Teen sues Calif. PD using body cam video of UOF incident

The lawsuit against the city and police accuses the department of excessive force

By Joshua Tehee and Bryant-Jon Anteola
The Fresno Bee

FRESNO, Calif. — A Fresno police officer has been put on modified duty after body camera footage surfaced that showed the officer punching a teenage male several times in the face.

The officer, identified in a lawsuit as Christopher Martinez, is on desk duty and not allowed into the field, pending the outcome of an internal affairs investigation, according to Fresno Police Department Chief Jerry Dyer.

The incident happened eight months ago, but Martinez was placed on modified duty after Dyer viewed the video Tuesday night.

“The video that I have reviewed certainly raises questions and raises concerns for me as a police chief,” Dyer said at a news conference Wednesday.

The video, taken Jan. 23 on the second floor of the Fenix Apartments near downtown Fresno, was shot on an officer’s body camera. It was released to the media in conjunction with a lawsuit filed by the firm Baradat & Paboojian, Inc. on behalf of the teen, London Wallace, 17.

In it, Martinez is seen throwing several punches at Wallace. At least one of the punches struck Wallace, Dyer said.

The lawsuit against the city and police accuses the department of excessive force and seeks an unspecified amount of monetary damages.

“My client is embarrassed,” said Wallace’s attorney Nolan Kane, pointing out the teen has no criminal record. “And I think he feels the same way when most other people watch that video: They don’t think this incident should be happening in their community. Mr. Wallace is hopeful the judicial system will find justice for him.”

Punches thrown during search

The incident occurred during a probation search at an apartment where a gang member was known to reside, Dyer said.

When officers arrived, 15-20 people, including Wallace, were inside the apartment. According to Dyer, Wallace was told to go outside, twice, but was hesitant.

Once outside, the body cam footage shows Wallace placing his hands behind his head with his fingers locked, as a pair of officers pat him down.

After Wallace is done being patted down, one of the officers says a few words to Wallace and points toward the ground where other people are sitting down.

Within five seconds, Officer Martinez confronts Wallace, who is still standing, and grabs the teen’s arm. Wallace yells back at Martinez.

Almost simultaneously, the officer unleashes a fury of punches at Wallace’s head.

“I noticed Wallace was not listening,” Martinez said, according to a Fresno police report. “I believed Wallace was going to attempt to flee. …

“I punched Wallace approximately three times in the face in order to get him off me and to back him up. …”

“By punching Wallace in the face,” Martinez added, “I received the desired effect, creating the distance between me and Wallace, which allowed me to get my back off of the second story balcony railing.”

The video goes on to show Wallace wrestled to the ground by officers who struggled to get both of Wallace’s hands behind his back and handcuff him.

Eventually the footage shows Wallace in tears, with blood on the side of his right eye, along with a bloody nose and mouth. Kane, the attorney, said Wallace suffered a broken nose.

“I ain’t do nothing to you,” Wallace appears to say to police. “I didn’t do (sic) to nobody.”

No firearms were located at the residence. Three people were arrested during the incident on charges related to parole and probation. Wallace was arrested for resisting arrest and obstruction, though the charges were later dropped.

Wallace was taken to the hospital where he was treated and interviewed by a Fresno police sergeant as part of a use of force review, Dyer said.

Excessive force?

The department’s Internal Affairs Division has been investigating the incident since May, when a excessive force complaint was filed by one of Wallace’s family members.

A deputy chief was informed of the investigation, Dyer said, who added he was not aware until Tuesday.

At any given time, internal affairs could have 30 ongoing investigations, Dyer noted, from reported of rudeness or excess force. Many complaints are brought to him immediately, but not all.

Dyer was shown the video Tuesday, and said he immediately asked that the investigation be expedited. He expects to have it concluded in a month, at which time “we will take appropriate action.”

Dyer would not say what exactly what that action might involve, but “if discipline is warranted, discipline will be rendered,” he said.

There are more than 40 body cam videos that captured some portion of the incident, and Dyer said they will all be reviewed.

Investigators are also attempting to locate witness and interviewing every officer who was on the scene. “Those interviews are happening now.”

Dyer said he understood the community has concerns after seeing the video, but asked that people reserve final judgment.

“I am committed to making sure this is a thorough investigation,” he said.

A councilmember reacts

The incident occurred in Fresno Councilmember Miguel Arias’ district. He said in a statement Wednesday the footage “clearly shows why the City needs to review its ‘use of force’ training, practice and policies.”

“As a father, I am beyond “disturbed” by the images depicted in this video footage. As a Council member, I am disgusted and disappointed at how this situation has been handled,” he said.

“This is not what we expect from our law enforcement officers when interacting with our residents, much less with minors who are cooperating with police. Nor is it representative of the vast majority of our police officers.”

©2019 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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