Video of police beating in San Francisco triggers calls for federal probe
Prosecutors should consider criminal charges against a pair of Alameda County sheriff’s deputies seen on video repeatedly hitting a suspected car thief who did not appear to be resisting arrest, the Alameda County public defender said Monday.
The deputies were captured on a motion-triggered alley security camera video Thursday morning chasing down a driver who had allegedly led authorities on a pursuit into San Francisco, tackling him to the ground then punching and hitting them with their batons.
Public Defender Brendon Woods compared the beating to the infamous Rodney King beating by the LAPD in 1991.
“Those deputies viciously attacked a man who appeared to be surrendering. They beat him with their batons even though he was not resisting. This is clearly excessive force,” Woods said in a statement.
The beating of the man, identified as Stanislav Petrov, was caught on surveillance video and released on YouTube by the San Francisco public defender’s office, which said it received the footage from someone who operates a security camera in the area. (Note: The surveillance video, above, is disturbing and contains several shouted obscenities.)
The grainy footage shows two Alameda County sheriff’s deputies chasing a man on foot. As the man slows, one officer tackles him and punches him twice. The second officer arrives and starts hitting Petrov with his baton. Soon both officers can be seen hitting Petrov with their batons. Sometimes Petrov can be seen on the ground and other times on his knees. Once the officers begin striking him, he does not appear to be resisting.
In the video, the officers strike Petrov with their batons more than 30 times before other officers arrive on the scene.
In light of what’s shown on the video, Woods has called for the San Francisco district attorney’s office and state attorney general’s office to investigate the two deputies for potential criminal charges as well as their immediate suspension.
Woods is also requesting their names be released to his office, that the federal government launch a civil rights investigation and that all body and car camera footage of the incident be released. Woods also requested an external investigation into the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office’s use-of-force policies.
The deputies have been placed on administrative leave while the department conducts an internal investigation, officials said.
It doesn’t look like they’re trying to subdue him. It looks like they’re trying to punish him or trying to exact revenge.
— Tamara Barak Aparton, a spokeswoman for the public defender
“I was shocked by the brutality” of the incident, Tamara Barak Aparton, a spokeswoman for the public defender, told The Times on Sunday. “He is clearly not resisting. And they hit him multiple times in the head with their batons. It doesn’t look like they’re trying to subdue him. It looks like they’re trying to punish him or trying to exact revenge.”
One witness was asleep in a third-floor apartment, about 60 to 70 feet away from where Petrov fell, when he was awakened by sounds from below.
“I heard people yelling,” said Matt G., who asked that his full last name not be used because he was concerned about calling attention to himself.
The witness, who was among the first to make contact with the public defender, said he saw about the last 15 seconds of the altercation from his window.
“Right when I looked out, he was on his knees with his hands trying to block the batons. Then he fell to the ground. It’s not that he was resisting. He was just trying to protect himself with his hands,” the man told The Times in an interview Sunday. “It looked like the officers were taking out aggression. The blows were hitting him all over. He was just trying to protect himself from getting brutally injured.”
When police backup arrived seconds later, he said, his view of the scene was blocked and he could see nothing else clearly.
KQED News quoted the department as reporting that the officers were veterans and would not be immediately identified out of concern for their safety.
“If you look on social media, there’s a lot of threats that have been made against them — pretty vulgar threats,” said Alameda County sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Kelly. “We have to worry about their safety, in addition to Mr. Petrov in the hospital too. We don’t want people showing up there, protesters showing up there and causing a whole bunch of problems.”
Woods said that Petrov’s arms were “crushed” from the beating.
“From his elbow through his hands are swollen,” Woods said. “It looks like he has several broken bones in both of his hands or arm areas.”
Petrov was alert and able to talk, Woods added.
Authorities have not released Petrov’s age or city of residence. But a woman whom KQED identified as Petrov’s mother said she and her son immigrated to San Francisco from Ukraine 18 years ago and that her son is 28. She said he has been diagnosed with multiple mental disorders, including post-traumatic stress and depression. She said he had suffered several concussions in the past.
Petrov faces felony charges for ramming a squad car and injuring a deputy, then leading a high-speed chase to San Francisco. He also is being held on suspicion of having a loaded firearm in the stolen vehicle he was driving, possession of methamphetamine and multiple hit-and-runs.
The incident began about 1:30 a.m. Thursday, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Officers on patrol spotted what they believed to be a stolen 2015 Mercedes-Benz with Petrov at the wheel. As officers advanced, Petrov allegedly struck a patrol car, pushing it into a deputy and injuring the officer, Kelly told reporters. Petrov allegedly hit a second patrol car and then sped off, taking Interstate 580 through Oakland and then crossing the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, hitting speeds as high as 100 mph during the 40-mile pursuit. The chase ended, said Kelly, when Petrov hit a parked car in the Mission District and tried to run away.
Officers at the scene reported that they found a loaded gun in the Mercedes.
Another department spokesman, J.D. Nelson, told reporters that Petrov had three felony warrants and a misdemeanor warrant at the time of the encounter.
The local ABC affiliate interviewed a witness to the arrest.
“I heard just loud smack, smack, smacks. I really thought they were gunshots ‘cause they were super loud,” Redop Rundgren said.
Rundgren’s apartment is above where the incident occurred. The screams woke him up, he told ABC News 7.
“They kept screaming, ‘Get on the ground,’” pushing him and beating him continuously, he said.
“He started trying to get up and crawl away while they were beating him. That’s when I heard his screaming like, ‘Stop, help me’ or something of the sort,” Rundgren recalled.
The video footage was not provided by a witness but by one or more persons who heard about what happened and then checked the motion-sensitive security camera that scanned the block, Aparton said. The beating is even longer than depicted, because the camera cycles on and off at 10-second intervals, she said.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.