On Thursday, in San Bernardino County, California, an act of apparent police brutality was captured not by a cameraphone, but by a news chopper recording for the local NBC affiliate. The footage shows what appears to be a passive and compliant man lying next to his getaway horse—more on that in a second—getting Tasered and subsequently beaten by 11 cops for about two minutes.
NBC has put the unedited, graphic video online.
The man in question, 30-year-old Francis Jared Pusok of Apple Valley, was being served a warrant in an identity theft investigation when the chase began. He initially left in a car, then abandoned it and continued into the desert on foot before allegedly stealing the horse. Eventually, his injured mount threw him off, effectively ending the saga.
John McMahon, Sheriff of San Bernardino County, has announced that he would investigate the use of force by his deputies. "I'm not sure if there was a struggle with the suspect," he told NBC. "It appears there was in the early parts of the video. What happens afterwards, I'm not sure of."
With only about 2,000 deputies covering the largest county in the contiguous United States, San Bernardino Sheriff's deputies have a lot of ground to cover. They've become well-known for questionable law enforcement tactics, having come under scrutiny after a 2013 standoff with renegade LAPD officer Christopher Dorner, when the tear gas they used may have caused the fire that brought the incident to a close. There's also pending litigation right now involving accusations that they tortured inmates in county lockup.
But the unusually violent response to Pusok's evasion might have had less to do with the particular law enforcement agency he was attempting to thwart and more with the prolonged nature of the chase. The deputies were probably exhausted by the end of the pursuit. Certainly, as the LA Times reports, drawn-out chases often end in tragic fashion.
"Your adrenaline gets going, you get real pumped up. And you're still pumped up when you finally pull the guy over and get out of your car," one cop told the paper after the Rodney King beating in 1991. "You have to make a conscious effort to downshift, so to speak, and to maintain control."
And remember, this wasn't just your garden-variety car chase, but a legit, multi-vehicle odyssey that took three hours and included steep, rocky terrain. Police became seriously dehydrated, and one was kicked by the horse. Three cops apparently merited medical attention.
Once they got their hands on Pusok, San Bernardino sheriffs engaged in what appears to be pretty brutal behavior. By NBC News' count, they dished out 58 blows, 13 of which were directed at the man's head. After the beating, Pusok was left lying on his face for 45 minutes while police milled around, apparently not administering first aid of any kind. He was later hospitalized.
NBC asked Pusok's girlfriend where he had been taken for treatment, and about the extent of his injuries, but she didn't know. "They have not told me a thing," she said, referring to Sheriff's deputies.
According to CBS's Los Angeles affiliate, Pusok's family has lawyered up, and is considering a lawsuit. His attorney Jim Terrell has already involved Rodney King in his statements to the media.
"What I saw on the television was thugs beating up my client," he said. "That's what I saw. And these questions about what was he doing? What did they do? This is far worse than Rodney King."
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