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Rough Arrest Of Homeless Man In La Jolla Spurs Protest, In-House SDPD Probe

Still from a cell phone video showing a San Diego Police officer punching a h...

Credit: Courtesy of Nicole Bansal

Above: Still from a cell phone video showing a San Diego Police officer punching a homeless man in La Jolla, May 12, 2021.

An internal investigation was underway Thursday into a bystander-videotaped arrest during which San Diego Police Department personnel tackled and repeatedly punched a homeless man on a La Jolla thoroughfare.

The internet-posted images of the officers' protracted struggle to detain the man in the 4100 block of Torrey Pines Road on Wednesday morning prompted dismay on social media, along with a sharp rebuke and call for accountability from the local branch of the NAACP.

"We have been made aware of a disturbing incident ... involving the brutal handling of a member of our community," Francine Maxwell, president of the San Diego branch of the civil rights organization, wrote in a letter to SDPD Chief David Nisleit. "We are deeply saddened and angered to see the San Diego Police Department act with such violence against someone who presented no apparent risk to anyone."

The events that led to the rough arrest began about 9 a.m. when a pair of patrolmen saw the transient urinating in public in the coastal neighborhood near the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and tried to contact him, according to SDPD public affairs.

"The man would not stop to speak with officers; therefore an officer held the man to detain him," department officials asserted in a prepared statement. "Despite the officers' repeatedly telling the man to stop resisting, (he) would not comply."

The cellphone video shows the officers grabbing the man, whose name has not been made public, and wrestling him to the ground. During the ensuing struggle, one of the patrolmen hits the man in the face twice with his fist, and the other punches his leg several times.

After being struck, the man pulls a radio off one of the officers' belts and hurls it onto the roadway, then appears to hit one of them back, landing a blow to his face. More officers pull up in cruisers and join in the struggle before the witness video ends.

After the personnel finally got the man into custody, he was taken to a hospital for an evaluation, then booked into county jail on suspicion of resisting arrest and battery on a police officer.

The in-house departmental investigation began later in the day, police said.

"The (SDPD) Internal Affairs Unit is currently investigating the incident and reviewing (the involved officers') body-worn-camera ... video," according to the agency's statement.

While acknowledging that the "full circumstances" of the incident remained unclear, Jim Vargas, president and CEO of Father Joe's Villages, said the leadership of the San Diego homeless-services provider was "deeply troubled" by the arrest.

"It is a clear illustration of several broken systems and a stark and distressing reminder of the insufficient resources available to those on our streets," Vargas asserted in a prepared statement. "From the failure to provide the basic dignity of public restrooms to the urgent need for a more compassionate, effective and comprehensive response to those suffering from mental illness, San Diego can and must do better."

In her letter to the police chief, Maxwell stated that NAACP officials "want to know that this incident of violence will be properly investigated, and be assured that these officers will not be exonerated for this assault on an unarmed Black man."

"The SDPD has a de-escalation policy that requires you to use time and space to defuse a situation, rather than immediately move to force," she wrote. "It seems to us that there was ample space to de-escalate. Why didn't they? We want to know if this is how the SDPD envisions de-escalation. Did it really require eight police officers to subdue this barefoot homeless man?"

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