Police Brutality Alleged in Arrest of Man on Beach : Port Hueneme: Officers say a miniature bat could have been a weapon. Witnesses say the plainclothesmen sought trouble.
To the two undercover Port Hueneme officers, the brightly decorated miniature baseball bat that a teen-ager was playing with could have been a deadly weapon.
But to the group of surfers watching the sunset near Port Hueneme Beach Park, the two officers looked like a couple of Seabees--known among locals as “squids"--who were looking for trouble.
The result was a confrontation that ended with the arrest of a 25-year-old Port Hueneme man on suspicion of assaulting an officer and resisting arrest, and countercharges by witnesses who accuse the police of brutality.
Tim Tilsner, a driver for an air delivery service, was arrested after the confrontation Monday night on suspicion of misdemeanor charges and was released that night on his own recognizance.
A spokesman for the Port Hueneme Police Department said the undercover officers arrested Tilsner after he ran away with the bat they were trying to confiscate.
But Tilsner and several witnesses said the officers assaulted Tilsner without provocation. They also said the officers did not identify themselves until after they had drawn their guns on Tilsner and the group.
“Just because they have badges doesn’t mean they can push people around,” said Debbi Barnack, 31, a chiropractic assistant who said she witnessed the arrest.
Port Hueneme Police Lt. John C. Hopkins said he will investigate the allegations against Officer Bill Ayub, a two-year veteran with the department, and Reserve Officer Guy Gates. But he said he believes the incident was probably the result of a miscommunication.
“It sounds like there could have been a lot of misinterpretation on everybody’s part,” he said.
The incident began, according to several witnesses, as a group of about 25 surfers and friends gathered on the breaker rocks near the Port Hueneme Beach Park to watch the sunset.
Sitting on the rocks nearby were two men dressed in blue jeans and sweat shirts, the witnesses said.
Hopkins said the undercover officers were assigned to the area because of previous problems with drinking and violence on the beach. Ayub and Gates could not be reached Thursday.
Tiffany Sauceda, an 18-year-old college student who was in the group on the rocks, said she was playing with the bat when the two men asked her about it.
“They said, ‘It’s a deadly weapon and we are going to take it away,’ ” she said.
Sauceda said she thought the two men were Seabees from the Port Hueneme Naval Construction Battalion Center who were looking for trouble. “They looked like squids,” she said. “I just thought they were squids.”
Tilsner said that when the men tried to take the bat, he grabbed it and began running toward a nearby street. “I said, ‘If you want this stick come and get it.’ ”
At that point, one of the officers drew his gun on Tilsner and ordered him to stop, according to Tilsner and witnesses.
Tilsner said he immediately stopped, dropped the bat and fell to his knees. But he said one of the officers held the gun to his head and forced him to lay face-down on the pavement. He said the officer pressed his knee into Tilsner’s back and rubbed Tilsner’s face into the blacktop.
“After he pulled his gun, I figured he was a cop,” Tilsner said.
When the group of people on the rocks began to gather around, the second officer drew his gun on the crowd and ordered them to back away, witnesses said.
Hopkins said Ayub and Gates told him that they did not identify themselves as police officers during the arrest but that the officers said they were wearing badges on their belts.
Tilsner and several witnesses said they did not see the badges until after the guns were drawn and Tilsner was in handcuffs.
Barnack, who bought the miniature bat in Mexico as a souvenir for her son, said the officers wore long sweat shirts that covered their belts.
“Nobody knew these guys were cops until they pulled out the guns,” she said.
Kevin McCarthy, 42, who works as a technical writer on aerospace documents, said the officers overreacted. “The cop was just trying to put his face into the pavement,” he said.
Tilsner said he raised his hand to the officer to defend himself but insists that he never punched the officer. “He was roughing me up, grinding my face into the pavement,” he said.
Sauceda agreed. “He put his hands up to defend himself, but he never took a shot at the cop.”
Said McCarthy: “It was like these guys overreacted more than I could have ever imagined. If they had identified themselves, they could have saved themselves a lot of problems.”