By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief
SACRAMENTO – A prominent Bay Area civil rights firm filed a claim – the precursor to filing a federal civil rights complaint – with the Sacramento Sheriff’s Dept. Monday over the brutal beating that one of its deputies, identified as Brian Fowell, inflicted on a small 14-year-old boy last week.
The video of the attack shot by witnesses has been viewed by more than seven million people worldwide.
The video shows Fowell clearly repeatedly punching the frail-looking child, and slamming his head into the cement so hard the boy cries out. Family members said the teen has had a heart condition since birth and was not resisting.
Fowell reportedly wanted to detain the child after a box of flavored cigars were passed to him by an adult.
“We believe the deputy may have had some kind of steroid rage,” said John Burris at a news conference in front of the sheriff’s office in downtown Sacramento.
“This was outrageous conduct that requires accountability. The minor’s civil rights were violated. He was wrongfully detained, excessive force was used,” said Burris, suggesting there also may have been “racial” undertones that “motivated” Fowell’s attack.
“He was a bully, and totally out of control…for a grown man to treat a 14-year-old boy half his size like that, throwing him around, punching him and causing his head to hit the pavement. This was as bad as it gets; we’re lucky worse didn’t happen,” adding that “video cameras and cell phones have changed everything…without them, we wouldn’t be able to see how the boy was treated.”
But not just family and friends expressed outrage at Fowell’s apparent mistreatment of the 14-year-old minor, identified only as “E.T.” by his lawyers.
“Seinfeld” and “Veep” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Julian Castro, a former 2020 Democratic candidate for president, were among those commenting about the video.
“God, almighty. End this violence,” said the actress. And Castro, a former Obama cabinet secretary, tweeted: “How many of these videos must we see before we do something about police violence in this country?”
The Rancho Cordova Police Dept. announced that the officer had been “reassigned” outside the police dept., suggesting he is back with the county Sheriff’s Dept, which has a contract with Rancho Cordova to provide officers.
Burris also put a stop to suggestions by the Rancho Cordova PD chief that Fowell and “E.T.” just talk it out.
“That our client should have a summit with the officer is not going to happen until after the officer is punished and disciplined. He has to acknowledge, the department has to acknowledge (what happened),” said Burris.
He said that Fowell needs to “demonstrate that this is not a character” he has, “not a steroid break” when he beat the child and threw him around like a “rag doll,” adding, “It was like some sort of street justice,” similar to the “slave patrol” that hunted escaped slaves more than 150 years ago.
“None of the officer’s conduct was justified. We are here to vindicate (E.T’s) civil rights and send a message to the community that you cannot do something (like this) and not expect it would not be seen. It’s not enough to transfer this (deputy) back to another community so he can wreak havoc on that community,” said Burris.
“There is not going to be a kumbaya moment. The police chief implied that would be the resolution…we need justice,” said Black Lives Matter Sacramento founder Tanya Faison, earlier noting, “The officer punched the child in the face and the chest, twisted his arms and jammed his face into the curb by pushing his head down by the neck.”
According to a BLM Facebook post: “There is not one reason that validates a full size armed man to sit on, punch, and try and break the arms of a child. Watching him push his head on the curb by his neck was traumatizing for me. Can’t imagine how this child feels right now.”
Patrick Buelna, who is with the Burris Law Firm, asked why Fowell decided to chase “a minor rather than the adult, who had made an illegal sale…he was the criminal who sold tobacco to an underage victim, who was brutalized when he should have been protected.”
The claim filed Monday states that physical and other damages totals “more than $25,000.” The actual claim follows:
“Rancho Cordova Police Officer Brian Fowell confronted the Minor. Ofc. Fowell demanded the minor give him the cigar. Claimant handed over the cigar. However, instead of going to confront the adult who illegally purchased the cigars for the Minor, Ofc. Fowell chose to escalate the situation and assault the slightly built unarmed 14-year-old child.
“Ofc. Fowell’s aggressive demeanor made the Minor scared. Instead of de-escalating the situation, Ofc. Fowell responded with additional aggression and violence. He wrestled the Minor to the ground, jumped on top of him and began repeatedly punching and s mashing the Minor’s head into the concrete. The Minor had a difficult time breathing and was petrified by the Ofc.
“Fowell’s misconduct. Nevertheless, Ofc. Fowell continued to assault Claimant while asking him “what are you” which was either in reference to the Minor’s racial identity or assumed gang status. The Minor is Samoan and is not a gang member. Eventually the Minor was handcuffed and put into the backseat of a nearby patrol car.
“In the aftermath of this incident, the Minor showed more maturity than Ofc. (Fowell). For example, he ultimately admitted and took responsibility for trying to buy the cigar. In comparison, to date Ofc. Fowell has not apologized or taken ownership of his blatant use of excessive force against the small child.
“Furthermore, even after reviewing video of the incident, Rancho Cordova’s Chief of Police Kate Adams refused to acknowledge Ofc. Fowell’s dangerous and unnecessary violence against a child thereby ratified Ofc. Fowell’s unconstitutional conduct.
“As a result of Ofc. Fowell’ s excessive force, the Minor Claimant suffered physical injuries, including lacerations and abrasions, as well as emotional distress.”
BLM Sacramento last week announced the following demands for Rancho Cordova Police Department:
- We demand all audio and video of the incident that took place on April 27th, 2020 be released publicly in accordance with AB 748 that went into effect on July 1, 2019.
- We demand that officer Brian Fowell be fired immediately for using excessive force on a minor.
- We demand that officer Fowell be charged with child abuse, physical assault of a minor, and child endangerment.
- We demand, in order to further protect the community from actions like these, that this officer be placed on unpaid leave pending any investigation and that he remain on unpaid leave until he is terminated.
- We demand that the Rancho Cordova Police Department stop terrorizing children including, but not limited to, harassment, excessive force, and physical abuse. Officers found to have engaged in abusive behavior toward community members, should be immediately removed and barred from any further engagement, as an officer.
- We demand that the Rancho Cordova Police Department remain professional with the community that they serve at all times. A skilled officer of the law has no reason to use methods such as punching, twisting limbs, and holding a child by the neck…as a form of restraint. especially on a child who is unarmed and whose size poses no threat to the officer.
- Lastly, we demand that all mental health services needed by this boy and his family, be paid for by the Rancho Cordova police department for the abuse that was sustained by officer Brian Fowell… and to help mitigate the lifelong impact that this abuse and assault will have on this boy and his family for the rest of their lives.
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