DOJ

By Paloma Esquivel and Richard Winton
April 19, 2015

Before he found himself being beaten earlier this month by San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies in view of a hovering news helicopter, Francis Pusok and law enforcement had clashed more than once.

The 30-year-old Apple Valley resident had been arrested at least six times in recent years and faced multiple counts of resisting arrest or being aggressive toward officers. Many of those charges were later dismissed or reduced through plea deals. His rap sheet also includes an attempted robbery conviction.

Pusok and his attorneys say the arrests show a pattern of misbehavior and aggression on the part of law enforcement that culminated in the April 9 beating.

In an interview Friday, Pusok said that after the beating, a deputy whispered in his ear: “This isn’t over.”

Whether deputies had it in for Pusok, as he contends, or Pusok had a history of aggression toward officers that affected how deputies responded to him may factor into investigations of the incident.

A news camera captured the end of a long chase from Apple Valley to rugged terrain near the San Bernardino National Forest. Pusok was thrown from a horse and was surrounded by deputies who kicked and punched him even as he appeared to have surrendered.

The Sheriff’s Department and FBI are investigating the incident, which came as several cases of alleged police brutality have drawn national attention.

Most of those cases involve white officers fatally shooting black victims. In this case, Pusok and most of the officers are white, and Pusok survived with mostly cuts and bruises. But the beating of an unarmed man who did not appear to be resisting has raised questions about whether deputies were acting punitively.

“Everyone keeps asking, ‘Why did he run?'” said Sharon Brunner, one of Pusok’s attorneys. “[He] saw the police and knew it was going to be bad, and it was.”

Ten deputies have been put on administrative leave. Brunner said her client “just wants to be left alone by the police.”

Cindy Bachman, a Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman, said none of Pusok’s prior arrests “have anything to do with what happened.”

A federal official who declined to be named because of the ongoing investigation said examining deputies’ prior contact with Pusok will be part of their civil rights investigation.

Walter Katz, a police oversight lawyer in Los Angeles, said beatings can raise questions about officers’ motives.
Francis Pusok

Francis Pusok was arrested by San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies. (San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department)

He noted that many of the most notorious use-of-force incidents in Southern California have involved beatings. He cited the Rodney King case, the 2004 beating of Stanley Miller by an LAPD officer and last year’s beating on the freeway of Marlene Pinnock by a CHP officer, each of which was captured on camera.

Charles “Sid” Heal, a retired L.A. County sheriff’s commander and tactical expert, said “emotions like anger, outrage and frustration are more likely to be involved in physical confrontations,” rather than shootings, which often happen after split-second decisions.

“It is not a single, isolated incident of force but more prolonged. So I think there may be some feelings that the motives are more sinister,” he said.

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