CA Excessive-Force Claim Faces Investigation

     SALINAS, Calif. (CN) – The Monterey County District Attorney’s Office will investigate whether Salinas Police Department officers used excessive force arresting a gang member who was beating his mother and dragging her into a busy street.
     Videos of the June 5 arrest taken by bystanders and posted on YouTube show four police officers trying to detain the man, Jose Velasco, using a Taser that doesn’t stop him. They then begin hitting him with batons both above and below the waist, knocking him to the ground, and continue to hit him. A fifth officer then arrives, runs up to Velasco, and hits him about six more times while he is down.
     Velasco, 28, is a known member of the Norteño street gang, said Spencer Critchley, acting public information officer for the city of Salinas. He has death threats to police posted on his Facebook page and has a long arrest record that includes violent felonies and drugs.
     “I am confident in the integrity of our internal reviews of police use of force, but at the same time I understand that some people are not, especially in the current national context,” said Salinas Police Chief McMillin in a press conference on Thursday. “So I have asked the District Attorney’s office to conduct an independent investigation of the officers’ actions to determine if there is any reason to pursue a prosecution.”
     The police department also released all of the 911 calls connected to the event on Thursday and they would appear to support the department’s version of events – that Velasco, who was in a drug-induced psychotic episode caused by methamphetamine, was running into cars and jumping on them while his mother, Rita Acosta, yelled for him to stop. He then began attacking her, beating her and dragging her into traffic.
     Police arrived and he attacked them. He was able to grab one officer’s Taser and tear it free from its holster. Police used their Taser twice on him with no affect before resorting to batons as he continued to resist.
     The first call to 911 is from a woman, who said, “There’s a guy running through traffic and jumping on cars. He’s running in front of cars and trying to jump on top of them and get in.”
     The second caller on the tape, also a woman, sees the interaction between mother and son.
     “There’s a woman who just approached him,” the second caller said. “They’re hugging – oh my gosh! He threw her down. He’s throwing her into traffic!”
     Acosta is the third caller on the tape and sounds frantic.
     “My son is, something is wrong with him. He’s running through the middle of the street,” she tells the operator.
     “What are you doing?” she asks her son while on the phone with police.
     “Mom, mom, mom,” Velasco groans in reply.
     Suddenly Acosta begins shouting, “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!” and it sounds as if Velasco is attacking her. She continues to scream. Officers can be heard arriving and ordering Velasco to get on his stomach. The mother can be heard pleading with officers to be careful with her son. As more police arrive, sirens drown out the remaining minutes of the call.
     Fifteen people called to report the incident.
     Another call late in the tape described the scene. “This guy is dragging this girl, beating the shit out of her,” says a male caller just as police arrived. “Never mind – they got his ass.”
     Velasco told police he’d used meth that day and had been using since he was 12. Critchley said the meth use causes him to have hallucinations and apparently he was trying to save his mom from something he imagined.
     Velasco is being charged with assault with a deadly weapon, resisting arrest with injury to an officer, battery on a peace officer, resisting a police officer and taking his weapon, being under the influence and violating his parole. He even tried to bite two emergency workers while being taken to the hospital.
     “He has a very violent past, but when we’re talking about whether force was justified, it’s based on whether there was an immediate threat,” Critchley said.
     The Salinas Police Department has not released the names of any officers involved. Critchley said two of the men were injured and one has still not been able to return to work. Another officer, the fifth one to arrive on the scene, has been taken off patrol duty and assigned to a desk.

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