Los Angeles prosecutors have decided not to file criminal charges against a former California Highway Patrol officer whose beating of a mentally ill woman on the side of Interstate 10 was caught on video last year.
The video showed CHP Officer Daniel Andrew straddling 51-year-old Marlene Pinnock, repeatedly punching her while she was on the ground. The video was widely circulated at the time.
Pinnock ultimately settled for $1.5 million and Andrew agreed to resign. CHP investigators said in a follow-up report last August that "probable cause exists" to file criminal charges, leaving it up to L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey to decide if there was enough evidence to prosecute the case.
"When looking at all of the evidence, and especially the medical reports and eyewitness accounts, it becomes exceedingly clear that the officer, who was alone and struggling with Ms. Pinnock precariously close to evening freeway traffic, acted within the law," Lacey said in a prepared statement Thursday.
Pinnock had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was off her medications for two to three months before the July 1 altercation, according to her attorney Caree Harper.
The CHP said Pinnock was endangering herself by walking on the 10 Freeway and that Andrew was trying to restrain her to keep her safe.
Pinnock told reporters she had been homeless for several years, occasionally staying at a shelter, and that she was on her way to a place frequented by the homeless so she could sleep — a location Harper said was only accessible by walking along the freeway ramp.
In his report, Andrew said Pinnock was a danger to herself, that "she was talking to herself" and that she "called me 'the devil'" before trying to walk into traffic lanes.
"In our analysis, his use of force was legal and necessary to protect not only his own life but also that of Ms. Pinnock," Lacey said.
An independent use-of-force expert hired by the DA's Office concluded the same.
The entire encounter lasted about nine minutes, but only 42 seconds of that were captured in the video. You can watch the video below. (WARNING: IT CONTAINS DISTURBING CONTENT.)
In its investigation, the DA's Office said it interviewed several eyewitnesses, three of whom said they saw Pinnock strike the officer. Four witnesses said they thought the officer was trying to save her from wandering into freeway traffic and being killed or injured, according to the DA's 30-page report explaining the decision.
Prosecutors also considered dash camera videos, recordings of 911 calls and medical records.
The DA report argues that a slow-motion review of the 42-second video shows "(m)ost of the strikes appear to contact (Ms.) Pinnock's right shoulder or upper body area."
Medical records from the day of the incident showed no cuts, bruises or abrasions. A CT scan a week later found no evidence of fracture or facial swelling, according to the report.
The independent expert said "the absence of injury to Ms. Pinnock's head and face ... indicates that if any of the strikes hit her head, they were glancing, ineffective blows," according to the report.
The DA's Office argues that Pinnock's wandering onto the freeway could have created a dangerous situation, and it was the officer's sworn duty to protect commuters.
"Under these circumstances, his use of force was proportionate with the threat he encountered and the training he received from CHP," Lacey said.
Pinnock was detained on the 10 Freeway again in October and tried to run into lanes when the CHP tried to stop her.