phone conversation with his girlfriend from the jail after his arrest that he told her he was not injured. The cuts on Pusok’s legs, back and stomach, and a black left eye could have resulted from Pusok’s fall from the horse, the defense attorneys suggested. Moreover, they said, Pusok merited the beating he received because his hands continued to move when he was on the ground.
The prosecutor in the case, supervising deputy district attorney Robert Clarence Bulloch, said the defense attorneys kept harping on the consideration that Pusok had suffered “no broken bones,” that in his phone call to his girlfriend he denied getting kicked in the testicles and “that this guy was a bad dude. Your lying eyes are deceiving you, then, if you want to buy into this argument because the video is very clear,” Bulloch said.
Bulloch said the crux of the case against the officers “is not how many injuries, it’s not how many black eyes he got.” Rather the case comes down to ‘”the breach of trust that we put in all three of these people to represent us as the public,” Bulloch continued. “Their offense is against the community, not just Mr. Pusok.”
The three deputies are scheduled to be arraigned on March 1

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