Crime & Justice

Civil suit on hold as federal grand jury investigates Santa Ana police beating

A still from the video of the June 20, 2014 arrest of Edgar Vargas-Arzate.
A still from the video of the June 20, 2014 arrest of Edgar Vargas-Arzate.
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A federal judge Tuesday ordered a temporary halt to an excessive force lawsuit against the city of Santa Ana and several of its police officers to give a federal grand jury time to complete its criminal investigation into the officers' beating of the man who sued.

Edgar Vargas-Arzate, 28, filed a federal civil suit in April against Santa Ana, the police chief and the six officers involved in his June 2014 burglary arrest.  A surveillance camera captured a portion of the encounter, which included officers beating Vargas-Arzate as he lay on the ground. 

Attorneys representing the city argued for a pause in the civil case on the grounds that officers' testimony in depositions could be used against them in any eventual criminal proceeding. 

Subpoenas have been served and some individuals have already given testimony at grand jury hearings, Santa Ana attorney Jill Williams told U.S. District Court Judge David Carter.

"If there is any indictment, it will dramatically change the landscape," she said.

Although Carter said he was sensitive to officers being in a position that forces them to plead the 5th Amendment, he did not want to place the civil lawsuit on hold indefinitely. So the judge ordered a halt to depositions in the case until November 17. Depositions could resume at that point, depending on what happens with the grand jury investigation.

The judge did permit Vargas-Arzate's lawyers to move forward with gathering the Santa Ana Police Department's use of force policies and procedures.

Video: The June 20, 2014 arrest of Edgar Vargas-Arzate.

The incident at the heart of the lawsuit and the grand jury inquiry began when Santa Ana police got a call before midnight about a man suspected of burglarizing a home. Officers chased him on foot, ending up outside a house that had an external surveillance camera.

The video captured by the camera shows Vargas-Arzate lying face down on the ground as an officer points a gun at him from a fence. Then, as four officers surround him, one of them punches his upper body several times.

Officers use their knees to kick Vargas-Arzate’s head and body, the civil lawsuit alleges, adding that they discharged "several cycles from a Taser gun."

The sometimes blurry video also shows another officer swinging a police baton several times at the suspect’s legs as police struggle to arrest Vargas-Arzate.

Officers M. Hermans, A. Carranza, B. Herter, B. Booker, A. Aparicio and S. Lim are named in the civil lawsuit.

Vargaz-Arzate was living in the country illegally at the time of the arrest but has since been given the opportunity to apply for a U-Visa because of the federal investigation, his attorneys said last October

Vargas-Arzate lawyer Christian Pereira said he's just looking for swift justice for his client, who he said is "still suffering the after affects of being beaten by the police."