If the cops can’t beat a defenseless man senseless in the middle of the desert without prying eyes, where can they beat him?
Ten San Bernardino County deputies were put on paid administrative leave after a KNBC-TV news helicopter shot video of them tasering and pummeling a man on the run last week near the high desert town of Apple Valley in Southern California. The FBI has opened a civil rights investigation.
Deputies had gone to the home of Francis Pusok to serve a search warrant in an identity theft case. He fled the scene in a car, but ditched it for a horse he snatched from a group of people and took off across the desert in what became a three-hour chase.
Extra deputies joined the pursuit and as they closed in on Pusok, the horse threw him. The video shows him splaying himself on the ground and putting his hands behind his back as the deputies approach. The encounter quickly becomes violent.
One deputy tasers him where he lies and then another kicks him in the head. Others join in. KNBC counted 37 punches, 17 kicks, four baton strikes and a couple taserings in around two minutes. Thirteen of the blows were to the head. Pusok was hospitalized afterward. Pusok was left lying on the ground for about 45 minutes.
Three deputies were reportedly hurt in the pursuit. Two suffered dehydration and one was kicked by the horse.
San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon was not happy. “At the end of the day, it appears to be excessive,” he said at a press conference. It might also have appeared that way at the beginning of the day, as media attention from around the world shifted to yet another blatant case of police brutality.
The Pusok incident comes one week after a white South Carolina police officer was filmed repeatedly shooting 50-year-old African-American Walter Scott to death as he ran away following a traffic stop.
The sheriff noted that “it’s hard to manage your adrenalin when you get to the end of a pursuit after driving at high speeds, through crazy situations, blowing stop signs, near collisions, and ultimately running on foot after a suspect. . . . Not that that’s an excuse.”
He did not explain why none of the deputies thought it prudent to temper their enthusiasm with a news helicopter hovering above. Deputies also carry digital audio recorders.
Pusok has a record and may be familiar with some of his attackers. CBS Los Angeles reported that he was convicted of driving on a sidewalk at an unsafe speed (2002), attempted robbery (2006), fighting (2011), cruelty to an animal (2013), resisting an officer (2013) and obstructing or resisting an officer (2014).