| An image taken from the video shows LAPD officers with the suspect in Hollywood on August 11, 2006. (AP)
Los Angeles, Nov. 11: A video of Los Angeles police officers punching a suspect in the face set off a wave of outrage that crashed onto the doorstep of police headquarters yesterday after the tape was posted on www.YouTube.com.
It was an uncomfortable echo of earlier Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) scandals, including the videotaped Rodney King beating. The department, which operates under a federal consent decree, has instituted many reforms but has periodically suffered through police brutality embarrassments.
The video of an August arrest came to light this week after portions of it appeared on the videosharing website YouTube and several thousand people watched it.
Shot by a bystander, it shows two police officers attempting to arrest William Cardenas, 24. As one officer sits on his thighs and holds his arms, the other places his knee across Cardenas’s chest and throat and quickly punches him five times in the head. Cardenas can be heard crying: “Let go of me! I can’t breathe! ”
Cardenas had a split lip, black eyes and a bloody face afterwards, Duren said.
Police described Cardenas as a known gang member, which his lawyer disputed. Cardenas had run from officers who wanted to arrest him on a warrant for receiving a stolen gun, Duren said. Previously, Cardenas had been arrested for attempted murder but was never charged.
After reviewing evidence from prosecutors and seeing the video at a preliminary hearing, a judge found enough evidence to try Cardenas for resisting arrest.
The LAPD began investigating the incident on the day of the arrest, in compliance with a consent decree requirement to investigate all allegations of police abuse, police said. The FBI launched a separate investigation on Thursday.
Both officers in the video, Alexander Schlegel and Patrick Farrell, were reassigned to desk jobs. Schlegel had two previous abuse complaints against him, officials confirmed. He was exonerated in one instance, and in the other the district attorney did not find grounds to file charges.
“Police work is not always pretty,” Chief William J. Bratton said. “But in my 36 years in law enforcement, I’ve learned not to make a judgment until I have all the facts.”
According to preliminary hearing transcripts, Cardenas and two friends were drinking beer on a street corner when police recognised him and called for him to put his hands up. Cardenas ran. When police caught him, Schlegel pushed him in the back, he fell, “and his face bounced off the sidewalk”.
Cardenas tried to hit the officer, Schlegel testified. Then Farrell hit him twice, and Schlegel used pepper spray on him, Schlegel said. The officers reported the use of force that day.
From her second-floor apartment, Melissa Aguayo, 17, watched it happen. “He kept saying: ‘You’re choking me, you’re choking me,’” she said yesterday. “They kept saying: ‘You are resisting arrest,’ and they kept hitting him.”
Connie Rice, a civil rights lawyer who has watched the Los Angeles Police Department for 20 years, said the incident is not atypical and reflects a “use of force culture” at the department that is “calibrated higher and more aggressively than other police departments”.
Nonetheless, “this is not your grandfather’s LAPD,” she said. Under Los Angeles's well-liked police chief, crime in the city has fallen 40 per cent in four years.
“Twenty years ago, 99 per cent of LAPD officers would have seen that video and would have said: ‘What’s the problem'’” Rice said. “In 2006, at least a third to half would say: ‘We’ve got a problem’. That’s a difference.”