Crime & Justice

Legal experts stunned by SB county's quick decision to pay $650K in 'horse thief' beating

A booking photo of Francis Pusok after his encounter with San Bernardino Sheriff's deputies. The county has agreed to pay him $650,000.
A booking photo of Francis Pusok after his encounter with San Bernardino Sheriff's deputies. The county has agreed to pay him $650,000.
San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department

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4:20 p.m. Legal experts stunned by $650K decision

The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors announced on Tuesday it will pay $650,000 to Francis Jared Pusok, the man whom deputies hit and kicked repeatedly after he led them on a pursuit earlier this month.

“I support the action by the Board of Supervisors to handle this matter promptly,” Sheriff John McMahon said in a statement.

Legal analysts were stunned by how quickly the county decided to pay Pusok. A spokesman for the Board of Supervisors said the deal was reached Friday, just eight days after the incident. Pusok’s attorneys had yet to even file a claim.

“This is the fastest settlement I have ever heard in a case of alleged officer abuse,” said Loyola Law School Professor Stan Goldman. “Usually these things go on for months and years.”

He said the county likely saved money with the early deal. Cities and counties often hire outside counsel to handle police abuse cases, and that can be expensive. “Attorneys fees can really add up,” Goldman said.

But that’s true in most cases.

The video of Pusok's beating, captured by an NBC 4 helicopter, may have played a role in the county's decision too, Goldman said.

“The video can make it harder to win a case,” he said. At the same time, defense attorneys have successfully argued videos don’t tell the whole story. The Rodney King case is the best example of that.

In the end, the decision may have been a political one for the county, Goldman said. 

“It can become a political hot potato,” he said. “Does the Sheriff's department want this in the news for the next two years?”

The decision comes amid a national debate about policing and multiple videos showing apparent excessive force, from Ferguson to New York to South Carolina.

For Pusok, the deal may have made sense because juries are not always sympathetic to people who have a criminal history, Goldman said. “It may be the smart thing to settle quickly.”

The Sheriff's Department continues to investigate Pusok's actions during the incident. He was arrested for felony evading and grand theft. 

11:29 a.m.: SB to pay $650K in alleged "horse thief" beating

In an extraordinarily fast response, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors announced Tuesday it will pay $650,000 to settle allegations that Sheriff's deputies beat a man earlier this month after he appeared to have surrendered following a prolonged pursuit. The dramatic end of the chase — on horseback — and beating was captured on videotape by NBC Los Angeles.

“In order to avoid litigation expenses, the county and Francis Jared Pusok have finalized a $650,000 settlement in connection with Pusok's April 9 arrest in the High Desert,” county officials said in a written statement.

Immediately after the incident, Sheriff John McMahon called the images of Pusok being repeatedly punched and kicked by his deputies "disturbing," placed ten deputies on administrative leave pending an internal investigation and said their actions seemed out of policy. The FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into the incident.

According to the terms of the agreement, unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors in closed session Friday, the county acknowledges no wrongdoing, according to the statement. The agreement settles all potential claims from Pusok.

"The sole purpose of this agreement for both parties is to avoid the costs involved in litigation," said Board of Supervisors Chairman James Ramos. "This agreement is a fair outcome for everyone involved, including the taxpayers."

Pusok was arrested on suspicion of grand theft and felony reckless evasion of officers after the incident.

According to officials, the chase began when deputies conducting an investigation happened upon Pusok at a home they thought would be empty. Some of the officers were acquainted with him.

Pusok had a number of criminal convictions in San Bernardino County, including resisting arrest in 2014, court records say. 

He pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty and resisting arrest in 2013, while a dozen felony weapons and cruelty to children charges in the same case were dismissed. McMahon said that case involved shooting a puppy in front of children.

In 2011, Pusok was convicted of an infraction charge of using offensive or fighting words.

He was kicked 17 times and punched 37 times by upwards of 13 officers, according to NBC Los Angeles.

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