Outcries of police brutality and excessive use of force have been levied against a California Highway Patrol officer who was videotaped beating a prostrate, defenseless woman during an arrest in Los Angeles this week. Since the video was posted, calls for independent investigations and the officer's job have become commonplace.
Raw Story reported July 4 that an as yet unidentified CHP officer arrested a barefoot woman Tuesday after throwing her to the ground and then beating her. The violence was captured in a cell phone video by a passing motorist and the officer has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.
“He basically got on top of her, and it’s basically a UFC ground-and-pound move,” David Díaz told KTLA-TV in an inteview. “It’s basically full force, punching her in the head.”
Diaz said it was a clear use of excessive force. “There is no way you can justify that,” he said.
Díaz’s video is 90 seconds long and does not show if there was any interaction between the CHP officer and the woman prior to the where the video starts. It begins with the officer approaching a woman on foot, grabbing her. The woman, who is walking along California interstate 10 seems to simply walk away from him. But then the officer suddenly knocks her on the ground, straddling her. After a struggle, the officer begins repeatedly hitting the unidentified woman, delivering punches to her head. Instead of showing any type of resistance, the woman can be seen covering up her face and not fighting back.
A second man not in uniform (a plain-clothes officer at the scene) appears to aid the first officer in restraining the woman.
“She was screaming,” another witness, Daina Tate, told KNBC-TV. “Two men were on her. They had her arms up. She couldn’t defend herself. She looked totally helpless and terrified. It was shocking, and you can’t really call the cops on the cops.”
Another witness said the woman was carrying several bags.
David Diaz also spoke with KNBC, telling the station that the woman could possibly be mentally ill. He noted how "big" the officer was and said, "I think he punched her in the head 15 times."
The California Highway Patrol issued a formal statement Friday saying that it was aware of the incident and the video and were currently investigating the situation, which, being one where an officer used force, was a matter of Patrol policy.
For his part, the officer in question maintains that the barefoot woman ignored his orders to stay away from the freeway. He then tried to take the woman into custody to protect her.
According to the Associated Press, CHP Assistant Chief Chris O'Quinn said at a news conference that the officer found the woman walking on the freeway, endangering her own life as well as people in traffic, and that the officer was trying to restrain her.
CBS San Francisco reported that University of Southern California criminal law professor Jody Armor found the video shocking but was not surprised by its content.
“I would say these are among the worst times, in terms of police image and community relations since the Rodney King tape,” Armor said.
The 1991 Rodney King beating by several officers of the Los Angeles Police Department shocked the nation and led to a push to reform the police department. The Department of Justice held a special oversight capacity for more than ten years over the LAPD following the Rodney King trial. That oversight was lifted just last year.
Professor Armor noted that just the actions of this one CHP officer could tarnish the public's perception of the all members of law enforcement, including the LAPD.