Attorney Michael Schwartz, left, joins San Bernardino County Sheriff Deputies Michael Phelps, 29, Nicholas Downey, 33, and Charles Foster, 34, all three of whom have been charged with felony assault by a public officer against Francis Jared Pusok, stand in court during an arraignment September 8, 2015 at San Bernardino Superior Court. (File)

By Joe Nelson, The Sun
Posted: 03/02/17 – 10:19 PM PST |

SAN BERNARDINO >> Three San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies were looking to get some “cheap shots” when they allegedly assaulted an Apple Valley man following a nearly three-hour chase, a prosecutor said during his opening statement Thursday at the deputies’ trial.

“They were hot, they were frustrated, they were angry,” prosecutor Robert Bulloch said during his opening statement in San Bernardino Superior Court in the trial of deputies Nicholas Downey, Michael Phelps and Charles Foster. Each is charged with one felony count of assault by a public officer under the color of authority for the April 9, 2015 beating of Francis Jared Pusok, 32.

“That’s what this case is about, those cheap shots,” Bulloch said.

The three deputies are accused of kicking and punching Pusok repeatedly in the head and other areas of his body after Pusok placed his hands behind his back, apparently in surrender. His beating was captured on video by a television news crew hovering 8,000 feet above in a helicopter.

Bulloch said the deputies repeatedly yelled “stop resisting!” as they punched and kicked Pusok while his hands were behind his back, as seen and heard in the video he showed the jury. Afterwards, Pusok could be heard in the audio groaning as one of the deputies taunted him.

Defense attorneys argued in their opening statements that the deputies were doing what they were trained to do, and were dealing with a man they believed dangerous and whom they already knew was being sought on suspicion of evading police and possession of stolen property.

Pusok first engaged deputies in a high-speed vehicle pursuit, hitting speeds close to 100 mph on city streets, veering into oncoming traffic and crashing into a fence, a portion of which got lodged in the car and dragged away as Pusok sped off. When the car became stuck in the sand, Pusok fled on foot, then stole a horse from a man bathing in hot springs, wearing only a cowboy hat.

Pusok fled on the horse but eventually fell off. That’s when he was confronted by deputies Phelps and Downey, and later Foster, followed by a throng of other deputies. Pusok was felled by Taser gun darts, then punched and kicked repeatedly by the three deputies after putting his hands behind his back. Bulloch said Pusok was surrendering.

But Downey’s attorney, Michael D. Schwartz, said Pusok’s arm was extended at the time Downey kicked it. He said it wasn’t Pusok’s face Downey was aiming at, but Pusok’s left arm.

“It was a fluid action, and they had to make a response based on their training,” Schwartz said, adding that Downey was attempting to keep Pusok’s hands where he could see them in case Pusok was concealing a weapon.

“This guy’s dangerous. That’s what the evidence will show,” Schwartz said of Pusok.

The pursuit was one of the largest use of police resources in the last 10 to 15 years, prompting deployment of dozens of deputies, four helicopters, two motorcycles and 20 law enforcement vehicles, Schwartz said.

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