San Bernardino sheriff beating update: FBI launches investigation; 10 deputies on paid leave

A booking photo released by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department shows Francis Jared Pusok, who was arrested on suspicion of grand theft and felony reckless evasion of officers.
A booking photo released by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department shows Francis Jared Pusok, who was arrested on suspicion of grand theft and felony reckless evasion of officers. San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department

Law enforcement agencies have launched investigations into Thursday's beating of an Apple Valley man by San Bernardino Sheriff's deputies. Aerial footage captured by NBC4 shows the suspect, Francis Jared Pusok, fleeing police on a stolen horse before falling off and being tased, pinned to the ground and beaten by deputies. At a press conference Friday, San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said 10 deputies had been placed on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation into the beating he said appeared to be "excessive." The FBI confirmed it has launched its own investigation to determine whether Pusok's civil rights were violated.

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Updates:

4:10 p.m.: FBI launches civil rights investigation into beating

The FBI has launched an investigation into whether San Bernardino Sheriff's deputies violated the civil rights of Francis Jared Pusok, the Apple Valley man who was tased and beaten Thursday after he led deputies on a pursuit on a horse.

According to an email to KPCC from the bureau's Los Angeles field office, the results of the investigation will be forwarded to the U.S. Attorney's Office in California's Central District and the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division.

— KPCC Staff

2:10 p.m. Deputies' actions appear to be "excessive," says San Bernardino Sheriff

Saying video showing deputies beating a man after a pursuit on horseback appears to him to show "excessive" force, San Bernardino Sheriff John McMahon told reporters at a press conference Friday afternoon he's placed 10 deputies on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation.

He reiterated he was "disturbed by this video" captured by NBC 4's news helicopter, but asked the public to be patient as the agency conducted a "thorough and fair” investigation into whether the deputies violated policy or committed a crime.

"If our deputy sheriffs did something wrong, they'll be put off work and they'll be dealt with appropriately, all in accordance with the law as well as our department policy," McMahon assured. "I will take action."

Deputies were following up on an identity theft investigation Thursday at a home they believed was vacant, when Francis Jared Pusok fled in a vehicle, McMahon said. The chase was extensive, eventually continuing on horseback.

Though deputies were not looking for Pusok, McMahon said some of the deputies involved in the initial chase were familiar with "his criminal past" that includes "shooting a puppy" in front of his family and threatening officers.

"We are very familiar with his aggressive nature," he said.

Records show Pusok was convicted for resisting arrest in 2014 and that he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty and resisting arrest in 2013. In 2011, he was convicted of an infraction charge of using offensive or fighting words.

McMahon said one sergeant and one detective involved in the beating were part of the group placed on leave. He declined to speak on the deputies' personnel records, saying they’re protected by California’s Peace Officer’s Bill of Rights.

He confirmed at least some of the deputies were wearing personal audio recording devices and that the tape would be reviewed during the investigation. 

Pusok was treated for bruises and abrasions at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, according to McMahon, and was being held at the West Valley detention center Friday afternoon. Attorneys for Pusok told KNBC-TV Friday as they left the jail that their client has a badly swollen eye, marks from the beating over his face and body, and is in pain, according to the Associated Press.

— KPCC Staff

12:31 p.m.: SB Sheriff's Dept. target of many complaints, attorney says

The San Bernardino Sheriff's Department has been the target of a large number of resident complaints, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union said Friday, one day after aerial television footage captured deputies repeatedly beating a suspect who had already been tased and pinned to the ground.

"We do receive reports of excessive force on a pretty regular basis regarding the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. And those reports are about uses of force after an individual has surrendered or been handcuffed," Adrienna Wong, a staff attorney in ACLU’s Inland Empire office, told KPCC.

Wong said her office recently sued the department for access to use of force records and policies on Taser use. She said her office has been getting phone calls or letters "on a weekly basis" since then. 

Video captured by KPCC's media partner, KNBC-TV, showed the suspect, Francis Jared Pusok, fleeing deputies on a horse — which he’d allegedly stolen — before falling off, being tased, pinned to the ground, and then repeatedly kicked and punched.

Pusok, 30, has had a number of criminal convictions in San Bernardino County, including a conviction for resisting arrest in 2014. Court records show that he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty and resisting arrest in 2013. In the same case, Pusok faced a dozen felony weapons and cruelty to children charges, but those were dismissed. In 2011, he was convicted of an infraction charge of using offensive or fighting words.

On Thursday, deputies were serving Pusok with a search warrant related to an identity theft investigation when he fled in a vehicle. He allegedly stole a horse after abandoning the vehicle and then fled with deputies pursuing on foot. As many as 13 deputies either kicked or punched him after he was tased and pinned to the ground.

Sheriff John McMahon on Thursday said he was launching an internal investigation into the incident.

"I think it's commendable the sheriff has initiated an internal investigation. The video is certainly disturbing," Wong said. "I hope the sheriff also considers whether measures need to be taken to address any sort of cultural change within the department, given the large number of officers involved in the incident."

Wong said the ACLU opened an office in the Inland Empire specifically to address complaints against law enforcement there. She cited a recent case in which Dante Parker, an unarmed black man, was shot between 10 and 25 times by a Taser before he died.

Court records show Parker's wife, Bianca, and her five children sued the county, Sheriff John McMahon, Deputy Kristy Irwin, and other deputies who had not yet been identified over his death.

According to the family's lawsuit, this is what happened:

Parker, 35, was riding a bicycle Aug. 12 near his Victorville home. A homeowner reported that an African-American man was trying to enter her home. Deputy Irwin showed up, confronted Parker and used a Taser to shock him, the complaint said. 

Other deputies also showed up and at least one other also used a Taser on Parker, the lawsuit said. The family alleges he was shocked and his hands and feet "hog-tied" as he lay face down. The deputies put Parker, then struggling to breathe, in the back of a patrol car, face down and still tied, according to the lawsuit. Paramedics arrived after nearly a half-hour. They took him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead of asphyxiation.

Because so many cities contract with the sheriff, the impact of deputies' training is felt by a greater number of people than one might expect, Wong said.

The San Bernardino Sheriff's Department does not have civilian oversight, Wong said.

“It may be appropriate to have that conversation now about whether we need to have that sort of oversight," she said.

11:16 a.m.: Sheriff's deputies must justify every kick, punch, expert says

The San Bernardino Sheriff's Department launched an internal investigation on Thursday into the beating of a suspect that was caught on video, and an expert on use of force issues tells KPCC deputies will have a lot of explaining to do.

Aerial footage captured by NBC4 shows the suspect, Francis Jared Pusok, fleeing police on a stolen horse before falling off and being tased, pinned to the ground and beaten by deputies. NBC4 reports Pusok was kicked 17 times and punched 37 times by up to 13 officers.

"They're going to have to justify, basically, each and every kick and pummel. And one thing I'm curious [about is] how those kicks that came late in the incident are going to be justified," Lorie Fridell, associate professor of criminology at the University of South Florida, told KPCC's Steve Julian on Friday.

Other factors will also need to be considered during the investigation, such as whether the deputies had reason to believe Pusok had a gun, Fridell said.

"Force by police never looks pretty, but that does not mean it's not justified. And I will say that it's harder than a lot of community members think to get someone under control and get their hands behind their back," she said.

You can watch video of the incident below, but beware that it contains graphic violence: 

In the video, one deputy can be seen using a taser to subdue Pusok after he falls from the horse. If investigators determine that the taser use was effective, then it might raise questions over whether officers should have followed it up with something called a "cuff under power" maneuver, in which one officer activates the taser for a few seconds while another officer puts handcuffs on the suspect, Fridell said.

Pusok's mother, Anne Clemenson, and girlfriend, Jolene Bindner, both told NBC4 on Thursday night that they didn’t know where he was being held or what condition he was in following his arrest. She said the deputies acted like they were on a “joyride.”

"I don't understand. He puts his hands behind his back. How can you be tased and them feel it's necessary to beat him like that?" Bindner said.

Fridell said it's possible investigators could find some of the force was justified and some unjustified in the same incident.

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