O.C. approves $250,000 settlement for Black man beaten by deputy

OC Sheriff's Department Headquarters in Santa Ana.
OC Sheriff’s Department Headquarters in Santa Ana.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

A Black man who was beaten by an Orange County sheriff’s deputy on camera will receive $250,000 after county supervisors approved the settlement on Tuesday.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1, with Supervisor Don Wagner dissenting, to approve the settlement during the closed session portion of its meeting.

The beating took place in August 2018, when Mohamed Sayem was asleep in his car and Orange County sheriff’s deputies approached. Initially, Deputy Michael Devitt wrote he had forcibly subdued Sayem because the man tried to grab him during the arrest. Sayem was charged with resisting arrest — a felony.

The incident garnered little attention until months later, when Asst. Public Defender Scott Sanders released video footage of the beating. In it, Devitt is seen punching Sayem in the face several times before taking him to the ground. It did not appear to show Sayem trying to grab the deputy.

Amid the ongoing reckoning over policing, the video footage sparked uproar among county activists, and Sanders started going public with claims that the deputies involved in Sayem’s arrest have been the subjects of multiple criminal and internal investigations in past years.

“I could not imagine a more infected group of officers at the scene,” Sanders said in a previous interview.

The effort seemed to have made an impact after the O.C. District Attorney’s Office dropped the felony charge against Sayem in 2020 after spending years pursuing the case. Sayem ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge for delaying an officer.

The video of the arrest was recorded by a camera mounted in Devitt’s patrol car. It shows Devitt and Deputy Eric Ota wake Sayem and ask for his identification, which he didn’t provide. From his speech and behavior, Sayem, who was slumped over in the driver’s seat, appeared to be intoxicated.

When Sayem moved in an apparent attempt to exit the car, Devitt put his hands on him. 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.

While he was on the ground, Sayem asked the deputies whether they were going to shoot him. Devitt said no, but Ota said he would “like to.” Ota omitted the exchange from his report and the department did not conduct an investigation into the comment, according to a previous court filing from Sanders.

Then, as Sayem sat bloodied in the backseat of Devitt’s patrol car, Deputy Blake Blaney “mused nostalgically” of another fight he had been in, Sanders wrote.

“I got in another good one last week,” he told the other deputies, laughing, the court documents say.

To Sgt. Christopher Hibbs, the supervisor at Sayem’s arrest, a deputy is heard saying, “You’re recording this now?” Another said, “You’ve been recording this the whole …” Before the deputy could finish his sentence, Deputy Brant Lewis walked over and turned off Hibbs’ recorder, the court documents say.

Eleven minutes of silence followed. Without the audio being recorded, Devitt can be seen on the video talking with the other deputies and the report he then wrote about the arrest gave a different version of events from what he initially told Hibbs, Sanders alleged in his court filing.

Around the time of the arrest, former Sheriff Sandra Hutchens defended Devitt’s actions.

“The deputy used force appropriate for the situation to gain control of an uncooperative, assaultive and intoxicated person,” Hutchens said. “Any assertion otherwise substantially misrepresents the facts, and serves only to swell an anti-law enforcement narrative.”

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