By Doug Saunders, The Sun
Posted: 04/11/15 – 2:37 PM PDT |

SAN BERNARDINO >> A spokesman for the Southern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union says a federal investigation into the county Sheriff’s Department has been too long in coming.

While the FBI announced Friday that it would conduct a civil rights investigation into the apparent beating of a 30-year-old Apple Valley man as he was taken into custody on Thursday, ACLU attorney Adrienna Wong said issues in San Bernardino County may well be much broader than Thursday’s incident.

“An extensive objective review of this matter is a good thing,” Wong said. “But community organizations have asked for federal authorities to step into San Bernardino County for some time.”

The ACLU has received numerous complaints from San Bernardino County residents regarding excessive use of force by sheriff’s deputies, which indicates problems may be institutional rather than exceptional.

At the same time, the Justice Department is already conducting an investigation into allegations of inmate abuse by deputies at the sheriff’s West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga.

FBI spokeswoman Lourdes Arocho said the results of the FBI’s investigation into the arrest and apparent beating of 30-year-old Francis Pusok will be forwarded to the U.S. 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.

Sheriff’s officials are also conducting their own investigation into the apparent beating and excessive use of force in the arrest of Pusok, which was caught on video by a KNBC-TV (Channel 4) news helicopter. The video shows nine deputies crowding around Pusok, punching and kicking him after he lay down on the ground with his hands behind his back.

“We hope they’ll do the right thing but we’re not convinced,” Wong said of the investigation. “This is larger than just a use-of-force incident. It’s indicative of something that seems to be institutionalized within the department itself.”

Wong said the Sheriff’s Department’s use of Tasers is particularly concerning.

San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies shoot members of the public with Tasers hundreds of times each year, with nearly half of those electric shocks resulting in injuries, Wong said.

And on four occasions since 2008, individuals have died after sheriff’s deputies Tased them multiple times – even though federal guidelines on Taser use warn that “repeated or multiple applications may increase risk of death,” she added.

Wong and the Southern California ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Department in March seeking a judge’s order to force the county law enforcement agency to produce records on its Taser gun policies and practices, in light of controversy over how deputies are using the devices.

In the 21-page lawsuit, attorneys sought records from the Sheriff’s Department through a California Public Records Act request, and cited a 2012 San Bernardino County Grand Jury probe that culminated with recommendations on the Sheriff’s Department improving its training on Taser gun use.

“The San Bernardino (County) Sheriff’s Department has refused to publicly disclose records related to the policies and practices surrounding its officers’ use of Tasers,” ACLU Executive Director Hector Villagra said. “That’s unacceptable given the troubling number of deaths involving individuals who were Tasered multiple times.”

Sheriff John McMahon said his office has released everything it can to the ACLU.

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