Calif. pursuit ends with officer kicking suspect
By Thomas Watkins
LOS ANGELES — A high-speed police chase through suburban Los Angeles County on Wednesday ended with a foot pursuit and a police officer kicking a suspect in the head after he gave up and lay face down on the ground.
Video from TV news helicopters showed the driver speeding the wrong way down a street in an eastern area of the county. He then crashed into an oncoming vehicle, got out of the car and ran into a residential backyard.
Surrounded by high garden walls and apparently realizing he had nowhere to go, the suspect got face down on the grass with his arms outstretched.
Moments later, an officer from the El Monte Police Department ran up to the suspect and delivered what appeared to be one sharp kick to the head or neck, a scene that was broadcast by KNBC-TV and KTTV. A second officer arrived soon after and used what appeared to be a baton or a flashlight to deliver several blows to the suspect's side.
After the suspect was handcuffed, the officer who kicked him high-fived a colleague who was tending to a police dog. It was not clear whether the colleague had seen the kick.
El Monte police Chief Tom Armstrong said he had not yet seen the video and could not comment.
"Before coming to any conclusion, I want to look at all the facts," Armstrong said. "I don't know what was in the mind of the officer."
Police identified the suspect as Richard Rodriguez, 23, of El Monte. Rodriguez, a member of a street gang, was on parole, Lt. Chuck Carlson said. He was booked for parole violation and for investigation of felony evading and obstructing a police officer in the performance of his duties. He was taken to a county jail.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California called for the immediate suspension of the officer and urged the Los Angeles County district attorney to conduct an investigation.
"That kick served no law enforcement purpose," said Ramona Ripston, the group's executive director. "It was unlawful punishment, apparently for leading the police on a pursuit."
Sandi Gibbons, a district attorney spokeswoman, had not seen the video and did not know if her office would conduct an independent review.
The foot pursuit followed a high-speed car chase that lasted more than 30 minutes and saw the suspect lead a chaotic drive through El Monte, Whittier and other parts of eastern Los Angeles County.
The car sped through several intersections without stopping and at one point drove along a short stretch of sidewalk when it was hemmed in at a junction.
Carlson said the occupants of the car flashed gang signs at pursuing officers.
The chase started in El Monte around 1:30 p.m. after the driver failed to stop for an officer, he said. The sedan drove away at speeds of up to 80 mph in a 30 mph zone.
The car had two passengers, Carlson said. One was detained after leaping out when the car stopped in traffic, and the other was arrested after the crash, he said.
No one was seriously injured, Carlson said.