The decision by an El Monte police officer to kick the head of a suspect who was surrendering at the end of a televised pursuit was roundly criticized by use-of-force experts Thursday as an inexcusable and unnecessary tactical lapse.
But on the streets of El Monte and nearby communities, the reaction was less unanimous. Though some said the officer should not have kicked 23-year-old Richard Rodriguez, many said they feel no sympathy for the parolee and known gang member. Some said he deserved the kick for leading police on a dangerous chase.
“He spoke to my frustration over gang members,” said Hector Trujillo, 48, who owns a liquor store in Pico Rivera, where the chase ended. “The rule of law says it’s not right, but with [gang members] you just don’t know what to expect.”
Trujillo said he watched the chase on TV and worried that Rodriguez would hurt bystanders. “I was just waiting for him to run over a mother with three kids; it happened before.”
Two investigations have been opened into the 40-minute police pursuit and foot chase that traversed half a dozen cities in the San Gabriel Valley on Wednesday. The officer, who was not identified, has been reassigned pending the outcome of the reviews.
El Monte police handed over the criminal investigation to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and the results will be forwarded to county prosecutors.
The incident began when gang officers recognized a man they believed was a gang member driving a Toyota. They were trying to determine if the car was stolen when the driver committed an unspecified traffic violation.
Rodriguez sped off, blowing through stop signs and running red lights at speeds reaching 80 mph, even attempting to elude authorities by driving on the opposite side of the road and on a sidewalk full of pedestrians, said department spokesman Ken Alva.
Video shows Rodriguez being kicked in the face after he had put his hands up and fell to the ground with his arms above his head. Two officers are seen in news footage giving each other high-fives. Alva said investigators also are examining the actions of a second officer, who used a plastic flashlight to subdue Rodriguez.
Police use-of-force experts said it will be hard for the officer to justify his actions.
Samuel Walker, a criminology professor at the University of Nebraska, called the kick to the head “unprovoked and unnecessary . . . It’s one of the worst incidents of this kind that I’ve seen.”
David A. Klinger, a criminology professor at the University of Missouri and a former Los Angeles police officer, said the officer also appears to have made tactical errors. “I don’t understand why an officer would want to get so close to a suspect,” he said.
“I understand [the officer is] probably angry because of the chase, but it doesn’t justify a kick to the head,” Art Juarez, a 43-year-old litigation support specialist, said as he ate lunch at a burger stand.
Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.