California police officers accused of brutally beating Black teen in rare indictment
Two former Stockton police officers were indicted by a grand jury Friday on felony charges for the beating of Devin Carter, a Black teenager, in December — an incident that left the minor with two black eyes and what appeared to be the imprint of a boot on his cheek.
Former Stockton officers Michael Stiles and Omar Villapudua were each charged with two counts of assault, one under the color of authority, said San Joaquin County Dist. Atty. Tori Verber Salazar on Friday afternoon. Both officers were fired from the department earlier this year.
The charges represent a rare move in California, where indictments of officers remain unusual, despite a toughening of use of force laws in recent years. Though more officers have faced scrutiny and even trials, it is uncommon for cases that don’t involve lethal force be put before a grand jury.
Police appear to face increasing stakes in California, though. Currently, a bill that would allow officers to be banned from the profession for misconduct, Senate Bill 2, is on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk, but he has not indicated if he will sign it into law.
John Burris, a civil rights attorney representing Carter, said he believes the Stockton case may be a reflection of increased awareness of police brutality and a growing consensus of the need for change after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer last year, both for the public that serves on grand juries and for prosecutors who make charging decisions.
“I’ve always said that George Floyd represented more than a moment, possibly a movement,” said Burris, standing with Carter and his family. “I think we are moving in a positive direction.”
Salazar said she will be requesting a “patterns and practices” civil rights investigation by the state attorney general and the federal Department of Justice on the community response team that the officers were part of.
“Those who violate their oath to protect and serve discredit the good work law enforcement strives to do every day,” Salazar said.
The charges stem from a Dec. 30 incident in which Stockton police pursued Carter, then 17, for reckless driving after allegedly spotting him breaking the speed limit in a silver 2006 Mercedes. Police said at the time that Carter turned his lights off and led officers on a brief pursuit.
After Carter was stopped by a PIT maneuver, in which officers hit the side of a vehicle to cause it to spin, body camera footage shows officers pulling Carter from the vehicle and slamming him on the ground, though Carter’s hands are on the wheel and he appears calm as officers approach.
Carter can be heard yelling, “I’m not resisting.” An officer yells back, “Yes, you are,” in the grainy footage, which shows multiple officers hitting and kicking Carter as he lies curled on the pavement.
Four officers were involved in the incident, but the grand jury declined to charge two of them. Those officers have been on administrative leave, but will return to active duty, said Stockton Police Department spokesman Joseph Silva.
It was unclear why the grand jury made its decision, but Salazar said she was asking that the transcript of the proceeding be made public in coming days.
After the grand jury announcement, Carter said he was disappointed that only two officers were charged. He said he still feels “panic” when he drives and is worried about being pulled over by the officers who were not charged.
“It just scares me,” he said.
Stockton police said in a statement that it supported the grand jury’s decision and “believe this process was fair and impartial.”
“The Stockton Police Department recognized early on from an internal review that there was an issue with the use of force,” the statement from Silva said. “And that was why we fired the two former officers.”
The local police union, however, posted on its Facebook page on Friday that it “strongly disagreed” with the grand jury decision. Calls to the indicted officers and the union were not immediately returned.
After the California city went bankrupt, Stockton cut its police department by nearly a quarter. Eight years later, it’s a lesson on what fewer police can and can’t do.
Burris, who specializes in cases of police brutality, compared Carter’s beating to that of another of his clients, Rodney King.
“These vicious cops acted like a pack of wolves, and Devin was their evening meal. I have not seen a police officer beating this outrageous since my former client Rodney King was beaten by LAPD officers back in March of 1991,” Burris said in an earlier statement.
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