Video Shows Sheriff’s Deputy Punching, Kicking And Stomping On Prone And Handcuffed Arrestee

A video of a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy kicking and stomping a handcuffed man lying face down on the ground began making the rounds on social media early this week.
Shortly after the video was brought to the attention of the department, the colleagues of the deputy seen administering the beating began a search for the videographer responsible for the 67-second visual depiction of what had occurred in an effort to carry out his or her arrest.
The incident in question took place at around 1 a.m. on January 26. The video, appears to have been shot from a distance of roughly 40 feet from the action and possibly from within a parked or unmoving vehicle in the roadway. When the video opens, a deputy is struggling with a man on the ground, using a left side half nelson to pin him to the ground. At the 11 second point in the video, a sheriff’s department vehicle is seen approaching the scene and crossing the yellow line median lane and pulling into place to stop, facing the oncoming traffic lane proximate to the struggle. At the 14 second point, the arriving deputy exits his vehicle and moves quickly to assist the first deputy in an attempt to handcuff the yet prone man, who appears to be struggling against the effort to restrict him. The second deputy’s action appears to be concentrated on holding the suspect, whose head is pointed toward the middle of the street, in place to facilitate the handcuffing. At the video’s 26 second point, the original deputy on the scene can be seen punching the suspect in the head. With the arriving deputy straddling the prone suspect, the handcuffing appears to have been effectuated at around the 37 second mark in the video. At the video’s 49 second point both deputies attempt to pull the suspect up by his arms, which are handcuffed behind his back.
The deputies appear to be having difficulty in directing the suspect, whose body has gone limp, and 51 seconds into the video the deputies set him down. After again attempting to hoist him, they pivot around and set him down with his face and chest toward the ground so that the suspect’s head is angled more toward the curb than the center of the street. At the 59 second point the suspect can be heard yelling indistinctly. At the one minute point and again at one minute and 2 seconds into the video, the deputy originally on the scene when the video began can be seen kicking the suspect in the head. One minute and 4 seconds into the video he stomps on the victim’s head. Three seconds later the video abruptly ends.
The suspect has been identified as 21-year-old Garardo Bernabe Vasquez, and the location of the incident as in the vicinity of Perris Hill Park near Highland Avenue and Cedar Street. Vasquez was arrested and booked for resisting arrest.
After the video was posted to several social media sites including youtube, the sheriff’s department took notice and began a manhunt for the videographer. After at least two Los Angeles-based television stations ran the video, the sheriff’s department moved to place the deputy depicted in the video on administrative leave.
“I can assure you that we take these matters very seriously and we will conduct a thorough and complete investigation,” said San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon. “The deputy in question has been placed on paid administrative leave. I expect our employees always to remain professional when contacting the public, who we serve.”
The department identified Vasquez, who, the department said, was acting oddly prior to his encounter with the deputy that early Friday morning. The department refused to identify either of the deputies involved in subduing and arresting Vasquez. Nor would the department consent to releasing the police report pertaining to Vasquez’s arrest.
While McMahon said his department was looking into the occurrence and would take appropriate action, the Sentinel has learned that two watch commanders in the sheriff’s department’s Central Division, which oversees operations in the unincorporated county area around San Bernardino, have authorized the arrest of the videographer, if he or she can be located. Two grounds for the arrest have been stipulated, the first being improperly standing in, or impeding vehicular flow through, a traffic thoroughfare, Vehicle Code Section 22400, and the second pertaining to obstructing a peace officer in the performance of his duty, Penal Code Section 148. According to the sheriff’s department, the video offers proof of those offenses. The sheriff’s department has asked the videographer to voluntarily come forward.
Sheriff’s department personnel believe that the arrest of the videographer, whether or not it leads to a prosecution by the San Bernardino District Attorney’s Office or the California Attorney General’s Office and whether or not such a prosecution will result in a conviction, will dissuade citizens from capturing video or photographic depictions of sheriff’s officers in the comportment of their duty in the future. Moreover, department members believe that obtaining a criminal conviction of the videographer will compromise him or her as a witness with regard to any testimony he or she may offer against the deputy or deputies involved in Vasquez’s arrest, be that in a criminal or a civil context.
The Vasquez incident came just five days before the sheriff’s department ended a more than 60-year long practice of using analog radio dispatch broadcasts, and switching on February 1 to a digital and encrypted radio system format to carry out its dispatch and communication function with and between deputies in the field. Citizens who have long monitored sheriff’s department dispatch and communication activity using analog radio scanners have objected to the switchover. The department, maintaining that the security of its operations trumps the tradition of transparency with regard to department real time communications with field officers and patrol units, offered an assurance that it would step up the number of media releases generated internally by the department to keep the public up to speed with regard to department operations. The department provided no press release with regard to the Vasquez arrest.
Mark Gutglueck

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