LA County sheriff’s department calls video of deputy tackling woman ‘disturbing,’ opens inquiry

Jul 5, 2023, 1:12 PM

In this image taken from police body camera provided by Los Angeles Sheriff's office on June 24, 20...

In this image taken from police body camera provided by Los Angeles Sheriff's office on June 24, 2023, a Sheriff's deputies arrested a couple in a grocery store parking lot in Lancaster, Calif. The Los Angeles County sheriff has opened an investigation into two deputies' actions after a bystander's cellphone footage showed one of them tackling a woman while she filmed her husband being handcuffed in what the scandal-ridden department described as disturbing. (Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office via AP)

(Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office via AP)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department says a bystander’s cellphone footage showing a deputy violently tackling a woman while she filmed her husband being handcuffed and pepper-spraying her in the face is “ disturbing,” and community groups on Wednesday called for the department’s new sheriff to hold his agency accountable.

The June 24 incident in the city of Lancaster follows several cases that have drawn scrutiny to the department amid allegations of excessive use of force by its deputies. It’s also testing the reform efforts of the incumbent Alex Villanueva.

Both officers were pulled off field duty, the sheriff’s department said in a statement late Monday after the bystander footage spread on social media. The agency also announced it has opened an investigation into the deputies’ actions.

“While the Department does not make statements related to ongoing investigations, Sheriff Luna has made it clear that he expects Department personnel to treat all members of the public with dignity and respect, and that personnel who do not uphold our training standards will be held accountable,” the department said in its statement.

The agency also released footage from the deputies’ body-worn cameras on Monday.

The couple, whose names were not released, reportedly matched the descriptions of robbers targeting a grocery store in Lancaster, 72 kilometers (45 miles) northeast of Los Angeles, the department said. The video shows the man sitting on a large rock outside the store and holding a cake before deputies handcuff him as his wife stands a few feet away filming the encounter.

One deputy is seen tackling the woman to the ground. “Get on the ground!” he can be heard shouting as he pins her down with his knee on her neck and shoulder. “Stop or you’ll get punched in the face!”

The woman is heard yelling “I can’t breathe!” as the deputy is seen pepper-spraying her in the face. She screams, “I didn’t do nothin’!” and her husband repeatedly tells the other deputy that she has cancer.

The sheriff’s department did not release the deputies’ names or other details, such as whether the couple was cited. The department first referred a reporter to submit questions to an online media portal and then declined to provide additional information.

A protest was planned in Lancaster Wednesday evening by community groups to demand that the deputies be held accountable and be dismissed.

Villanueva’s tenure was tainted by accusations that so-called deputy gangs proliferated under his watch. The groups are accused of a variety of misconduct dating back decades, from controlling sheriff’s stations and the jails, to harassing other deputies and the communities they police, to harming or fatally shooting civilians as part of gang rituals.

Villanueva resisted efforts from the county’s inspector general and a civilian oversight commission to address the cliques. The former sheriff downplayed their role in the department and refused to answer the commission’s subpoenas to testify about the gangs under oath.

The department was years behind other police agencies in outfitting its deputies with body-worn cameras, bringing them on board in 2020. The neighboring Los Angeles Police Department, in contrast, first gave the technology to its officers in 2016.

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LA County sheriff’s department calls video of deputy tackling woman ‘disturbing,’ opens inquiry