Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said a January incident in which a gang-enforcement officer appeared to strike a 17-year old male repeatedly in the head “raises concerns.”
“It raises questions for me as a police chief,” Dyer said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. “What was seen in this video by me was very concerning.”
The incident became public Tuesday after ABC 30 reported on a lawsuit filed on behalf of the juvenile.
Body-worn camera footage shows an officer striking the youth multiple times and wrestling him to the ground during a gang enforcement arrest at an apartment complex.
The case is under investigation by internal affairs.
Dyer Recaps Situation
Dyer said the MAGEC unit was performing a probation search for known gang members Jan. 23 at 250 N. Calaveras, apartment 204. Police thought there may be guns at the location.
While there, they found 15-20 men at the apartment, many on probation or parole, Dyer said. The 17-year old “delayed” in exiting the residence, as requested by officers. He eventually left and was patted down by an officer on the outside landing. The minor was then directed to sit alongside a wall.
The video shows Martinez striking the minor in the head numerous times. Officers then placed the minor in handcuffs.
“One of the nearby MAGEC officers felt the individual had not followed the immediate directions of that officer, and also felt for whatever reason, that this individual was going to walk down that stairwell,” Dyer recapped. “The officer reached out and grabbed the individual’s arm and attempted to guide him to a different location. It is not known at this time what occurred next. However, we do know that a struggle ensued which is clearly depicted in the video.”
Four men, including the juvenile, were arrested. The juvenile was taken to the hospital, treated and released.
Dyer said charges were not pursued against the juvenile. No firearms were found.
Paboojian Represents the Juvenile
The civil rights lawsuit, which was filed by Warren Paboojian and Nolan Kane in Fresno Superior Court, alleges nine causes of action. They include two excessive force counts, two counts of infliction of emotional distress, and false imprisonment.
The suit, at this point, does not seek a specific dollar amount. The court docket lists the next event as a Nov. 27 case management conference.
The lawsuit says the juvenile suffered a broken nose and emotional distress.
Arias, Janz Outraged by Video’s Revelations
Fresno Councilman Miguel Arias released a scathing statement on the incident.
“As a father, I am beyond ‘disturbed’ by the images depicted in this video footage. As a councilmember, I am disgusted and disappointed at how this situation has been handled.” — city councilman Miguel Arias
“As a father, I am beyond ‘disturbed’ by the images depicted in this video footage. As a councilmember, I am disgusted and disappointed at how this situation has been handled. I have already spoken with Chief Dyer and strongly expressed the need for a prompt and thorough investigation into this incident,” Arias said.
Arias noted the city doubled its budget this year to $4 million to handle police settlements.
Andrew Janz, a Fresno County prosecutor and mayoral candidate, texted this message to GV Wire:
“Fresnans should be outraged by what was captured on police body cameras. Upon viewing the video myself on ABC30, I too was deeply troubled by what was depicted. There must be a full and thorough investigation. Given my role as a prosecutor, I cannot comment further at this time as an investigation is underway and any use-of-force investigation may result in criminal charges.”
Video Not Part of Initial Review
Dyer said a sergeant took photos of the juvenile as part of the use of force review. The information was forwarded to a MAGEC lieutenant for review, but no video was examined. On March 25, the department received an email from a relative of the 17-year old about the incident. It was not until May 7 that officers took a formal statement from the minor.
The case was then forwarded to internal affairs, where the case is still under investigation.
Dyer asked internal affairs to expedite the review and expects the investigation to be completed within 30 days.
Dyer Learned of Incident Tuesday
Dyer said he didn’t learn of the incident until Tuesday, when it was brought to his attention by ABC 30. He then spoke with an internal affairs lieutenant for an update.
Regarding when he learns of such investigations, Dyer said complaints will be brought to his attention immediately, dependent on their severity. In this case, a deputy chief overseeing internal affairs was aware of the investigation.
“Based on the information at that time, it did not rise to the level where it was felt to … this seriousness. Again, that was without the video being reviewed,” Dyer said. He didn’t reveal the name of the deputy chief.
According to an organizational chart in the department’s annual report, Deputy Chief Lydia Carrasco is in charge of the administrative division, which oversees the internal affairs bureau. A department official says that information is still accurate.
40 Body Camera Videos Will Be Reviewed
Dyer said internal affairs will review at least 40 body-worn cameras from the approximately 20 officers on scene.
“This investigation is exactly why I implemented a body-worn camera in the Fresno police department,” Dyer said. “That body-worn camera is vital to ensuring that we have the trust of the community, being able to conduct our investigations in a manner that allows us to know what transpired in that time.”
Dyer said that one camera does not tell the whole story. He asked the public to reserve final judgment until the investigation is over.
Officer Is on Modified Duty
Dyer said after viewing the video Tuesday, he placed the officer — identified in the lawsuit as Christopher Martinez — on modified duty, in part to protect him because his identity became public with the ABC 30 story.
Modified duty, as Dyer explained, means the officer would not go out into the field, restricted to desk duty.
“It’s not to cast guilt on the part of the officer. But to take him out of an environment where he may have to use force again,” Dyer said. The chief said he would administer “appropriate action” upon conclusion of the internal probe.
Dyer’s Mayoral Candidacy
Dyer would not address how such an incident may affect his run for Fresno’s mayor. He is scheduled to retire in mid-October.
“Whether it’s the first day on the job, or nearing your end of the job as police chief, these are always difficult. Because I want to be fair and impartial as a reviewer of facts. But I also want to be sensitive to this community. When a community has concerns about an officer’s use of force, they want to know the police chief is going to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation.
“And then at the end of that investigation make a judgment. If people need to be held accountable, hold them accountable,” Dyer said.