Clinton Alford Jr. was lying face-down on a South Los Angeles sidewalk, his hands behind his back, when he felt the first kick.
The 22-year-old admitted he didn’t remember all of what happened on that October afternoon, just minutes after a police officer yanked him off his bicycle. But he remembered being repeatedly kicked in the head and shocked with an electric stun gun in the back. His body, he said, “flopped like a dead fish.”
“I was just praying to God that they wouldn’t kill me,” he said. “I felt that I was going to die. Then I passed out.”
On Monday, Officer Richard Garcia, 34, was charged with one count of felony assault for using what prosecutors described as unlawful force when arresting Alford after he had surrendered.
The decision to file an assault charge is highly unusual for on-duty police officers, who are given broad legal authority to use force. But Garcia’s case highlights how prosecutors are more willing to charge a cop when incidents are caught on video, which can then be presented to a jury to provide clarity in the face of conflicting witness accounts.
Garcia is one of three LAPD officers facing assault under color of authority charges in connection with on-duty incidents caught on camera.
Jonathan Lai, 31, was charged last year after he allegedly hit a man with a police baton outside a restaurant near Staples Center in 2012. Prosecutors said footage from the restaurant’s security camera showed that the man was on his knees, with his hands on his head, when Lai struck him repeatedly.
Mary O’Callaghan, 49, was charged in a deadly 2012 incident involving a woman arrested in South L.A. Patrol car footage showed the veteran officer kicking Alesia Thomas in the stomach and groin when the woman was in handcuffs and leg restraints, prosecutors said. Thomas, a 35-year-old mother, lost consciousness in a patrol car and was later pronounced dead at a hospital.
Alford’s arrest by Garcia and other officers was captured by a security camera on a nearby building. Unlike other controversial police-civilian encounters that have made national headlines, the footage has not been made public.
However, several police officials who saw the recording described a disturbing scenario in previous interviews with The Times. One called it “horrific.” Another said the officer kicked Alford like a “football player kicking a field goal.”
Garcia, who has been with the Los Angeles Police Department for a decade, pleaded not guilty Monday. His attorney declined to comment, saying he had yet to view the video.
Chief Charlie Beck, who initially said he was “extremely concerned” about the incident, said Monday that the LAPD had taken swift action and worked closely with prosecutors to prepare the criminal case.
“From the earliest stages of our investigation, it became apparent that this individual’s actions were not only beyond department policy but were in fact criminal,” Beck told The Times.
Internal affairs investigations into the conduct of Garcia and other officers involved in the arrest are ongoing, an LAPD spokeswoman said. Three other officers and a sergeant have been removed from the field and assigned to their homes.
Garcia, who is also assigned to his home, faces up to three years in jail if convicted, the district attorney’s office said.
Alford said he was riding his bicycle on Avalon Boulevard near 55th Street on Oct. 16, when a car pulled up and a man yelled at him to stop — but did not identify himself as a police officer. Someone grabbed the back of the bike, Alford said, so he jumped off and ran.
Prosecutors said the officers were investigating a robbery and that Alford matched the description of their suspect.
After a short chase, two police officers caught up to Alford. The security camera footage showed him voluntarily getting down on the ground and putting his hands behind his back, according to several police officials who viewed the recording. The two officers restrained Alford, the sources said, but he made no movements and did not resist.
Seconds later, the sources said, a patrol car pulled up and a “heavyset” or “very large” uniformed officer rushed out and toward Alford. That officer kicked or stomped at Alford, who was still being held down by the other officers.
The sources described a series of blows that came next, including several the officer made with his elbows to the back of Alford’s head and upper body. When it was over, they said, Alford’s body was limp. It took several officers to carry him to a car.
It wasn’t until after Alford was put in the patrol car that the officers appeared to notice the security camera on a nearby garment factory, according to the sources who saw the recording. The officer who kicked Alford knocked on the door of the building, then disappeared inside.
In a federal lawsuit, Alford alleged he did not resist the officers and was not “given warning that police were attempting to detain or arrest him.” He was beaten so badly, the lawsuit alleged, that he was knocked unconscious.
On Monday, Alford told reporters that he hoped Garcia would lose his job. The 22-year-old father said he has suffered “mentally, physically and emotionally,” saying he could no longer take his children to the park or dunk a basketball. He also said he’s worried about retaliation by police.
“When I felt the handcuffs on my wrists, I assumed they were police,” he said. “But when I felt the boots kick in my temple, I didn’t understand what was going on.”
Times staff writer Joel Rubin contributed to this report.