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Activists seek civil rights probe into CHP officer's beating of woman

CrimeCommutingHealthEric Holder
L.A. civil rights activists wants Justice Dept. probe of CHP officer caught beating woman along freeway

Los Angeles civil rights activists on Tuesday asked the U.S. Attorney's civil rights division to open a formal investigation into a California Highway Patrol officer who was caught on cellphone video beating a woman on the side of a freeway.

The footage of the officer repeatedly punching Marlene Pinnock in the face came to light on July 1 when it was posted on YouTube and got picked up by local television news outlets. The video, shot by a passing motorist, shows the unnamed officer pinning the 51-year-old grandmother to the ground and landing at least nine blows after she was found walking on the 10 Freeway.

The CHP has said the officer was trying to keep Pinnock from walking into rush-hour traffic and hurting herself or others. A CHP incident summary said that when the officer arrived, she ignored his commands and instead walked into the freeway's lanes. She then became “physically combative,” the report said, and “a physical altercation ensued.”

But Earl Ofari Hutchinson, writing to U.S. Atty. Eric Holder on behalf of a coalition of civil rights groups, said it was requesting the probe "based on a possible pattern and practice of prior misconduct, the past inability of law enforcement agencies that investigate themselves on the use of excessive force to reach a fair and impartial decision when it comes to imposing severe punishment on their officers that use excessive force, and the clear violation of civil rights of the victim, Marlene Pinnock."

Hutchinson also noted what he called the "slow pace" of the CHP investigation, a lack of transparency in the investigation including shielding of the officer’s identity -- and alleged leaks to the media of potentially damaging information about Pinnock. The CHP, he added, "have further reinforced our lack of confidence" in the investigation.

Pinnock has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the officer and CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow, alleging the officer used excessive force.

In the lawsuit, Pinnock alleges the officer "was bamming me in my temples with all the strength he had." The officer was identified in the lawsuit by Pinnock's attorney Caree Harper as Daniel Andrew.

A CHP officer in documents noted Pinnock was “talking to herself” and tried to walk into traffic on the freeway, according to a report obtained by The Times. He made the comments in an application he submitted in support of putting the woman on a 72-hour hold for further mental evaluation. The officer wrote that he was called to the eastbound lanes of the 10 Freeway after a report of a pedestrian walking on the roadway near the La Brea exit.

“The subject began telling me ‘I want to walk home’ and called me ‘the devil,’” he wrote. “The subject then tried to walk into traffic lanes.”

Pinnock was taken to a hospital for a mental health evaluation. Her attorneys have declined to say why she was on the freeway that evening or provide more information about her mental health. Some community leaders have said she was “impaired.”

The officer involved has been removed from the field and assigned to an administrative job, the CHP said. The CHP has not identified the officer involved nor confirmed if it was the person identified by Pinnock's attorneys, citing concerns about the officer’s safety.

The officer who wrote the report in support of Pinnock's mental evaluation identified himself only as "D. Andrew." CHP spokeswoman Fran Clader confirmed a Daniel Andrew is employed by the agency but would not say if that individual was involved in the matter.

Follow @LAcrimes, @katemather and @JosephSerna for more law enforcement news from across Southern California.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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