Prior clashes may factor into San Bernardino County beating inquiries

Prior clashes may factor into San Bernardino County beating inquiries
In this frame from a video provided by KNBC-TV, San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies appear to beat and kick Francis Pusok in April 2015. (KNBC-TV / Associated Press)

Before he found himself being beaten earlier this month by San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies in view of a hovering news helicopter, Francis Pusok and law enforcement had clashed more than once.

The 30-year-old Apple Valley resident had been arrested at least six times in recent years and faced multiple counts of resisting arrest or being aggressive toward officers. Many of those charges were later dismissed or reduced through plea deals. His rap sheet also includes an attempted robbery conviction.


Pusok and his attorneys say the arrests show a pattern of misbehavior and aggression on the part of law enforcement that culminated in the April 9 beating.

In an interview Friday, Pusok said that after the beating, a deputy whispered in his ear: "This isn't over."

Whether deputies had it in for Pusok, as he contends, or Pusok had a history of aggression toward officers that affected how deputies responded to him may factor into investigations of the incident.

A news camera captured the end of a long chase from Apple Valley to rugged terrain near the San Bernardino National Forest. Pusok was thrown from a horse and was surrounded by deputies who kicked and punched him even as he appeared to have surrendered.

The Sheriff's Department and FBI are investigating the incident, which came as several cases of alleged police brutality have drawn national attention.

Most of those cases involve white officers fatally shooting black victims. In this case, Pusok and most of the officers are white, and Pusok survived with mostly cuts and bruises. But the beating of an unarmed man who did not appear to be resisting has raised questions about whether deputies were acting punitively.

"Everyone keeps asking, 'Why did he run?'" said Sharon Brunner, one of Pusok's attorneys. "[He] saw the police and knew it was going to be bad, and it was."

Ten deputies have been put on administrative leave. Brunner said her client "just wants to be left alone by the police."

Cindy Bachman, a Sheriff's Department spokeswoman, said none of Pusok's prior arrests "have anything to do with what happened."

A federal official who declined to be named because of the ongoing investigation said examining deputies' prior contact with Pusok will be part of their civil rights investigation.

Walter Katz, a police oversight lawyer in Los Angeles, said beatings can raise questions about officers' motives.

He noted that many of the most notorious use-of-force incidents in Southern California have involved beatings. He cited the Rodney King case, the 2004 beating of Stanley Miller by an LAPD officer and last year's beating on the freeway of Marlene Pinnock by a CHP officer, each of which was captured on camera.

Charles "Sid" Heal, a retired L.A. County sheriff's commander and tactical expert, said "emotions like anger, outrage and frustration are more likely to be involved in physical confrontations," rather than shootings, which often happen after split-second decisions.

"It is not a single, isolated incident of force but more prolonged. So I think there may be some feelings that the motives are more sinister," he said.


In a news conference last week, Sheriff John McMahon said deputies involved in the initial pursuit knew Pusok well and "were very familiar with his aggressive nature," though he did not say if any of the 10 deputies placed on leave knew him.

The sheriff described a 2013 incident in which deputies were called to Pusok's home. Pusok was arrested and charged with 14 counts, including animal cruelty for shooting a dog, resisting an officer, making threats against an officer and battery against an officer. Ultimately he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor animal cruelty and resisting an officer.

Pusok shot the dog because it had been severely injured by a neighbor's dog, his attorney said. Deputies threw Pusok and his girlfriend to the ground, she said.

Pusok said the 2013 incident and a 2011 arrest by San Bernardino police in front of his father's home that involved force led him to fear authorities.

"They have a history," he said. "They did the same thing at my dad's house … they did the same thing at my house."

In that case, a police officer shook and kneed Pusok, "causing his forehead to split open. At one point he was thrown up against the side door of a police car, knocking him unconscious," said attorney Brunner.

San Bernardino Police Lt. Vicki Cervantes said Pusok was stopped because he matched the description of a man with a gun.

"Mr. Pusok got up and tried to fight with the sole officer that was detaining him, and they had a very short struggle, and he was subdued and taken into custody," she said.

Pusok, who did not have a gun on him, was cut, and an investigation cleared officers of wrongdoing, Cervantes said.

Pusok was charged with misdemeanor resisting an officer, but the charge was eventually dismissed, and he pleaded no contest to an infraction for disturbing the peace, according to court records.

Late last year, Pusok was again arrested on suspicion of resisting officers.

In that case, he was visiting an Apple Valley home when deputies arrived to serve a search warrant and was uncooperative when deputies tried to identify him, said Bachman, the sheriff's spokeswoman.

"When asked to move to another location to speak with him, he resisted," she said.

Pusok pleaded no contest and was placed on probation for three years.

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