From: The Sun
By Joe Nelson & Ryan Hagen 9/1/15
SAN BERNARDINO >> Three San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies were charged Tuesday with felony assault in connection with the highly publicized April 9 videotaped beating of Francis Jared Pusok in the High Desert following an exhaustive chase.
District Attorney Mike Ramos announced the filing of criminal charges against Deputies Nicholas Downey, Michael Phelps and Charles Foster during a press conference at his office. Each deputy stands charged with one count of felonious assault by a public officer and faces anywhere from 16 months to three years in county jail. The three are scheduled for arraignment on Sept. 8 in San Bernardino Superior Court.
“I believe the deputies filed (charges) on today crossed the line under the color of authority,” Ramos said, adding, “Their actions should not tarnish the badge of those who honorably serve every day.”
All three deputies were booked into the Central Detention Center in San Bernardino on Tuesday. All were in the process of posting $50,000 bail, sheriff’s Lt. Brad Toms said.
Seven other deputies involved in the incident were not charged, Ramos said. Those seven deputies are: Scott Hamilton, David Moore, Dominic Moody, Raymond Perez, Tyler McGee, Detective William Doemner and Sgt. James Evans.
“We carefully took a look at every individual in this case, and we looked at the facts,” Ramos said.
The hilly and rural terrain in Apple Valley where the incident occurred minimized visibility and led some deputies to believe that the actions of the other deputies, given what was being communicated on their belt recorders, were justified, Ramos said.
“The use of force they showed was reasonable under the circumstances,” Ramos said of the seven other deputies who were not charged. “A lot of those officers just put their foot on (Pusok) to hold him down to make sure he wasn’t moving.”
DEFENSE SAYS WAIT FOR THE FACTS
Sheriff John McMahon said the 10 deputies remain on paid administrative leave, and a decision was expected “very soon” as to whether the three charged deputies will remain employed with the department.
Downey’s attorney, Michael Schwartz, asked the public to withhold judgment until all the facts are presented at trial.
“The video, which is at the heart of this case, is just a small window into all the events that happened,” Schwartz said. “The video does not portray the deputy’s perspective, focus, line of sight, physical condition — all the other factors that a human being has to contend with that dispassionate, distanced, two-dimensional snippets of video do not.”
He said the incident has been hard on Downey, who has taken the brunt of criticism, and his family.
“He’s a great guy who put his heart and soul into police work, and it’s been very difficult for him and his family,” Schwartz said.
TERRELL: THIS IS NOTHING NEW
Pusok held his own news conference in Victorville with his fiancee, Jolene Bindner, and attorney Jim Terrell. They were grateful any charges were filed, but at least eight of the 10 deputies should have been charged, Terrell said.
This was just San Bernardino County’s most visible example of a widespread problem, Terrell said, encouraging the public to record and report any misconduct by police.
“These officers would never have been charged if it wasn’t for the fact they were caught and (videotaped) doing something we believe had been going on in San Bernardino then, and since then, with great frequency,” Terrell said. “This is nothing new.”
Pusok, 31, of Apple Valley, was arrested April 9 following a three-hour vehicle, foot and horseback pursuit through Apple Valley and Hesperia, which ended in the beating that was captured on video by an NBC news helicopter hovering above. During the pursuit, Pusok abandoned a vehicle he was driving and fled on foot until he made contact with a group of people near Deep Creek Hot Springs in Apple Valley, where he stole a horse. The horse suffered multiple injuries during the pursuit, sheriff’s investigators said.
Using enlarged still photos from the video mounted on easels to better illustrate what happened, Ramos said Downey kicked Pusok twice as he lay facedown on the ground with his hands behind his back, and Phelps kicked Pusok in the groin.
About five minutes after Pusok was handcuffed, hobbled and rolled onto his side, Foster also kicked Pusok, Ramos said.
PUSOK GRATEFUL TO BE ALIVE
While some have suggested Pusok bears some responsibility because he ran from authorities, Terrell said that if he hadn’t run, he wouldn’t have been videotaped, and so could have been beaten with impunity.
“Francis Pusok had the right to run away from these (deputies),” Terrell said. “They’re savages.”
Pusok said little at the news conference, deferring most questions to his attorney.
“I’m just grateful to be alive and spend my days with my family,” Pusok said.
Pusok said during a prior interview with this newspaper that he had prior run-ins with police where he was subjected to excessive use of force, and therefore feared police, which is why he fled on April 9.
Police, however, say Pusok ran because he feared being arrested. On the day of his April 9 arrest, sheriff’s investigators were looking for Pusok in connection with a residential burglary and motorcycle theft in Lucerne Valley.
DEFENSE CONFIDENT IN THE PROCESS
Foster’s attorneys, Michael Nasatir and Richard Hirsch, said Foster has 10 years of distinguished and unblemished service to the Sheriff’s Department and was awarded the medal of valor in 2012 for saving a citizen’s life. Foster served in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.
“We’ve carefully reviewed the video and audio recordings in this incident, and it is clear our client used minimal and reasonable force to restrain a dangerous individual who was resisting arrest,” Nasatir said. “We are confident that when the evidence is presented in a court of law, that a jury will agree that Deputy Foster is innocent of this charge.”
Phelps’ attorney, Steven D. Sanchez, issued a statement saying the force used by Phelps was “only that which was necessary to effectuate the arrest of the suspect, nothing more.”
“The arrest was, in fact, appropriate, lawful and justified, as evidenced by the charges against Pusok,” Sanchez said. “It was Phelps who was finally able to place his handcuffs on Pusok, and once secured, Phelps withdrew.”
Sanchez said Pusok suffered no injuries at the hands of Phelps, and that Phelps has cooperated in the investigation at all times.
“While we are shocked and disappointed in this charging decision by the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office as to this deputy, we are confident in the process and eager to move forward on behalf of our client,” Sanchez said.
UNION SUPPORTS DEPUTIES
Less than two weeks after the April 9 incident in the High Desert, the county offered Pusok $650,000 to settle the matter out of civil court. Pusok accepted the offer, which the Board of Supervisors approved on April 21.
About a month after the settlement, on May 28, county prosecutors charged Pusok with 11 felonies and three misdemeanors in connection with the April 9 pursuit including evading arrest, horse theft, animal cruelty, auto theft, being under the influence of drugs and reckless driving. They charged his fiancee, Jolene Bindner, with three felony counts of receiving stolen property.
The San Bernardino County Safety Employee Benefits Association, the union representing 3,400 of the county’s sworn peace officers, issued a statement following Tuesday’s news conference saying the union was essentially standing by the three deputies charged and would assist in their legal representation, stressing they are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
Each union member regularly pays into a legal defense fund, according to the press release.
“The primary focus of SEBA is to ensure members have the same legal right to representation as any private citizen, including the notion of being innocent until proven guilty,” SEBA President Laren Leichliter said in a statement included in the press release. “As a union, it is not our place to pass judgment but simply to offer support of our members and make sure each deputy in this case has access to legal representation.”
CHARGES: MICHAEL PHELPS, NICK DOWNEY AND CHARLES FOSTER
• San Bernardino County Sheriff’s deputies Michael Phelps, Nick Downey and Charles Foster were charged with one county each of assault by a police officer: “On or about April 9, 2015, the crime of assault by a public officer, in violation of Penal Code Section 149, a felony, was committed by (the deputy), who assaulted and beat Francis Jared Pusok under color of authority
Source: San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office
TIMELINE: FRANCIS PUSOK
• Francis Jared Pusok flees from a residence in Apple Valley where San Bernardino County Sheriff’s deputies were serving a warrant.
• KNBC helicopter news crew captures Pusok on video as he appears to be beaten by sheriff’s deputies following a three-hour pursuit.
•Sheriff places 10 deputies on paid administrative leave.
• Pusok posts bail and is released from jail.
• San Bernardino County negotiates $650,000 offer with Pusok to settle the matter out of civil court. Pusok accepts the offer.
• The Board of Supervisors approves the settlement offer.
• The names of the 10 deputies involved in the beating are released publicly.
• County prosecutors charge Pusok with 11 felonies and three misdemeanors in connection with the pursuit. Bindner is charged with three counts of possession of stolen property.
• Pusok’s bail is increased to $450,000 and he is taken into custody, after showing up more than two hours late for an arraignment in Victorville Superior Court. He pleads not guilty to all counts.
•Pusok is later released from jail.
• The Sheriff’s Department concludes its criminal investigation into the actions of 10 deputies involved in the Pusok beating and submits a report to the District Attorney.
• District Attorney Mike Ramos announces felony charges were filed against three deputies involved in the Pusok beating: Nick Downey, Michael Phelps and Charles Foster.
•Pusok responds that he’s “lucky to be alive,” during a press conference in Victorville with his girlfriend Jolene Bindner and attorney Jim Terrell.