Video, arrest report at odds
The LAPD officers under investigation for allegedly using excessive force while arresting a suspect in Hollywood this summer appeared to have downplayed in their arrest report how many times they hit the man.
The report, obtained by The Times on Friday, says that Officer Patrick Farrell punched William Cardenas twice because he resisted arrest. The video of the Aug. 11 arrest shows Farrell striking him at least six times in the face.
For the record:
12:00 AM, Nov. 15, 2006 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday November 15, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 76 words Type of Material: Correction
Police beating: Articles in Friday’s California section and Saturday’s Section A about a police beating in Hollywood said a brief video recording of the incident showed an officer punching a suspect six times in the face. The video image shows five blows to the suspect’s face. In one other instance -- the fourth of six downward motions by the officer’s right hand -- he appears to grab the suspect’s arm, not punch him in the face.
The video also seems to contradict the justification that Farrell and Officer Alexander Schlegel gave in the report for striking Cardenas. According to the arrest report, Schlegel said Farrell struck Cardenas after “the suspect continued to grab at my [Schlegel’s] belt and waist.”
But the 19-second video shows that Cardenas’ hands are not near Schlegel’s waist or belt either before or after Farrell strikes him.
Rather, it shows that the officers had handcuffed one of Cardenas’ wrists and that they were trying to hold down his arms. The video shows that Cardenas’ right hand approaches Farrell’s belt and holster, but after the officer hits him in the face. Farrell continues to strike Cardenas in the face as he and Schlegel struggle to control the suspect’s right arm.
Both officers are on top of Cardenas, with Farrell’s knee pressed hard against his neck and Schlegel sitting astride his midsection. The suspect is heard yelling “I can’t breathe” as his arms squirm.
Video seen worldwide
The video, which came to light Thursday, continued to be shown repeatedly Friday on TV newscasts around the globe as well as on the Internet site YouTube.
Police Chief William J. Bratton confirmed Friday that the detectives will look at any discrepancies between the police report and the videotape.
“That’s part of what the investigation will attempt to determine, the officers’ recollection versus the individual’s,” Bratton said. “Those are the issues you look at in an investigation. You look at discrepancies, memory gaps.”
But Los Angeles Police Department officials, police procedure experts and even some police critics said this case falls into a grayer area than other high-profile LAPD beatings caught on videotape, such as Rodney King and Stanley Miller.
LAPD rules allow officers to use “distraction strikes” on a suspect if he is resisting arrest -- or in this case, refusing to be handcuffed.
Such strikes are allowed only as a way of forcing the suspect to submit, not for punitive reasons. It will be up Bratton to decide whether Farrell’s six punches to Cardenas’ face were distraction strikes or punitive blows.
Another issue Bratton will have to consider is whether Cardenas was resisting arrest -- and if the officers had other alternatives than beating his face.
“The issue is whether the suspect is under control,” said Geoffrey Alpert, professor of criminology of the University of South Carolina and an expert on police use of force. “There is no excuse for striking him if he is totally under control.”
The LAPD has been struggling for years to deal with how officers restrain suspects. After a group of officers in 1991 repeatedly beat motorist Rodney King in a case caught on tape, the department restricted the use of batons. In 2004, when an officer delivered 11 blows with a large metal flashlight to car chase suspect Stanley Miller, Bratton banned use of such flashlights.
“What in God’s name do you want the cops to do to get a combative, noncompliant suspect into custody?” said David Klinger, a criminology professor and former LAPD officer. “You can’t punch, can’t choke, you can’t strike with a baton, the ACLU and Amnesty International want to take the Taser away.”
In the King and Miller cases, there were major discrepancies between the officers’ written reports and what the videotape showed.
Some LAPD observers said Friday the Hollywood incident underscores continuing problems some officers have in the amount of force they use to subdue suspects.
“Just looking at the tape, the first reaction is you shouldn’t have to punch someone in the face to get handcuffs on,” said Connie Rice, a civil rights attorney who recently headed a city panel that investigated the Rampart police corruption scandal.
Rice said it was unclear whether Cardenas’ actions warranted such force.
Despite years of reform brought about by the King beating and more recent Rampart scandal, Rice says many officers haven’t gotten the message.
“About a third of the force believes that if you are not in total compliance during an arrest, they get to use a level of force that to me and the public looks excessive,” Rice said.
According to the police account, the officers were on a patrol just before 6 p.m. when they spotted Cardenas drinking beer with two friends at the corner of Fountain Avenue and Gordon Street. Schlegel recalled that Cardenas, an alleged member of a Hollywood street gang, had an outstanding felony warrant on a charge of receiving stolen property.
Suspect took off
After pulling up in their patrol car, Farrell ordered the men to put their hands above their heads, but Cardenas ran. Schlegel caught up to him a quarter of a block away and tripped him. The officers said Cardenas then took several swings at them and resisted their efforts to control and handcuff him. According to the police report, several witnesses confirmed that Cardenas swung at the officers.
Cardenas received black eyes and a split lip and required stitches above his right eyelid. Both officers were treated for minor injuries.
Cardenas’ attorney, B. Kwaku Duren acknowledges that his client ran but said he never resisted arrest. He also said that his client is not a gang member.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Commissioner Ronald Rose found there was sufficient evidence to try Cardenas on two counts of resisting arrest. After viewing the video, Rose found “the response of officers was more than reasonable under the circumstances.”
The reaction was tempered Friday among members of the Los Angeles Police Commission, which is appointed by the mayor to provide civilian oversight of the LAPD and investigations of police misconduct.
Once again, the commission and police chief find themselves thrust into the public eye by a provocative video of a police incident -- requiring them to play an all-too familiar role of reassuring the public that brutality will be taken seriously but without condemning the officers prematurely.
“The tape is disturbing, but at the same time there may be explanations not visible in the videotape we have,” said Commissioner Anthony Pacheco.
Commissioners can look to lessons learned and reforms adopted after the King beating, so that the latest controversy, while raising police-community tensions, is not likely to result in another explosive public outcry.
Things are also different this time because John Mack and Andrea Sheridan-Ordin, who were on the outside criticizing the LAPD over Rodney King, are now police commissioners.
Bratton and his predecessor as chief, Bernard C. Parks, “have clearly expressed that such force is not acceptable,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, a law professor who has been involved in reform efforts at City Hall. “They have set a very different tone than [former Chief Daryl] Gates.”
Carol Sobel, a civil rights attorney and president of the Lawyers Guild, said the LAPD should brace for the emergence of more videotapes purporting to show police brutality.
She said one videotape making the rounds among civil rights and defense attorneys appears to show a mentally ill man in Venice who has been handcuffed by the police, then placed in a patrol car. An officer pepper sprays him and shuts the door.
Some LAPD officials have seen the tape, but it has not yet been publicly disclosed.