The sheriff of San Bernardino County in California announced Friday that the ten deputies who were caught on video beating a suspect after he fled on horseback have been put on leave. John McMahon said the officers will remain on leave until an internal investigation into the use of force in the incident, which he described as disturbing and troubling, is completed.
Francis Pusok, 30, tried to run from California deputies on Thursday as they attempted to serve him with a search warrant as part of an identity theft case they were working. Pusok first attempted to flee officers by car before stealing a horse to continue his escape.
Two other investigations have also begun – both criminal. Pusok’s actions are the subject of one, while the actions of the officers, who include a detective and a sergeant, will be scrutinized by the sheriff’s Specialized Investigation Detail. Although a final determination will be made based on what is found, McMahon said during Friday’s news conference that the officers’ actions “[appear] to be excessive to me base[d] on what I saw in the video.”
McMahon said that officers had been “familiar” with Pusok’s California rap sheet prior to Thursday’s events, and had previously encountered him in the course of sheriff’s business. The crimes of which Pusok has been convicted in the past include threatening a sheriff’s deputy, attempted robbery, two separate instances of resisting an officer and animal cruelty. In the latter incident, he shot a puppy while family members were present.
In the video of the incident, which was recorded by a local news helicopter filming the chase, deputies are seen attempting to subdue Pusok with a Taser after the horse bucks him Pusok off his back. Officers claim the Taser was ineffective against the suspect. The attack begins when one of the San Bernardino County, California, deputies kicks Pusok in his head, followed by a different deputy who kicks him in the groin. The two then begin kneeing and punching the suspect, after he is on the ground and has been caught. At that point, other officers swarm in and begin to also hit Pusok, who at that point is hidden underneath deputies. All in all, the events take over a minute to unfold.
KNBC in California reviewed the video and determined that, in total, Pusok was punched 37 times, kicked 17 times and on four occasions was hit with batons. The station reports that 13 of the blows incurred by Pusok, who appeared motionless for over 45 minutes after the beating stopped, were to his head. During the time he spent on the ground, there is no indication that deputies administered first aid or other medical treatment.
The attorney hired by Pusok’s family, Jim Terrell, said he believes the video “is far worse than Rodney King.” He is asking that the deputies involved in the beating be fired and arrested. Terrell also called for the FBI to look into how the sheriff’s department has dealt with his client in the past. The FBI has, however, begun a civil rights investigation into the beating of Pusok, whose family is considering filing a civil lawsuit against the sheriff’s department.
Two deputies also suffered injuries during the chase, including a sprained knee, bruises, scrapes and one back injury caused by the horse hitting one of them. The Los Angeles Times in California reports that a third officer was also treated for dehydration. All have been treated and released. In the wake of the release of the video, threats via social media, phone calls and emails have been directed at the sheriff’s office. Due to that, officials are withholding the names of the officers involved until the validity of the threats can be determined.
Pusok’s girlfriend, Jolene Bindner, says her boyfriend of 13 years may have had past legal troubles, but he is a good father to their three children. A fourth is on the way. After the arrest, which was caught on video, he was treated for lacerations and other wounds at the hospital and is expected to recover completely from the beating at the hands of the deputies. He is currently being held under bail of $115,000 in a Rancho Cucamonga, California, jail. He is facing charges of stealing the horse he rode during the chase, felony evading, reckless driving and possessing stolen property.
By Jennifer Pfalz