By David M. Greenwald
Stockton, CA – Earlier this year, the Vanguard reported on a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Devin Carter, a 17-year-old Black Stockton teen whose civil rights attorney John Burris said about the attack that the “cops acted like a pack of wolves.” In a rare instance, a San Joaquin Grand Jury, empaneled by DA Tori Verber-Salazar, handed down indictments against two of the officers.
On Friday, Salazar announced that the grand jury has indicted Michael Stiles and Omar Villapudua, two former Stockton Police Department Officers, with felony counts of assault by a public officer and assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury, as well as great bodily injury enhancements.
“Those who violate their oath to protect and serve discredit the good work law enforcement strives to do every day,” said District Attorney Tori Verber-Salazar. “This grand jury indictment reminds us all that when police use unlawful force, they undermine community trust. As your District Attorney, I have a responsibility to ensure equal accountability and justice for all. As the daughter of a police officer, I know how important that responsibility is to restore community trust, safety, and honor to the profession.”
According to Salazar’s office, the allegations stem from a use-of-force incident that occurred on December 30, 2020. The victim, a minor, according to police, “was driving on Eight Mile Road in North Stockton when officers attempted to pull him over for reckless driving. The teen led officers on a brief chase before a pit maneuver was executed which brought the vehicle to a stop.”
Burris’ office called the beating following the stop, allegedly for speeding, “without any provocation or cause.” They said the officers “pulled the young black man from his car and viciously beat him.”
A new video purportedly captures these two recently fired officers and two additional Stockton police officers repeatedly punching and kicking Devin about his face and back while calling him profane names and using threats of criminal prosecutions for crimes he had not committed.
“The shocking video shows that Devin continually told the four officers that he was not resisting, but they kept hitting him and falsely claiming that he was resisting. The officers’ body-worn cameras clearly show that the terrified young man was not resisting but was shouting/screaming for his very life. Devin was afraid that the officers were going to beat him to death,” Burris’ office described.
“Two of the officers were fired,” John Burris told the Vanguard. “I hope this sends a clear message to the department that this kind of mentality will not be accepted and that they will be prosecuted for it.”
Burris again reiterated, “These officers were on him like a pack of wolves, jumping on him when he in fact had basically put his hands up in a surrendering mode.”
Burris said that he was pleased that the DA “exercised an independent judgment.”
Burris compared this to Rodney King—whom he had represented in his civil trial in the early 90s after the officers were acquitted by a Simi Valley jury in a criminal case, but were convicted of civil rights violations in federal court.
He noted, “Since Rodney King, I have not had a lot of vicious beating cases like this where a person is being beaten not resisting.”
Part of it, he said, was the cops were fearful of being caught on camera in precisely this manner.
“Since Rodney King and videos and cell phones, they don’t beat people up that way,” he said. “What it’s suggesting to me that these officers, they thought they would get away with it.”
The degree of the beating caught even an experienced attorney off guard, noting the degree to which they were jumping, kicking, stomping and hitting him “was pretty outrageous” and showed “a total lack of regard for him as a human being.”
He also noted that many African American kids “are fearful in the first place of being stopped along the road by the cops—and his worst fears were manifested.”
What was also different about this case, he said, is “[a]ll the case I’ve had over the years, believe me, this is only maybe the third prosecution.”
The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office determined empaneling a grand jury was the best way to ensure timely justice for all those involved. In addition to the regularly appointed civil grand jury, a criminal grand jury may be empaneled at the request of a District Attorney or the Attorney General. A criminal grand jury is comprised of 19 jurors and alternates as needed.
Burris commended DA Salazar, saying she “is to be commended for criminally prosecuting this Stockton police who brutally beat Devin Carter, a helpless teenager. This prosecution, regardless of the outcome should send a clear message that in this county, there will be a severe price to pay for officers who use their badges to commit horrific crimes.”
Back in April, Burris said, “The officers’ conduct was so atrocious that they should be criminally prosecuted.” Burris further stated, “The most troubling aspect of this case is that these officers must have believed that they were somehow immune from department discipline and could get away with their conduct knowing that their body-worn cameras were on.” Burris concluded, “These vicious cops acted like a pack of wolves, and Devin was their evening meal. I have not seen a police officer beating this outrageous since my former client Rodney King was beaten by LAPD officers back in March of 1991.”
Jessica Carter, Devin’s mother, said, “No mother should see or hear her son beaten by the police and helplessly crying from the pain. This has been a mother’s worst nightmare.” George Carter, Devin’s dad, expressed, “I am angry that my son, who has been taught to respect the law, was beaten by these bad cops, especially since he has law enforcement in his family and knows that this is not acceptable behavior from police officers.”
The officers were arraigned in the afternoon in Stockton.
In a statement from the POA, they said, “Without question, Mr. Carter chose to not only endanger his life, but also endanger the lives of the officers and every other innocent civilian in his path.”
They argued, after the stop, “Mr. Carter continued to resist their efforts to detain him.” They claim, “He repeatedly attempted to reach into his waistband.
“In order to stop the fight and prevent death or serious bodily injury to Mr. Carter or the officers, officers were required to use bodily force to overcome Mr. Carter’s resistance and effect his arrest.”
Thus, the POA said, “[w]e are disappointed in the Grand Jury decision” and they believe that it was Carter’s actions “and his actions alone” that “caused the involved officers to react in the manner in which they did.”
In her own news conference, Verber-Salazar indicated that someone was charged on the night of December 30, but could not comment as to whether those charges were dropped.
She did say, based on this case as well as others across the country, that she is changing “procedures in her office.”
She said that from now on when deputies charge cases where there is alleged resisting arrest, “prior to any of those pieces being issued, there must be a thorough evaluation review of the body-worn cameras.”
The Grand Jury report has not been unsealed as of yet, but the public will get the entire transcript when ready.
“You’ll have the ability to see, in a way, all the evidence that was brought forth in front of the grand jury,” including both inculpatory and culpatory evidence, she said.
See the indictment here.