Several San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies are seen in a video shot Thursday repeatedly kicking and punching a suspect at the end of a horseback pursuit, a scene the county's sheriff described as "disturbing."
A KNBC-TV Channel 4 helicopter captured the last of the chase. The footage appears to show the deputies striking the man, identified as 30-year-old Francis Pusok, even after he was on the ground with his hands held behind his back.
"It is disturbing and it appears on its face that there are violations of policy, but that will ultimately be determined in the investigation and to what degree," said Sheriff John McMahon. He said he has ordered an internal investigation into the pursuit and a separate criminal investigation into Pusok's actions and those of the deputies involved in subduing him.
"We'll figure out exactly what happened and proceed from there whether there was criminal wrongdoing on the part of our deputies," McMahon said.
Deputies are equipped with digital audio recorders, which will be reviewed by investigators along with video footage and interviews with witnesses, McMahon said.
Former Los Angeles Police Capt. Greg Meyer, an expert on police use-of-force, described the video as "ugly."
Pusok had "obviously surrendered, followed commands to keep his hands behind [his] back — that would be the time for the deputies to drop the knees on him and get him handcuffed," Meyer said. "But it didn't happen, and they will have to answer for the force they used on him."
During the beating, which involved as many as 11 deputies and lasted for about two minutes, Pusok was kicked and kneed about a dozen times and punched about two dozen times, according to the video footage.
The violence ended a case that began about 12:15 p.m. when deputies arrived at a home in unincorporated Apple Valley to serve a search warrant as part of an identity theft investigation, said Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Cindy Bachman.
Pusok was the "prime suspect" in the alleged identity theft, Bachman said, but when deputies arrived at the home, he was in a car.
He fled, spawning a nearly three-hour chase through Apple Valley and Hesperia. He led deputies through narrow trails and rugged terrain in Hesperia, requiring the California Highway Patrol and Sheriff's Department to bring helicopters and motorcycle teams to help track him, Bachman said.
After Pusok dumped his vehicle and ran away on foot, Bachman said, he stole a horse from a group of people at Deep Creek Hot Springs.
He rode the horse into steep territory near the San Bernardino National Forrest. A team of deputies who were lowered into the area via helicopter came upon him about 3 p.m.
Pusok fell from the horse into the scrub and deputies used a Taser on him. The stun gun was ineffective because of Pusok's loose clothing, according to the Sheriff's Department.
Pusok had his hands behind his back as he lay on the ground when two of the deputies began landing blows, including a kick to the groin, according to the video footage.
More deputies soon arrived, and the video shows one trying to get one of the original deputies to step away from Pusok.
Pusok was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, Bachman said. Three deputies were also hospitalized: two for dehydration, and one for injuries sustained when he was kicked by the horse, according to the Sheriff's Department.
Pusok's brushes with the law span more than a decade in several counties in California, according to public records.
He has pleaded no contest to felony attempted robbery in a 2006 incident as well as several misdemeanors, including resisting arrest, disturbing the peace and animal cruelty. In December, he was charged in San Bernardino County with a misdemeanor count of resisting arrest; he pleaded no contest.
Meyer said the deputies' actions deviate from standard police protocol for arresting an accused felon at the end of a chase.
Officers are supposed to order the suspect onto the ground, spread out and put his hands behind his back.
One deputy guards the suspect as another handcuffs each hand.
The incident comes about a month after a video of Los Angeles police fatally shooting a homeless man on skid row made national headlines. In that case, the LAPD said the officers opened fire after the man tried to grab one of the officer's guns.
On Tuesday, a video emerged showing a South Carolina police officer shooting motorist Walter Scott in the back as he was running away in a public park.
That officer has been charged with murder.
The horse involved in the pursuit sustained numerous injuries to its legs, but Bachman said the animal was released to its owner for medical treatment.