Three San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies, from the left, Nicholas Downey, Charles Foster and Michael Phelps, were charged in the April 9, 2015 beating of Apple Valley resident Francis Jared Pusok following a nearly three-hour pursuit in the High Desert. (File Photos by Micah Escamilla – Staff Photographer)

By Doug Saunders, The Sun
and Joe Nelson, The Sun
Posted: 04/03/17 – 3:38 PM PDT |

SAN BERNARDINO >> Two former San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies accused in the beating of an Apple Valley man that was captured on live television each pleaded no contest Monday to a misdemeanor count of disturbing the peace as part of a plea deal.

Michael Phelps and Nick Downey were sentenced to one year of probation less than a week after a jury returned deadlocked, unable to reach a unanimous decision on guilt or innocence in a trial for the two former deputies.

After two days of deliberations, the jury, before a packed courtroom Thursday, found a third deputy, Charles Foster, guilty of one felony count of assault by a public officer under the color of authority on Francis Jared Pusok. Foster faces up to three years in county prison when he is sentenced April 28 before Judge Dwight W. Moore.

“After reevaluating the evidence and learning that the jury was hopelessly deadlocked, there is no reasonable likelihood that another jury would be able to reach a verdict,” District Attorney Mike Ramos said. “It is time to move forward. I will reiterate what I have said all along, that the actions of these defendants should not tarnish the badge of the hardworking men and women of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.”

Downey and Phelps, each of whom were initially charged with one felony count of assault by a public officer under the color of authority, accepted the plea deal to begin the process of moving forward, thus saving their families from two more years of stress, said Michael Schwartz, attorney for Downey, in a statement. They are grateful for the tremendous support they received leading up to the trial, during and in the aftermath of the mistrial, he said.

“It’s incredibly difficult for jurors to see events through the perception of the officers on the scene, which is the law, as opposed to a two-dimensional video from a very different vantage point,” Schwartz said in the statement.

He added, “The jurors’ inability to reach a verdict tells us they had a lot of uncertainty and disagreed over the evidence, and to me, that shows there was reasonable doubt.”

“We are pleased that after all the evidence and closing arguments, the District Attorney’s Office was able to reassess the case,” Schwartz said. “A second trial would not have benefited either side. Deputy Downey can now look forward to the next step in the process: the administrative hearing to get his job back.”

On April 9, 2015, Downey and Phelps were the first deputies to detain Pusok, a repeat criminal offender who had stolen a horse during an hourslong chase and rode into steep and rugged desert terrain between Apple Valley and Hesperia before falling off the horse and being felled by a dart from Phelps’ Taser.
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An NBC news crew, hovering 8,000 feet above in a helicopter, recorded video of Phelps and Downey swooping down on Pusok, punching and kicking him repeatedly while yelling “Stop resisting!” Several more deputies arrived on scene and assisted in detaining Pusok, and while their actions also came under scrutiny by the District Attorney’s Office, they were not charged with any crimes.

Pusok’s Victorville attorneys, Jim Terrell and Sharon Brunner, expressed disappointment Monday.

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