Moral Low Ground


Video: San Bernardino Deputies Brutally Attack Francis Pusok after Stolen Horse Pursuit

Francis Pusok (KCAL9 screen grab)

Francis Pusok (KCAL9 screen grab)

A TV news helicopter captured disturbing footage of Southern California sheriff’s deputies brutally attacking a man who was lying on the ground and surrendering after being shot with a stun gun during a bizarre pursuit involving a stolen horse.

The Los Angeles Times reports 10 San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies were placed on paid administrative leave Friday after video, shot by NBC Los Angeles’ NewsChopper4, emerged showing them ferociously beating 30-year-old Francis Pusok, a suspected horse and identity thief.

The aerial footage, which was recorded Thursday, shows Pusok falling from a horse during a high desert police pursuit. A deputy then shoots him with a stun gun. Pusok falls to the ground, his arms behind his back. A pair of deputies then rushes to the prone and apparently surrendering suspect and begins viciously pounding him in the head and kneeing him in the groin. More deputies swarm the scene, with 11 appearing in the video. In the following two minutes, deputies punch Pusok, who does not appear to be resisting, at least 37 times and kick him at least 17 times. He it struck in the head at least 13 times, and is also struck with a baton at least four times.

NBC Los Angeles reports Pusok was then left lying on the ground for 45 minutes, apparently without receiving any medical attention. He was eventually taken to a local hospital and treated for unspecified injuries. He is expected to survive. Three deputies were also taken to the hospital; two were suffering from dehydration and one was kicked by the horse.

In announcing the move to place 10 deputies—including a sergeant and a detective—on paid leave, San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said the video appears to show the officers using excessive force.

“I am disturbed and troubled by what I see,” he said. “It does not appear to be in line with our policies and procedures.”

McMahon asked the public to be patient as the incident is investigated.

Pusok family attorney Jim Terrell called the deputies who attacked his client “thugs.”

“What I saw on the television was thugs beating up my client,” Terrell told CBS Los Angeles. “That’s what I saw. And these questions about what was he doing? What did they do? This is far worse than Rodney King.”

“These are bad cops whether it’s Ferguson, Missouri, or right here in Apple Valley,” added Terrell. “This stuff’s got to stop.”

Former Los Angeles police captain Greg Meyer, an expert on police use of force, called the video “ugly.”

Pusok had “obviously surrendered, followed commands to keep his hands behind his back,” Meyer told the Times. “That would be the time for the deputies to drop the knees on him and get him handcuffed. But it didn’t happen, and they will have to answer for the force they used on him.”

Deputies said they were serving a search warrant to Pusok related to an alleged identity theft crime at around 12:15 p.m. when the suspect fled his home, in unincorporated Apple Valley, in a car, initiating a nearly three-hour chase through Apple Valley and Hesperia. Pusok took the chase off-road, traversing narrow trails and rugged desert terrain and causing deputies to deploy helicopters and motorcycles. He eventually abandoned his vehicle and allegedly stole a horse from a group of people at Deep Creek Hot Springs. Deputies caught up to him at around 3:00 p.m. near Highway 173 and Arrowhead Lake Road.

Pusok has a long criminal history, including convictions for driving on a sidewalk at an unsafe speed, fighting, attempted robbery, resisting an officer and animal cruelty. Despite all that, Jolene Binder, Pusok’s girlfriend of 13 years, said he is a great father to their three children. A fourth baby is on the way.

“I feel like they’re trying to paint a picture of him as a bad guy and deserving of it,” Binder told CBS Los Angeles. “He was jumped.”

“I couldn’t believe it. The first thing I said was, ‘They can’t do that,'” added Binder. “That is first thing out of my mouth was that, ‘They cannot do that.'”

Anne Clemenson, Pusok’s mother, said she wants the deputies who brutalized her son to be fired.

“I want them done,” Clemenson told the Times. “I’ve always thought that police are to serve and protect and what they did … it was not called for.”

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