FBI probing videotaped beating by San Bernardino deputies

San Bernardino sheriff's deputies repeatedly punch, kick man after pursuit, video shows

Ten San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies were placed on paid administrative leave Friday after TV news video showed them beating and kicking a suspect.

Sheriff John McMahon announced the move to place the deputies -- including a sergeant and a detective -- on leave during a news conference Friday afternoon. He said some of the actions on the tape appeared "excessive."

“I am disturbed and troubled by what I see," he said. "It does not appear to be in line with our policies and procedures.”

Also on Friday, the FBI opened a civil rights investigation into the incident, The Times has learned.

During the news conference, McMahon asked the public to have patience as the use-of-force case is being investigated. Since the video was released, the sheriff’s department has received numerous threatening phone calls, emails and posts on social media, he said.

McMahon said that while he could not say the deputies in the incident knew Francis Pusok, those involved in the initial pursuit were familiar with him.

On a prior domestic call, McMahon said, Pusok “made threats to kill a deputy sheriff and in fact shot a puppy in front of part of his family."

In the video, captured Thursday afternoon by a KNBC-TV news helicopter, deputies can be seen kicking and punching Pusok, 30, at the end of a horseback pursuit. The video appears to show the deputies striking him after he was on the ground with his hands behind his back.

The sheriff's department has said Pusok was the “prime suspect” in an identity theft case, a claim his girlfriend of more than 13 years, Jolene Binder, said "is not true."

In interviews Friday, Anne Clemenson, Pusock's mother, and Binder said they had not been able to see Pusok, who was being held at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga on suspicion of felony evading, theft of a horse, possessing stolen property and on a warrant for reckless driving.

Clemenson said she wanted the deputies involved to be fired.

"I want them done," she said. "I've always thought that police are to serve and protect and what they did ... it was not called for."

Pusok and Binder have three children and one on the way, Binder said.

"I feel like they're trying to paint a picture of him as a bad guy and deserving of it," she said. "He was jumped."

The sheriff has ordered an internal investigation into the pursuit and a separate criminal investigation into Pusok’s actions and those of the deputies who subdued him.

“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,” he said.

Deputies are equipped with digital audio recorders, which will be reviewed by investigators along with video of the incident and interviews with witnesses, McMahon said.

“We’ll figure out exactly what happened and proceed from there whether there was criminal wrongdoing on the part of our deputies,” McMahon said.

Former Los Angeles police Capt. Greg Meyer, an expert on police use of force, described the video as “ugly.”

“This is a highly concerning video,” he said.

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.”

The chase began about 12:15 p.m. Thursday when deputies arrived at a home in unincorporated Apple Valley to serve a search warrant in an identity theft investigation, according to a statement from the sheriff's department.

But when deputies arrived at the home, Pusok was already in a car, sheriff's department spokeswoman Cindy Bachman said.

He fled, starting a nearly three-hour chase through Apple Valley and Hesperia, the department statement said. He led deputies through narrow trails and rugged terrain in Hesperia, requiring the California Highway Patrol and the sheriff’s department to bring helicopters and motorcycle teams to help track him, Bachman said.

After Pusok fled his vehicle, he stole a horse from a group of people at Deep Creek Hot Springs, Bachman said. 

A team of deputies came upon him around 3 p.m. near Highway 173 and Arrowhead Lake Road, sheriff's officials said.

Deputies used a Taser on Pusok but it "was ineffective due to his 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 striking him, including a kick to the groin, according to the video. More deputies soon arrived, and the video shows one trying to get one of the original deputies to step away from Pusok, who was later taken to the hospital.

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 more than two dozen times, according to the video. 

Three deputies were also taken to the hospital; two were treated for dehydration and one was kicked by the horse, according to the sheriff's department.

Pusok’s previous brushes with the law span more than a decade through several counties in California, according to public records.

He pleaded no contest to felony attempted robbery in a 2006 incident as well as to several misdemeanor charges, including 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.

But his girlfriend said his past doesn’t matter at this point.

"The focus" now, she said, "needs to be on what happened yesterday ... regardless of what happened in his past or anybody's past, they shouldn't be beat."

For breaking news in California, follow @MattHjourno and @LAcrimes

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times


3:04 p.m.: This post has been updated with the FBI opening a civil rights investigation.

2:09 p.m.: This post has been updated with remarks from McMahon about Pusok having allegedly shot a puppy in front of his family.

1:18 p.m.: This post has been updated with the announcement that 10 deputies have been placed on leave.

April 10, 11 a.m.: This article has been updated with comments with Pusok's mother and girlfriend.

9:50 p.m.: This article has been updated with additional details and comments from San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon.

5:49 p.m.: This article has been updated with a statement and incident details from the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.

This article was originally published at 5:15 p.m., April 9.