SAN BERNARDINO (CBSLA.com/AP) — Ten deputies who were involved in the videotaped beating of a suspect who fled on horse have been put on leave pending an investigation, San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said Friday.
McMahon announced the action in the aftermath of the arrest of 30-year-old Francis Pusok, who fled by car and then on a stolen horse when deputies tried to serve a search warrant in an identity-theft investigation Thursday.
McMahon says an internal investigation has begun on the use of force.
In addition, two criminal investigations have begun — one into Pusok’s actions and the other into the deputies actions.
According to McMahon, deputies were “familiar” with Pusok’s criminal history prior to the pursuit, a rap sheet that includes attempted robbery, threats against a deputy sheriff and animal cruelty charges for shooting a puppy in front of family members.
The sheriff says he was “disturbed and troubled” by what he saw in the video recorded by a local news helicopter crew.
Deputies say they tried to hit Pusok with a Taser, which was ineffective.
The helicopter footage then shows one of the deputies kicking Pusok in the head, another kicking him in the groin, and together punching and kneeing him.
Other deputies are then seen moving in and hitting Pusok. At this point, Pusok’s actions were unclear as he was hidden beneath the group of officers.
The entire incident lasted more than a minute.
McMahon said the footage was “disturbing.”
“The video surrounding this arrest is disturbing, and I have ordered an internal investigation be conducted immediately,” he said in a statement. “In addition, members of the Specialized Investigation Detail are responding to conduct the criminal investigation.”
At a news conference Friday, McMahon told reporters, “It appears to be excessive to me based on what I saw in the video.”
Pusok’s family attorney Jim Terrell told reporters he believes the footage “is far worse than Rodney King” and has called for the termination and arrests of the deputies seen in the beating.
“There weren’t 11 officers on Rodney King,” he said.
Deputies said they were serving a search warrant to Pusok in connection with an identity-theft investigation when he fled.
“I couldn’t believe it. The first thing I said was, ‘They can’t do that.’ That is first thing out of my mouth was that, ‘They cannot do that,’ ” said Jolene Bindner, Pusok’s girlfriend of 13 years.
Bindner described Pusok as a great father but acknowledges he’s had several run-ins with the law. Some of the deputies involved in the pursuit knew Pusok, reported KCAL9’s Tom Wait.
CBS2 uncovered convictions of Pusok’s dating as far back as 2002. They include: driving on a sidewalk at an unsafe speed in 2002; attempted robbery in 2006; fighting in 2011; cruelty to an animal in 2013; resisting an officer in 2013; and obstructing or resisting an officer in 2014.
“I’m not gonna stand here and say that he’s perfect, because who is?” Bindner asked.
“I want to know what these cops past records are. Did they just start being thugs or have they been thugs for years?” said Terrell, who wants the FBI to investigate the department’s handling of his client.
The FBI said on Friday that it has also launched a probe into the incident.
“The FBI has initiated an investigation to determine whether civil rights were violated during a pursuit and altercation involving Francis Pusok and San Bernardino County Sheriff’s deputies on April 9, 2015. The results of the review will be forwarded to the United States Attorney’s Office in the Central District of California, and the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, in Washington, D.C., to determine whether further investigation and/or prosecution is warranted. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department will continue its investigation of the matter already underway and questions relative to developments on its case should be referred to San Bernardino County officials. No further comment from the FBI would be appropriate at this time.”
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department has not indicated how or whether the officers will be disciplined, pending the investigation.
“These are bad cops whether it’s Ferguson, Missouri, or right here in Apple Valley. This stuff’s got to stop,” Terrell said.
Pusok was taken to a hospital for treatment of lacerations and other injuries but is expected to make a full recovery, McMahon said.
Pusok’s family is also considering a civil suit.
Officials on Friday said that two deputies were injured during the pursuit. The injuries included abrasions, a twisted knee and a back injury from being struck by the horse. The deputies were treated and released.
On Friday, officials also said the sheriff’s department has received multiple threatening emails, phone calls and posts on social media. They wrote, “Investigators are looking into the validity of these threats and will only release the deputies’ names if those threats are found to be unsubstantiated,”
While there has been an outpouring of anger directed at law enforcement on social media, KCAL9’s Crystal Cruz on Friday spoke to a man who has no sympathy for Supok, a known criminal deputies said has threatened to kill one of them and shot a puppy in front of his family.
Sean Stegman says Pusok broke into his home Monday and stole a motorcycle that deputies recovered on Thursday.
“My door was open,” says Stegman, “the key was taken out from inside of my house. The man was in my home and that is a direct violation and that is very unsettling.”
Stegman also told Cruz that his wife, Danielle, doesn’t feel safe now in her own home.
“She can’t sleep,” he said, “she’s up all night pacing the house. She’s scared to death.”
Pusok is being held at a jail in Rancho Cucamonga on $115,000 bail.
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