Civil rights activists, CHP meet to discuss woman punched by officer

Los Angeles civil rights activists said they were pleased by their Monday meeting with an upper-level California Highway Patrol official regarding the officer who was captured on video punching a woman alongside the 10 Freeway last week.

Community leaders told The Times they met with Asst. Commissioner Ramona Prieto to convey their concerns about the July 1 incident, which drew some sharp criticism after the video surfaced over the holiday weekend.

The Rev. William D. Smart Jr., head of the Los Angeles chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Alliance, was among those at the meeting. He said he and others are “enraged” by the video.

“We’re very angry. Our community is highly upset over this -- that a black woman was being hit that way, treated that way,” he said. “There’s a rage in our community right now.”

Community leaders said they wanted to convey that reaction to the CHP, Smart said, but also hear about what the agency was doing in response. There are questions over the agency’s policies and what might happen to the officer involved.


“We wanted to get a gauge of how seriously they were dealing with this, and we see that they’re looking upon this extremely seriously,” he said.

A second meeting with the CHP was scheduled for Tuesday, Smart said.

The video, which was posted on YouTube, shows the woman -- identified by attorneys as Marlene Pinnock -- walking along the 10 Freeway near the La Brea Avenue exit when a male CHP officer catches up to her, throws her to the ground and punches her in the head. The officer landed at least nine blows before a plain-clothes officer helped him subdue the woman.

A CHP summary of the incident said the woman was barefoot and at times “walking within traffic lanes.” The CHP officer tried to stop her, the report said, but she did not respond.

“The female then walks away while ignoring commands to stop from the officer heading westbound against the flow of traffic and into the traffic lanes,” the report said. “During the conversation the pedestrian then becomes physically combative at which point the officer is forced to place the pedestrian under arrest in fear of the pedestrian’s and officer’s safety.

“A physical altercation ensued as the pedestrian continued to resist arrest,” the report continued.

Pinnock was taken to an area hospital for a mental health evaluation and remained there Monday, one of her attorneys said. John Burris said it was unclear why his client was on the freeway that evening.

Pinnock’s family has announced their plans for a lawsuit. CHP officials have said the video captured only a small part of the incident, and said in a statement that a “complete and thorough” investigation was underway.

The officer involved, who has not been named, was on an “administrative assignment” that was out of the field, CHP Sgt. Denise Joslin said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California echoed calls for an investigation into the incident. In a statement issued Monday, executive director Hector Villagra acknowledged the woman was walking along the freeway and that her “state of mind was unclear.”

“Officers are authorized to use force only when reasonably necessary to overcome force or danger posed by a subject,” the statement said. “But disturbing video raises serious questions whether, in those circumstances, it could possibly be reasonable for the CHP officer to pin Ms. Pinnock to the ground and punch her repeatedly.”

Najee Ali, a prominent civil rights activist and director of Project Islamic Hope, called for criminal charges against the officer as well as a swift investigation into his conduct. Ali was among those who met with the CHP on Monday.

“Everyone was talking about it in the barber shops, the nail salons,” he said. “This is something that in South L.A. everyone is monitoring and talking about.”

Follow @katemather and @JosephSerna for more law enforcement news from across Southern California.