A northern California police officer is under investigation after a video went viral that captured him punching a 14-year-old black boy that he had pinned to the ground.
The video, which was posted to Twitter by the boy’s family and friends, shows an officer from Rancho Cordova, a city east of Sacramento, holding the boy in the dirt, at one point with his hand on his neck, and striking him several times in the chest.
The boy was cited for possession of a tobacco product, according to the police, and released to his parents. A person who identified themselves on Twitter as the boy’s sister said it was a Swisher Sweet, a type of cigar.
“He was 10 times the size of the boy,” Tanya Faison, the founder of Black Lives Matter Sacramento, told the Guardian. “He was armed, he was huge. The boy was tiny and he was clearly trying to protect his face. There is nothing an unarmed 14-year-old can do to validate the actions that this officer took.”
Faison added: “This officer not only needs to be fired, but he needs to be charged and convicted and that is the only way these things will stop happening.”
The officer was a “problem oriented policing” officer with the Rancho Cordova police department who was patrolling the area due to complaints about hand-to-hand sales of alcohol, tobacco and drugs to minors, Sacramento county sheriff’s Sergeant Tess Deterding said in a statement.
“It’s important to put video footage into context, especially in relation to a use of force incident,” Deterding said. “In this case, the deputy saw what he believed to be a hand-to-hand exchange between an adult and juvenile. As the deputy turned around, he lost sight of the adult, who left the area. When the deputy approached the juvenile, the juvenile was uncooperative and refused to give the deputy basic identifying information.”
The boy told the officer he was 18. He “became physically resistive”, which caused the officer to lose his handcuffs, according to the department. “The deputy attempted to maintain control of the juvenile without his handcuffs and while alone waiting for his partners to arrive and assist him,” Deterding said.
The video has drawn outrage nationwide. Senator Kamala Harris of California called the beating “a horrible abuse of power”, while Julián Castro, her cohort in the Democratic presidential race, declared it “sickening”, and demanded immediate action.
“This type of situation is hard on everyone – the young man, who resisted arrest, and the officer, who would much rather have him cooperate,” Deterding said. She added that the Sacramento county sheriff’s office and the Rancho Cordova police department started an investigation into the use of force. “Maintaining the public trust and remaining transparent are of paramount importance to the sheriff’s office and Rancho Cordova police department,” she said.
Faison, with Black Lives Matter, noted that this was the third encounter in the past year in the Sacramento area that involved police officers over-policing children of color. In June, Sacramento police officers put a spit hood on a 12-year-old boy, and in July, three 13-year-old boys were held at gunpoint by a Sacramento police officer, Faison said.
The 14-year-old in the most recent video suffers from a heart condition that could have been exacerbated by the encounter, Faison said. On Twitter, the person who identified themselves as his sister said he experienced chest pains after the incident.
“How can you look at a child’s face and let that be the target for your fist?” Faison said. “I don’t understand that.”