Video of an arrest in Vista sparks anger at sheriff’s department

The videotaped arrest this week of two men at a domestic-violence call prompted swift condemnation from family members and community leaders Wednesday, as San Diego sheriff’s officials launched an investigation.

Within hours of its posting on social media and the San Diego Union-Tribune website Tuesday, more than 100,000 people viewed the 22-second video that appears to show Vista deputies roughing up two men after they were handcuffed.

One man, later identified as Gerardo Martinez Sr., was shoved into a wooden fence face-first. The other, Gerardo Martinez Jr., was beaten about the head as he was pinned to a sidewalk while deputies repeatedly yelled and swore at him.


“We really don’t know how this will play out,” Fatima Martinez, daughter and sister of the two men, said in a brief telephone interview. “We’re just angry and upset.”

Fatima Martinez, who took the video and posted it online, declined to elaborate on the arrests. She said the family plans to first consult an attorney.

Sheriff Bill Gore released a statement Wednesday, including the names of the arrested men and a commitment to conduct a full review of the events. Two deputies were placed on desk duty, the department said.

“This review will be comprehensive and include reviewing body worn camera video, all relevant reports and interviews with involved parties,” the Gore statement said. “The deputies involved in this incident have been placed on administrative assignment while this case is fully investigated.”

The father and son were arrested Monday outside Gerardo Martinez’s home on Madera Lane in Vista, where deputies had been summoned to respond to a 911 call.

The videotape captured only a portion of what happened, the department said in a statement Tuesday. The statement said one of the suspects had a weapon and was holding someone against their will, and asserted that the parties in the video fought with deputies.

On Wednesday, as members of the public requested more details, the department said the deputies were responding to a 911 call from a woman who was being held against her will.

“As we continue to gather and evaluate the facts of this case, the internal review might change in scope,” the Wednesday statement said.

Even so, the Rev. Shane Harris of the National Action Network called for an independent investigation of the arrests, saying the sheriff’s department has a history of abuse and misconduct.

“We have been down this street before,” he said. “People have been killed and brutalized in our communities, and what we saw on that video was egregious in every way. This will not be swept under the carpet.”

As examples of sheriff’s department misconduct, Harris cited the fatal shooting last August of James Lacy as he was being evicted from his San Diego apartment and another incident in the previous month that led to the fatal shooting of Jonathan Coronel in Vista, who family members said was not armed.

Harris pressed Gore to immediately release footage from the deputies’ body-worn cameras.

“We want to know what else happened,” Harris said.

The sheriff’s department said it would preserve the body-worn camera footage but declined to say whether it would be released publicly.

According to Fatima Martinez, her brother and his girlfriend were arguing in front of the home when deputies showed up.

The deputies “immediately started to beat up my brother and arrested him,” she wrote in a post on Instagram. “My dad was talking to the girlfriend and he was then assaulted by police officers as well. My poor dad didn’t understand why he was being arrested and was not read his rights.”

According to jail booking records, Gerardo Martinez Sr. is a 50-year-old kitchen chef who was arrested on suspicion of resisting arrest and interfering with the arrest of another. He is out of jail on a $25,000 bond.

Gerardo Martinez Jr. is a 23-year-old roofer. He remains at the Vista Detention Center on charges of inflicting injury on a spouse or cohabitant, false imprisonment with violence, assault with force, resisting an officer and disobeying orders. He was scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon.

“My dad was just trying to get my dog under control but they wrongfully abused him,” Fatima Martinez wrote on Instagram. “Please spread this around!! Vista is not safe. They took an oath to protect and serve. I shouldn’t fear the people who are supposed to protect me.”

On Tuesday, Vista Mayor Judy Ritter declined to respond to questions about complaints that deputies in her city abuse their authority. She referred questions to the sheriff’s department, which handles police services on a contract basis.

McDonald writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.