Prosecutors in San Francisco have obtained a felony arrest warrant for two sheriff’s deputies captured on a surveillance video beating a suspect with dozens of baton blows following a high-speed pursuit and foot chase, according to law enforcement sources familiar with the matter.
The graphic images of the early-morning beating in a San Francisco alley last November went viral on the Internet and have drawn widespread media attention in the Bay Area.
Following a six-month investigation, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón filed felony assault charges against deputies Luis R. Santamaria and Paul D. Wieber from neighboring Alameda County, according to the sources.
The beating occurred after Santamaria and Wieber chased a car-theft suspect across the Bay Bridge and into San Francisco in a pursuit that reached speeds of over 100 mph, according to authorities and documents.
The driver of the car, Stanislav Petrov, fled on foot after crashing the Mercedes Benz he was driving into a parked car. Santamaria and Wieber followed him into an alley near the intersection of Stevenson Street and 14th Street in the city’s Mission District.
On the video, taken from a camera mounted by residents of the area, the deputies can be seen repeatedly striking Petrov as he is down on the ground.
The residents turned over the footage to San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who made the video public shortly after the Nov. 12 incident.
Adachi told the San Francisco Chronicle at the time that the beating was “reminiscent of Rodney King,” a reference to the man whose videotaped 1991 beating by police in Los Angeles sparked an outcry.
Santamaria and Wieber are charged with assault under color of authority, assault with a deadly weapon, and battery with serious bodily injury, according to the sources.
Michael Rains, an attorney for Santamaria, said he teaches classes regarding the police use of force and is “very much aware that any use of force captured visually and audibly is graphic and ugly, even though it may be lawful in every aspect.” Rains said he is confident that an objective analysis of the evidence will show Santamaria used reasonable force in arresting Petrov.
In their incident reports, both deputies wrote that they repeatedly struck Petrov because he was resisting arrest and trying get up from a prone position.
“I hit Petrov with as much force as I could to end the resistance and take him into custody,” Wieber wrote of the incident.
The deputy said he became physically exhausted from the encounter and felt dizzy from the exertion.
Santamaria, the more experienced of the deputies, said he was concerned about being ambushed as he chased Petrov into the dimly lit alley and that he feared he and his partner could be seriously injured or killed. At one point during the encounter, he said he saw Petrov’s hand move toward his waistband — a move that could be indicative of reaching for a weapon.
He said Petrov continued to resist as he delivered blows from his baton.
“My baton strikes were glancing off Petrov’s arms and hitting the right side of his head as he raised his arms to deflect my strikes,” he wrote. “The minimal effect that my baton strikes had on Petrov caused me to believe that he was possibly under the influence of a controlled substance.” Petrov was in possession of what appeared to be methamphetamine at the time of his arrest, according to Alameda County Sheriff’s Office reports.
Petrov has since filed a claim – a precursor to a lawsuit – against Alameda County, alleging he was the victim of excessive force.
Michael Haddad, one his attorneys, said Petrov suffered multiple lacerations to his head, a concussion and multiple broken bones in both hands. The lawyer said the injuries to the hands were defensive wounds sustained as Petrov attempted to shield himself from the baton strikes.
“He was trying to surrender, but they wouldn’t let him,” the lawyer said. “He thought they were going to kill him.”