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Video shows officer repeatedly punching man after pursuit in Pasadena

A high-speed chase that started in Rancho Cucamonga ended in Pasadena on Thursday with a San Bernardino sheriff’s deputy repeatedly punching a man who was lying on the ground, footage from TV news helicopters showed.

Video captured by KTLA and KCBS shows a man, identified by the department as Donovan Gardner, lying on his stomach in the street with a hand behind his back as two deputies kneel beside him.

A deputy punches Gardner four times in the torso before climbing on top of him and straddling his back. Once on top of him, the deputy appears to throw about a dozen punches near Gardner’s head, and knee him.

The incident comes six months after a news helicopter captured video of San Bernardino deputies beating a man after a long pursuit in the high desert. Three deputies have been charged with assault in that case and the county quickly reached a settlement agreement with the victim for $650,000.

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It is unclear from the latest video how much Gardner, 25, of Pasadena, was resisting. At one point, Gardner flipped onto his back. Another deputy ran over to help restrain him.

In a statement, the Sheriff’s Department said Gardner struggled with deputies as they tried to arrest him.

Two use-of-force experts who viewed the video said the blows seemed excessive. Another said the deputy appeared to be using reasonable force.

Geoffrey Alpert, a University of South Carolina professor of criminology who has studied use of force and pursuits, called the encounter “an example of what happens to officers when they’re so angry at the suspect and they lose perspective, and get what we call an adrenaline dump.”

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“There is no justification for those blows,” Alpert said.

But Ed Obayashi, a use-of-force expert and attorney who works as an Inyo County deputy, said that while the man in the video was resisting, deputies suspected he had been involved in a home burglary as well as the high-speed pursuit — crimes that are potentially violent.

“His hand is free when he is on the ground and he is resisting and he is a big guy. So the deputy at that point opts to use blows to get him to stop,” Obayashi said. “He is raining down blows but not for malicious purposes.”

The pursuit began after the Rancho Cucamonga Police Department received a report 10:53 a.m. of a residential burglary on Oldenberg Court in Rancho Cucamonga, said spokeswoman Cindy Bachman. The city contracts with the Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement services.

The caller told deputies that the suspects fled in a light-blue sedan, according to a department statement. Deputies soon spotted a car matching the description and tried to stop it, but the driver fled, getting onto the westbound 210 Freeway and traveling at more than 100 mph, according to the statement.

The chase ended about 11:30 at Paloma Street and Palo Verde Avenue in Pasadena, Bachman said. After a short foot pursuit, the driver, James Smith, was taken into custody.

Gardner, a passenger, “was apprehended in the roadway, at gunpoint, and failed to comply” with repeated commands, according to the release.

“Once on the ground, a struggle occurred between Gardner and two deputies who were trying to gain control of him,” the statement said. “Gardner turned over onto his back and refused to give the deputies his hands. A use of force occurred wherein deputies struck Gardner multiple times.”

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Another passenger, who was in the back seat, was taken into custody without incident.

All three were taken to local hospitals after complaining of pain, the release said.

The department said it would investigate the incident to determine whether the use of force was within policy.

In the April case, in which Francis Pusok was beaten even as he appeared to have surrendered, Sheriff John McMahon quickly said he was disturbed by the footage and soon placed 10 deputies on paid administrative leave while the incident was investigated.

In September, Deputies Nick Downey, Charles Foster and Michael Phelps were charged with assault by a peace officer. All three have pleaded not guilty.

Last month, a San Bernardino deputy in a helicopter shot a man who was being pursued as he drove the wrong way on the freeway. The driver died at the scene.

Merrick Bobb, a policing expert who is the federally appointed monitor of the Seattle police, said Thursday’s incident “raises a lot of questions.”

“At first blush, it appears without provocation or need. One of the deputies begins to punch this guy who is on the ground already,” Bobb said.

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Given the high desert case, which involved televised video of a beating at the end of a pursuit, the department may have problems that stretch beyond a single arrest, he said.

Such behavior, Bobb said, isn’t tolerated in modern policing: “I am afraid the Old West died off a number of years ago.”

Twitter: @haileybranson | @lacrimes

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