Police Beatings in Riverside, Ca.

Contents

Beatings
Possible Policy Violations
High Speed Chase
Background of Deputy Watson
Background of Deputy Franklin
Background of Alicia Vazquez
Background of Enrique Flores
Investigations
Reactions to the beatings
Sources

The Beatings:

April 1, 1996 a TV news helicopter videotaped the end of a high-speed chase in Southern California. Riverside County deputies Kurtis Franklin, 41. and Tracy Watson, 29, were taped "whipping their batons across the backs of two unresisting Mexican citizens" for about 15 seconds. (1). Watson has been identified as striking the most often (3)

In that 15 seconds they were able to inflict enough injury to send Vasquez and Flores to the hospital. Vasquez suffered a fractured arm. Both have attorneys and are filing suits.

The beating was nationally broadcast, and was described in the press as "brutal", "savage" and "inappropriate" according the Deputy Franklin's attorney. Riverside County Sheriff said the beatings were "clearly an excessive use of force."

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Possible Policy Violations & Their Implications
Two possible policy violations are being investigated in relation to the chase and beatings.

1. DId the deputies ignore orders to turn over the pursuit to the CHP?

A Riverside County official is quoted as saying that verbal reports exist indicating that the sergeant called the deputies off the chase when the CHP took over, but they continued it anyway.(3)

Generally speaking the CHP takes control of chases when it joins in them (3). In this instance it is not yet known if the CHP did join in. RC Sheriff's Sgt Mark Lohman is reported to have told the LA Times that so far as he knew it was a RCSD chase and the CHP were not involved.(3) The CHP however has a dispatcher transmission made when the chase crossed into LA County, saying that the CHP was giving assistance. (3). It is possible that the CHP did take over but the deputies were out of radio range and did not hear about it.(3). It is also possible that they heard, and continued the chase anyway. The implication of this is that they wanted to catch and beat the victims and so refused an order to stop the chase. (3). This is being investigated. (3)

2. Did the deputies escalate the use of force too quickly? Or, to put it another way, did they use excess force?

Riverside County's use of force policy is quoted as saying "[m]embers shall not use more force than is reasonably necessary in overcoming any resistance or force".(3) The escalation they are taught starts with talk,then pepper spray (implicated in a number of deaths, see News) then displaying the billy club ("baton"), and then finally striking with the billy club. (3) The tape seems to show the deputies yanking the suspects out and immediately beating them without bothering with the intermediate steps. Watson's attorney, Michael Stone (3), says the deputies told the victims in English and Spanish to get on the ground with their hands behind their backs. (3)

So there are two questions: 1- Did the deputies escalate the use of force too quickly? and 2-Did the deputies go beyond the degree of force required by the situation?

If they did, among other things they may be suspended without pay (presently they are suspended with pay); and may face criminal charges as well as civil charges. They may also have to foot their own legal bills.


High Speed Chase

The beatings ended a high-speed chase of a pickup truck, being driven by a third person who has not been apprehended as of April 10. The chase had lasted over an hour and on the freeway had reached speeds of 80 miles per hour. The pickup sideswiped another car (2) during the chase.

It has been alleged that some of the 17 people in the back of the pick-up "threw beer cans and pieces of the truck's metal camper shell" at the deputies car. (2) Ron Henley, who seems to have no first-hand information about the events, is a Border Patrol Agent Supervisor. He says it is not unusual for the smugglers (presumably those in the cab of the truck) to instruct the passengers to throw things at pursuing vehicles. (2).

The passengers say they threw nothing. The camper shell broke up under wind pressure at the high speeds they were traveling and blew off. (2)

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Background of Deputy Watson

Deputy Tracy L. Watson is 29. He has been with the Riverside County Sheriff's Department for five years. He has a two year old daughter and a 4 year old son both living with his estranged wife, who filed for divorce in 1994. A former neighbor, Cherie Rojas, described Watson as "very cold."

Riverside Sheriff's officials told the LA Times that Watson was a member of the "Lake Town Bad Boys", a deputies group at the Lake Elsinor Station, who were known as "tough" deputies and "adopted a swaggering attitude in order to make it clear that they would not tolerate law breakers." (3) It is not know if such law enforcement gangs are legal, or encouraged by the Riverside Sheriff's Department.

In 1994 a teenager, Salvador Garcia, 15, filed suit against Watson alleging battery, false arrest, and civil rights violations for an incident in which Garcia says Watson taunted him, kicked him, and grabbed his testicles.

Garcia's attorney, Francisco Suarez withdrew the suit then. He says he didn't think there were enough injuries to get a money settlement. Now he may refile.

In 1995 Watson fired on a transient trying to steal a Cadillac. Internal affairs decided he was justified.

He is presently (April 10) on suspension with pay, and living away from home on some money provided the Riverside Sheriff's Association (President Dan Swift).

His attorney represented officers who beat Rodney King.

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Background of Deputy Franklin

Deputy Kurtis Michael Franklin, 41, has few public facts in his life. He has been a member of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department for 20 years.

In 1987 a civil claim was filed against him by Sandra Schauer. She claimed that Franklin crashed into her car at 85 miles an hour at an intersection. She suffered bruses and contusions, and a dislocated thumb. She got a little over $10,000 from an arbitrator.

Once he stopped a robbery at school district headquarters and was written about in the local papers.

His attorney is John Barnett. He represented police officers who beat Rodney King. A hint of how he will handle this beating was given by the Associate Press to whom he said the media have been unfair by showing a small segment of the entire incident - this arguement won in the King case.

He is presently (April 10) on suspension with pay, and living away from home on some money provided the Riverside Sheriff's Association (President Dan Swift).

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Background of Alicia Vazquez

Alicia Sotero Vazquez (2) was one of the second of two people whose beating was video taped. She is the girlfriend of Flores, the other victim, and like him was released from the hospital Friday Apr 5. (3)

Her attorney is David Lynn Ross, who is not a member of the California Bar. (3)He will continue to represent her for immigration proceedings, which do not require California Bar membership.(3) The ACLU has formed a team of lawyers to help.

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Background of Enrique Flores


Enrique Funes Flores was the first person whose beating was video taped. Friday April 5 he was released from the hospital. His right arm was fractured, and his attorney said he was still in pain and shock.(3).

Flores' attorney is civil rights lawyer Peter A. Schey.

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Investigations

Riverside County Sheriff's Department internal affairs is investigating possible violations of departmental policies.

FBI & LA County Sheriff's Department are investigating possible assault, excessive force, and civil rights violations.(3)

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Reactions to the Beatings

Marlon Bardo invited Vazquez and Flores to live with him. He offered to donate $25,000 to educate their children. (2)

AFL-CIO regional executive secretary Bill Robertson said "these cops are bullies"(3) invoking the bad apples theory.


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Sources


Facts are from (1) unless noted.

(1) SF Chronicle article from the Associated Press Tuesday April 9, 1996 "2 Riverside Deputies in Spotlight: They led ordinary lives before taped beatings of immigrants"

(2) SF Chronicle column by Debra J. Saunders, April 9, 1996 "The Law That Dare Not Be Enforced"

(3) LA Times article by Jim Newton and Eric Slater, Saturday April 6, 1996 "Deputies in Beating May Have Violated Policies". Contents


This page created by ED Denson and last updated April 10, 1996