The FBI has confirmed it is investigating the treatment of an immigrant who was allegedly beaten by Santa Ana police officers, an incident that was captured on video and drew widespread condemnation.
In the video of the June 20 incident, officers appear to hit Edgar Vargas Arzate repeatedly and swing a baton at his legs as he lies face-down on the ground.
Vargas, 27, is facing felony attempted burglary charges, but other charges related to the incident, including battery of a peace officer, have been dropped.
Vargas, who was born in Mexico, was picked up and detained by immigration officials in August when he was headed to the courthouse to attend a hearing on the burglary charges. He was released last week and deportation hearings are on hold.
"Edgar is with his family. They are happy and we are hugely appreciative that federal agencies are taking this step," said Frank Bittar, a senior deputy public defender in Orange County.
Laura Eimiller, FBI spokeswoman in Los Angeles, confirmed the investigation but did not provide further details. Bittar said the probe would probably focus on whether his client's civil rights were violated.
The altercation between Vargas and police unfolded in June when authorities responded to a burglary call in east Santa Ana. They reportedly chased him through several backyards after a resident reported that a man who appeared to be on drugs tried to open a locked window at her house.
Police said they finally caught up with Vargas in the 400 block of Sycamore Street, where a neighbor's home security camera appears to show a man raising his hands in the air as police order him to the ground.
"What we have is an incident of a man surrendering himself," Bittar said. "He never took a fighting stance. He had his palms down; he went to lay down. We quickly see an officer punching him, one striking him with a baton, another who landed a wicked knee drop on the back of this young man's head. All of this needs to be investigated."
Bittar contacted the FBI in late August, pushing officials to look into the case.
Cpl. Anthony Bertagna, Santa Ana police spokesman, said that in the weeks after Vargas' arrest, a member of Vargas' family contacted the department, prompting an internal affairs investigation of the case.
"Beyond that I can't comment," Bertagna said.