SBCO

By Joe Nelson, The Sun
Posted: 04/14/15, 9:46 PM PDT |

SAN BERNARDINO>> County supervisors are demanding action in response to a video that shows sheriff’s deputies punching and kicking a suspect after he attempted to surrender at the end of a lengthy pursuit last week.

While Sheriff John McMahon has already placed 10 deputies on paid leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation and the FBI has opened a civil rights probe, county supervisors this week said the incident raises serious concerns and called for the rapid implementation of a body camera program.

“There is an obvious, serious concern,” Supervisor Josie Gonzales said Tuesday. She said the incident is a call for the county and its Sheriff’s Department to work harder and be more proactive.

“The important thing here is that we address this issue – that we address it head-on,” Gonzales said. “I think that’s what the public deserves, and that is our job.”

Board of Supervisors Chairman James Ramos and Supervisor Robert Lovingood, an Apple Valley resident whose district includes the bulk of the High Desert region where the incident occurred, called on the Sheriff’s Department to implement, as soon as possible, a pilot program that would have deputies wear body cameras. They are also asking the Sheriff’s Department to bring a proposal before the Board of Supervisors as soon as possible on a larger, permanent, body camera program.

Ramos said deputies are already using digital audio recorders in the field to record their interactions with citizens. A special committee has now been formed to establish the body camera pilot program, which Ramos hopes will eventually become Sheriff’s Department standard.

“That is something we would certainly encourage implementation on as soon as possible,” Ramos said Tuesday. “We have to get the results of the pilot program first to make sure it is something the board and the county can move forward on.”

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Jodi Miller said the body camera pilot program committee includes command staff from the sheriff’s information services and technical services divisions and commanders from the sheriff’s Apple Valley and Highland stations, the two stations participating in the pilot project.

The video that triggered the controversy was shot from a helicopter by an NBC news crew on Thursday. It shows deputies chasing Francis Pusok, who had allegedly stolen a horse in the Deep Creek Hot Springs area in Apple Valley and fled on horseback toward Hesperia. As sheriff’s and NBC helicopters hovered overhead, Pusok fell from the galloping horse. A deputy stunned Pusok with his Taser gun, and Pusok fell to the ground and placed his hands behind his back. The deputy who stunned him, along with another deputy, ran up and began kicking and punching Pusok repeatedly in the face, groin and head, using their Taser guns as bludgeons. Several more deputies arrived, and it appears in the video that at least two of them kicked or struck Pusok while detaining him.

Sheriff John McMahon called the video “disturbing,” and said his department was launching both administrative and criminal investigation into the incident. The 10 deputies involved in the incident have been placed on administrative leave, and the FBI also has launched a criminal investigation into possible civil rights violations against Pusok, 30, of Apple Valley.

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