2011-07-21 "Protesters accuse W. Sac police of excessive force" by Matt Kawaharafrom "Sacramento Bee" newspaper
Members of the Latino community in West Sacramento gathered Wednesday outside the city hall to protest what they called a pattern of discrimination and violence against their constituents by law enforcement officers.
The protest, which drew about 50 people, stemmed from an incident last Sunday in which West Sacramento Police Department officers used a baton during the arrest of a 30-year-old man on Simon Terrace.
Protesters and an attorney representing Aristeo Vasquez-Munoz alleged Wednesday that officers used unnecessary force in arresting Vasquez-Munoz, striking him while he was lying on his stomach and providing no resistance, and also arrested another man because he had filmed the incident on his cell phone.
Police issued an account of the incident saying that the use of force was necessary to gain compliance from Vasquez-Munoz, who resisted and struggled with officers.
Officers responded around 9 p.m. Sunday to a report of a fight between two large groups, West Sacramento Police Department Lt. Tod Sockman said. After they arrived and conducted a preliminary investigation, they arrested Vasquez-Munoz on suspicion of misdemeanor assault and battery and child endangerment, Sockman said.
During the arrest, police reported, Vasquez-Munoz resisted and was struck with a baton three times on the back of his left leg, police reported. The incident occurred outside the field of view of the patrol car's in-car camera, but audio was recorded, police reported.
"(The officer) said it multiple times – 'You're under arrest, put your hands in the air' – and the guy didn't comply," said Sockman, who said the officer also gave the commands in Spanish. "Then finally you can hear, 'OK, OK,' and according to the police report he was only saying that after the baton strikes."
Vasquez-Munoz, who was present at the protest Wednesday on crutches, gave a different account of the incident. He said through a translator that officers ordered him to lie down, which he did after twice asking, "Why?"
He said that after he lied down on his stomach with his hands behind his head, he was struck multiple times by an officer with a baton. He was then put into a patrol car and taken to jail, he said.
His attorney, Anthony Palik, disputed that Vasquez was involved in a fight and said the use of the baton against him was "obviously excessive force."
Palik said he is also representing Jesus Castro-Haro, 33, who police reported was one of three other people at the scene arrested on suspicion of public intoxication.
Protesters alleged Wednesday that Castro-Haro was arrested after officers saw him film Vasquez's arrest on his cell phone.
However, Sockman said that a patrol car camera captured Castro-Haro's arrest, and that Castro-Haro did not appear to be holding anything in his hands when contacted by officers.
Palik said he was in possession of Castro-Haro's phone Wednesday night and was attempting to unlock it and look for the video. Palik said no charges were filed against Castro-Haro when he appeared in court Wednesday, but that he faces deportation.
Protesters were planning to attend Wednesday's city council meeting and bring their concerns before elected officials. They said Sunday's incident continued a pattern of discrimination and violence against their community, pointing to the case of the Galvan brothers – who were beaten by West Sacramento police in June 2005 – and a gang injunction in the city that they said leads to "mistreatment."
"People from Sacramento are afraid to come to West Sacramento because they are afraid of the police department," said Frank Gonzalez of the West Sacramento chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens. "People don't want to come and visit us here because they are afraid of the police mistreating them."
Sockman said a formal administrative review into the use of force against Vasquez-Munoz is being conducted per department policy.
BRYAN PATRICK / email@example.com
Ramon Ledesma, and daughter Janice, 2, attend Wednesday's protest.