Ten San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies, including a sergeant and a detective, were placed on paid administrative leave Friday after a news helicopter captured video of them savagely beating a suspect who had surrendered. After reviewing the video, San Bernardino Sheriff John McMahon accused the deputies of using excessive force and suspended them pending an investigation into the incident. Although the sheriff admitted that the deputies involved in the initial pursuit had a history with the suspect, McMahon would not confirm whether the suspended deputies were familiar with him or not.
At 12:12 p.m. on Thursday, deputies arrived at Francis Pusok’s home in Apple Valley to serve a search warrant involving an identity theft investigation. According to sheriff’s department spokeswoman Cindy Bachman, Pusok was already sitting inside a car when the deputies approached his residence. Pusok fled in the vehicle prompting a near three-hour pursuit through the desert.
After Pusok abandoned his vehicle and ran into the desert, the sheriff’s department and California Highway Patrol deployed helicopters and off-road vehicles to continue pursuing him. A few minutes later, the deputies received a report that Pusok had stolen a horse from a group of people near Deep Creek Hot Springs. As the deputies tracked down Pusok and made contact with him around 3 p.m., Pusok fell off the stolen horse.
According to the sheriff’s department, deputies used a Taser on Pusok but it was rendered ineffective due to his loose clothing. But video shot from NBC4’s helicopter revealed Pusok surrendering to the deputies by lying facedown with his hands behind his back when one cop appears to repeatedly punch Pusok in the head. The other deputy kicked Pusok in the groin as he remained on the ground.
At least ten deputies exhibited excessive force by punching and kicking Pusok dozens of times and beating him with a baton after he had already surrendered. Instead of administering immediate medical attention, the deputies stood around for several minutes before transferring Pusok to a hospital for treatment. Pusok was charged with felony evading, reckless driving, possessing stolen property, and horse theft.
Three deputies were also hospitalized. Two received treatment for dehydration. According to the sheriff’s department, a third deputy was sent to the hospital after the horse kicked him.
“If our deputy sheriffs did something wrong, they’ll be put off work and they’ll be dealt with appropriately, all in accordance with the law as well as our department policy,” asserted McMahon. “I will take action.”
Due to Pusok’s criminal history, McMahon inferred that many of the deputies involved in the initial pursuit were familiar with Pusok and bore grudges against him. With multiple convictions including attempted robbery, animal cruelty, disturbing the peace, and resisting arrest, Pusok had antagonized the sheriff’s department for over a decade. But Pusok’s past crimes did not justify the police brutality inflicted upon him after he had peacefully surrendered.
“The ACLU of Southern California understands that police officers are authorized to use force when reasonably necessary,” announced Hector Villagra, executive director of ACLU SoCal. “However, we are deeply troubled by the video images that appear to show San Bernardino County Sheriff’s deputies beating a man after he surrendered, placing his hands behind his back.”
The department is currently reviewing tapes from the personal audio recording devices worn by some of the deputies involved, and the FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into the incident.
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