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Orange County sheriff defends deputy caught punching intoxicated suspect on video

O.C. sheriff's deputy caught on video repeatedly punching intoxicated man

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said Friday that she fully supports the actions of a deputy who was caught on video repeatedly punching an intoxicated suspect during an arrest earlier this year.

In a recorded statement, Hutchens said the dashboard camera video released by by the public defender’s office did not tell the entire story of the Aug. 19 clash between Deputies Michael Devitt and Eric Ota and the suspect, Mohamed Sayem.

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“What you have seen is 15 minutes out of more than an hour of video, an hour of video that I personally reviewed,” Hutchens said in a recorded statement published to YouTube on Friday afternoon.

The footage was released Thursday by Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, who said the deputies used excessive force and lied in claiming Sayem was violent toward them so they could justify their use of force in the incident.

The encounter unfolded when the deputies woke Sayem and and asked for his identification, which he didn’t provide. Sayem appeared to be intoxicated, was slumped over in the driver’s seat and gave “a number of partially understandable answers, statements, and insults — often chuckling and falling in the car as he delivered them,” according to court records.

Devitt placed his hand on Sayem in an effort to keep him in the vehicle after Sayem moved to his left, apparently attempting to exit the car. Sayem yelled at the deputy not to touch him and tried to pull away.

Devitt can then be seen pulling Sayem out of the car and repeatedly striking him. As Sayem falls to the ground, he asks the deputies if they were going to shoot him. Devitt responds “no,” while Ota says he would “like to,” according to a motion Sanders filed seeking their personnel files.

Key details of the deputy’s accounting of the incident changed between Devitt’s discussion with his supervisor at the scene, which was caught on video, and the incident report he later filed, according to Sanders.

Devitt told his supervisor that he planned to charge Sayem with felony resisting — which requires a threat or violence — because “he tried to bear hug on me.” In his report, he doesn’t mention the bear hug. Instead, he alleges Sayem grabbed his vest and pulled on it.

The video does not make clear exactly what sparked the use of force. Sayem can be heard saying “don’t touch me like that” before he and Devitt begin struggling. Devitt then throws the first of several punches.

Sayem is awaiting trial on one count of felony resisting arrest. On Friday, Hutchens criticized Sanders for releasing the video and said her deputies used appropriate force.

“My deputy is not on trial,” she said. “The suspect is on trial for assaulting a peace officer.”

On Friday, Sanders said Hutchens had failed to address several of the serious issues he raised in his motion, and mocked her for saying she was working with “a field of facts” in a video that “fails to address the facts that are particularly damaging.”

“The deputy told his sergeant a different story from what he wrote in his report, and the second deputy said he'd ‘like to shoot’ Mr. Sayem,” Sanders wrote in an e-mail to The Times. “Perhaps the sheriff is doing a series of videos on the incident and the next one might address these problems.”

Hutchens said the video released by the public defender did not show Sayem’s “belligerent” behavior toward paramedics who arrived to treat him.

She scoffed at Sanders’ allegations that the video contradicted the deputy’s official report.

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“I stand 100% behind my deputy,” Hutchens said. “What he wrote in his report is exactly what occurred in the video.”

Times staff writer Hannah Fry contributed to this report.

5:45 p.m.: This article was updated with additional comments from Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders.

This article was originally published at 4:10 p.m.

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