Footage of a Los Angeles police officer repeatedly punching a man during an arrest in Boyle Heights in late April has stoked outrage and prompted the launch of an internal review of the incident.
Officers were responding to a trespassing call in the 2400 block of Houston Street on April 27 and ordered a man to leave the property near the Church of God of Prophecy, according to a statement issued by the LAPD after footage of the incident began to gain traction online Monday night.
In a 50-second video, two officers can be seen ordering a man to turn around near a fence outside the church. A male officer tells the suspect to “stop fighting,” and the suspect responds, “Ain’t nobody fighting.”
The officer then begins throwing overhand punches to the back of the suspect’s head while shouting profanities. At one point, the suspect attempts to take a few steps away from the officer, who follows and continues to punch the man in the head and body. A female officer stands by, occasionally reaching her hand out but otherwise not intervening.
“It was completely uncalled for, even if there was some provocation,” said Melina Abdullah, a Cal State L.A. professor and organizer with Black Lives Matter in Los Angeles. “It wasn’t one punch, two punches. … He went off on this guy. And the guy didn’t resist or fight back.”
Warning: Video contains profanity and violence.
During his weekly report to the city’s civilian Police Commission on Tuesday, Police Chief Michel Moore said he was concerned about both the Boyle Heights footage and an incident over the weekend where one off-duty LAPD officer allegedly shot another while camping in San Bernardino County.
“I recognize the public’s concern and how disturbing or troubling they may be to them,” Moore said of both incidents. “I’m going to allow the process and investigation to take place, but accountability and a clear-eyed view of what occurred here is my absolute commitment.”
Several members of the public who were listening to Tuesday’s commission hearing remotely condemned the actions of the officer seen in the video, describing it as a “violent beating” and “police brutality.”
Najee Ali, a prominent South L.A. civil rights activist, called on Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey to prosecute the officer on Tuesday.
The officer has been assigned to home pending reviews by the LAPD’s Internal Affairs and Force Investigation divisions. His partner was placed on administrative duty, according to a department spokesman.
The suspect sustained “abrasions to his head and face” but refused medical attention, according to the LAPD, and the officer suffered a hand injury.
Neither the officer nor the suspect were immediately identified. The man was ultimately released pending further investigation, the LAPD said in its statement.
David Winslow, the officer’s attorney, described him as a 20-year LAPD veteran but declined to identify him. Winslow said the suspect had been living in a tent in a lot adjacent to the church. An LAPD spokesman could not say if the suspect was homeless.
Winslow argued that prior to the footage that has been widely shared, the suspect was aggressive toward the police when they asked if he would consent to a search. During the initial search, the suspect allegedly struck the officer in the chest, knocking his body-worn camera to the ground, Winslow said.
The officer then ordered the man to turn back toward the fence, according to Winslow, who said the man started “using profanity, calling the officer names … telling him he wasn’t going to cooperate.” The man then threatened to attack the officer and began to struggle, which led the officer to use physical force, Winslow said.
Winslow disputed any characterization that the man was not fighting back and said the force used was necessary, despite the repeated blows the officer throws without any apparent response from the suspect.
“The use of force is justified because the officer believed he was under attack from the suspect … even though you might think the suspect wasn’t fighting back at that time, he wasn’t complying either,” Winslow said. “He didn’t go to the ground. He didn’t say ‘I give up.’”
Ed Obayashi, a veteran Plumas County sheriff’s deputy and lawyer who trains officers statewide believed the video was extremely problematic.
“To say this looks bad is an understatement,” said Obayashi. “I don’t see any signs of resistance. The officer is just pissed off and very amped up. There is no sign the officer is responding properly. This officer is literally throwing haymakers.”
Obayashi dismissed Winslow’s argument that the suspect’s prior behavior justified the officer’s actions, and said the officer appears to have simply lost control of his emotions.
Charles “Sid” Heal, a retired Los Angeles Sheriff’s commander and use of force expert, said the “blows are hard to justify.”
“The video doesn’t show everything but it does show you a lot,” Heal said.
Abdullah, the Cal State L.A. professor, expressed concern that the LAPD did not make any information about the clash public before the video garnered attention on Twitter and Reddit this week.
“Police investigating themselves is never a good idea,” she said, “but especially when they do it behind closed doors, there’s no public pressure to make sure that they are held accountable.”