A Fresno police officer used excessive force and improper discretion against a 17-year old during a January 2019 gang raid according to findings from the city’s Office of Independent Review.
Fresno officials released police auditor John Gliatta’s findings today, after an outcry over the intentional delay of the report.
Last month, during a meeting with members of the city’s Commission on Police Reform, Gliatta said his report was ready in May — in time for his July quarterly report — but he withheld it over concern about community reaction in wake of the George Floyd killing and subsequent protests.
London Wallace, who was detained by officers during the raid, filed a complaint against the city and later a lawsuit, alleging unreasonable force was used against him. Body camera video, later released by Wallace’s attorneys, appears to show an officer repeatedly punch Wallace in the face.
Police arrested Wallace for felony resisting arrest, but later dropped the charge.
Auditor Disagrees With One Aspect of IA Report
The police department’s internal affairs report examined nine allegations against three officers. That report found that one officer violated department procedure by not activating a body camera, a second officer did not violate policy and that a third officer did not use proper discretion when he shined a flashlight toward a resident attempting to video record the arrests.
Chief Andy Hall overruled the IA report one on charge, that Officer 1, identified in the lawsuit as Christopher Martinez, also violated the department’s discretion policy.
In his role as auditor, Gliatta reviewed Fresno PD’s internal affairs report. Gliatta said his policy is to not review IA findings that have already determined a violation of policy occurred. He reviewed all other remaining allegations.
Gliatta agreed with the IA findings in five of the six allegations he reviewed. His only disagreement was over department findings that Officer 1, Martinez, did not use unreasonable force in subduing Wallace.
Four of Seven Punches Unreasonable
The auditor’s report details the physical interaction between Martinez and Wallace. During the gang raid an apartment complex, police found 20 suspects, including Wallace.
Martinez and Wallace exchanged words, but Martinez did not activate his body camera at that point. Martinez then grabbed Wallace’s arms, with Wallace pulling his arms away.
After further resistance by Wallace, “O1 (Officer 1) then attempted to gain compliance by striking the CP in the head area with a closed fist,” Gliatta wrote.
Gliatta determined that Martinez’s first three punches were toward Wallace’s head. He then punched Wallace four more times in the head and neck area. After the seventh punch, other officers helped Martinez subdue Wallace.
The report determined the first three punches were within department policy.
“O1 addressed the resistance with whatever “tools” he had available at the time, which was his fist. As outlined in Penal Code §835a “it may be objectively reasonable for the member to apply that method of force most readily available that will affect the desired results,” Gliatta wrote.
However, the remaining four punches were in violation of policy, Gliatta said. By the fourth punch, Wallace was already covering his head with his arms.
“Punches four through seven could have been avoided since the CP (complaining party) was now bent over with his hand covering his head in an attempt to avoid the punches and was no longer being a threat. The punches were delivered over a two to three second period allowing enough time for O1 to cease the punching action,” Gliatta wrote.
Other physical actions by the officers, once they took Wallace to the ground were justified, according to the internal affairs and independent auditor investigations.
Gliatta exonerated the second officer, not named in the report, because he was justified in his physicality because he was helping a fellow officer.
Wallace’s lawsuit identifies three other officers, Michael Aguilar, Patrick Feller and Ricardo Loza. The suit, still being heard in federal court, did not specify the roles of the other three offices other than Martinez.
Officer Cleared of Falsifying Records
Gliatta also agreed with the IA investigation’s findings that Martinez did not purposely falsify records in his written report.
Martinez’s written accounts did not match up with his body camera.
Gliatta said such discrepancies could be explained because Martinez did not review his camera footage prior to writing his report.
Because Martinez failed to turn on his body camera when the incident with Wallace started, the IA report determined he violated department policy.
The auditor also said stress may have impacted Martinez’s memory when writing the report.
“It is not believed O1 intentionally falsified his written report but instead included the events how he perceived them during a stressful situation where there were many contributing factors, thus creating a “sensory overload,” Gliatta wrote.
Gliatta did recommend that officers review body camera footage before preparing their reports.
Wallace Satisfied with Findings
Nolan Kane, speaking on behalf of his client, London Wallace, supported Gliatta’s report.
“London Wallace is satisfied in regard to the finding of the Office of Independent Review (OIR), regarding excessive force. However, it took the OIR over a year to determine that there was excessive force regarding London Wallace, a minor, when a 30-second review of the body camera regarding the incident clearly shows excessive force,” Kane told GV Wire℠ via email.
“As a result of this incident, my client was charged with a felony, while Officer Martinez was allowed to keep his job. Unfortunately, the OIR is a review board without teeth. My client and I look forward to trying this matter before a jury,” Kane said.
In a news release, Chief Andrew Hall said he will use the report to improve officer training.
“While state law prohibits me from disclosing personnel decisions involving discipline or corrective action arising from use of force incidents, I can assure the community, appropriate action has been taken to address the level of force applied in the incident involving London Wallace,” Hall said.
Hall added that the FBI and Department of Justice also investigated, and “agreed with the investigation conducted by the Internal Affairs Bureau and the Department’s conclusions.”