After deadlocked jury, 2 San Bernardino deputies take plea deal in televised beating case

Two San Bernardino sheriff’s deputies who were charged with beating a man who had escaped authorities on a stolen horse pleaded no contest Monday to disturbing the peace.

The plea to the misdemeanor charge in San Bernardino County Superior Court comes after a jury last week deadlocked on assault charges against Michael Phelps and Nicholas Downey. The felony charges against both men were dismissed as part of the plea deal.

“After reevaluating the evidence and learning that the jury was hopelessly deadlocked, there is no reasonable likelihood that another jury would be able to reach a verdict,” Dist. Atty. Mike Ramos said in a statement. “It is time to move forward.”

The pair were among the throng of deputies who pursued Francis Pusok on April 9, 2015. The chase lasted more than three hours and ended with Pusok riding a stolen horse into the rugged high desert.

Pusok fell from the horse and, as a KNBC-TV helicopter hovered overhead, Downey and Phelps were among the group of deputies who punched and kicked him, even after he appeared to have surrendered, prosecutors had alleged.

No charges were filed against seven other deputies at the scene; Ramos said their use of force was “was reasonable under the circumstances.”

Last week, a San Bernardino County jury convicted Charles Foster of assault under the color of authority by a public officer; but after two days of deliberations, jurors deadlocked over whether Downey and Phelps were guilty.

Michael Schwartz, the defense attorney who represented Downey, said the jurors’ inability to reach a verdict showed “they had a lot of uncertainty and disagreed over the evidence.” He said he was pleased by the district attorney’s decision to allow a plea deal.

“A second trial would not have benefited either side,” Schwartz said. “Deputy Downey can now look forward to the next step in the process: the administrative hearing to get his job back.”

After the televised confrontation with deputies, Pusok was treated for cuts and bruises. He later received a $650,000 settlement from the county. The beating also spawned a civil rights investigation by the FBI.

From the pursuit, Pusok also faced a litany of charges: evading a police officer, resisting arrest, stealing an animal, cruelty to an animal and being under the influence of drugs. He was also charged with three counts each of vehicle theft and receiving stolen property.

Pusok’s trial is scheduled for May.

matt.hamilton@latimes.com

Twitter: @MattHjourno

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