Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods is up in arms and demanding possible criminal charges against two Alameda County Sheriff’s Deputies, who appear to be seen in a video beating a suspect with batons following a high-speed chase from the East Bay to San Francisco.
“The surveillance video footage is disgusting and reminds me of Rodney King,” Mr. Woods said in a statement. He is requesting San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and California Attorney General Kamala Harris conduct a criminal investigation into actions of two unnamed sheriff’s deputies for their alleged actions against 29-year-old Stanislav Petrov.
“When we see something like this we have to question whether there are other incidents that were not caught on video. Is this a one-time incident?” Woods said. “What other cases are these officers involved with? We have an obligation to protect our clients and the community.”
Sheriff Gregory Ahern put the deputies on paid administrative leave Sunday, based on the results of an investigation his office launched on Friday when the video was released by the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office.
While the video footage is a bit grainy, what the video shows is unmistakable: two sheriff’s deputies finally catch up to a suspect fleeing into San Francisco after crossing the Bay Bridge. It is as Public Defender Brendon Woods put it – something out of the Rodney King beating.
The deputies first tackle him, then they begin hitting him, first with fists, then batons, swinging the clubs down with both hands as the man lies on the ground, moaning.
A representative from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office said that an internal investigation revealed enough that the deputies were placed on administrative leave on Sunday. “The sheriff was clearly concerned about it,” he said of the video.
According to published accounts, the pursuit of 29-year-old Stanislav Petrov began in the early morning hours of Thursday, November 12, when he was found in a stolen vehicle. Mr. Petrov would crash that vehicle into two patrol cars, knocking down a deputy.
He then led deputies on a 40-minute chase from San Leandro through Oakland into San Francisco, where he hit a parked car and tried to flee on foot.
Like the Rodney King video from 1991, the video picked up just before the deputies tackled him at 1:30 am, but it did not capture the previous encounter.
According to officials in the sheriff’s department, Mr. Petrov had several warrants for his arrest, including one for assault with a deadly weapon.
The San Francisco Public Defender’s office believes that, while the deputies appear to hit Mr. Petrov for 20 seconds, it probably went on for twice that long as the camera recorded in intervals of 10 seconds on and 10 seconds off.
Whatever the ultimate length, the video itself shows about 30 blows administered by the sheriff’s deputies.
According to the Chronicle, “The deputies involved filed use-of-force reports disclosing that they deployed their batons, Nelson said, and indicated that they believed the man was on drugs and that they did not know what he was capable of.”
“Unfortunately, the video doesn’t seem to be 100 percent complete,” Sergeant J. D. Nelson, from the sheriff’s office, told reporters. “We’re not getting the entire picture. With that said, the sheriff has ordered a complete and immediate investigation. We want to see if there is any other video, and if we can get the complete video without the breaks in it, as well as any other body camera video that might have been in play by those deputies, the other deputies that responded or by San Francisco police.”
However, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said that the deputies actions in the video were clear enough.
“From what you can see on the video, he’s turning the corner and they’re able to subdue him,” he said. “They clearly had him on the ground. He didn’t pose any threat at that point, and they are clearly using excessive force and trying to seriously hurt him when he was on the ground and subdued. I don’t see any reason why he couldn’t be handcuffed and taken into custody. The blows, after they took him to the ground, were excessive by any measure, any standard. It’s shocking to see.”
His counterpart in Alameda County, Brenden Woods, added that the video pointed to the importance of body cameras for police officers. “If you’re fleeing or have done something to antagonize officers,” he said, “they often feel use of force is justified, which is not the case.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting