Activist calls on police to release body-worn footage of rough La Jolla arrest

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) – A local civil rights activist called on the San Diego Police Department Friday to immediately release video footage from the body-worn cameras of a pair of patrolmen who tackled and repeatedly punched a homeless man on a La Jolla thoroughfare.

Shane Harris, president of the People’s Association of Justice Advocates, also demanded that dispatch and police-radio records related to the arrest of 34-year-old Jesse Evans — images of which were videotaped by a bystander and posted on social media — be made public.

“I saw on video what everybody saw: a Black man being brutalized, being treated like he wasn’t a human, being treated unjustly just two days ago,” Harris said during a news conference near the site of the scuffle, which resulted in no serious injuries.

The Police Department has announced an internal investigation into the arrest.

According to SDPD officials, the two officers, whose names have not been released, contacted Evans in the 4100 block of Torrey Pines Road about 9 a.m. Wednesday after seeing him relieving himself outdoors.

Friday morning, Evans denied publicly urinating in the coastal neighborhood near Scripps Institution of Oceanography, though he admitted that he was preparing to when the lawmen approached.

While saying he forgave the officers for what happened, Evans, who had a bandage over his left eye, spoke of a need for better relations between police and the homeless population.

“I hope I’m the last victim of such nonsense,” he said. “I hope that we can hire reasonable individuals to look out for us and protect and serve our greater good in a better way, represent us in a better way as a community, as a nation.”

For their part, SDPD officials contend that Evans’ alleged refusal to cooperate with the patrolmen led to the scuffle.

“(Evans) would not stop to speak with officers; therefore an officer held the man to detain him,” the department asserted in a prepared statement released Thursday. “Despite the officers’ repeatedly telling the man to stop resisting, (he) would not comply.”

The witness cellphone video shows the officers grabbing Evans and wrestling him to the ground. During the ensuing struggle, one of patrolmen can be seen hitting in the face twice with his fist, and the other punches his leg several times.

After being struck, Evans appears to pull a portable radio off one of the officers’ belts and hurl it onto the roadway, then appears to hit one of them back, landing a blow to his face. More officers pull up in cruisers and join in the struggle before the video ends.

After the personnel finally got Evans into custody, he was taken to a hospital for an evaluation, then booked into county jail on suspicion of resisting arrest and battery on a police officer.

The in-house departmental investigation began later in the day, police said.

“The (SDPD) Internal Affairs Unit is currently investigating the incident and reviewing (the involved officers’) body-worn-camera … video,” according to the agency’s statement.

Cameron Gary, a retired law enforcement officer who has worked in the San Diego County District Attorney’s office, said he doesn’t understand “what was the urgency that caused police to put hands on him.”

Gary agrees with Harris that understanding the context, the dispatch call leading up to when officers arrived on scene may help paint a more complete picture. He says when someone is resisting arrest, it’s common police practice to hit one of about 14 or 15 pressure points on their body.

“It’s a distractionary blow,” he said. “Now, we’re not trying to throw knockout blows, not trying to punish the person. We’re trying to do a diversionary strike to get their attention elsewhere to get their hands behind their back. It’s a common tactic around the world.

“It appeared he was striking up around the head area. Was that necessary? In my experience, I haven’t had to do that but maybe this officer has a good explanation to justify that, but it’s not common practice.”

The cellphone images of the fracas prompted a sharp rebuke and call for accountability from the local branch of the NAACP.

“We have been made aware of a disturbing incident … involving the brutal handling of a member of our community,” Francine Maxwell, president of the San Diego branch of the civil rights organization, wrote in a letter to SDPD Chief David Nisleit. “We are deeply saddened and angered to see the San Diego Police Department act with such violence against someone who presented no apparent risk to anyone.”

During the news conference he held with Evans, Harris referred repeatedly to the George Floyd case, saying that if the SDPD does not root out the “next Derek Chauvin now, we will be the next Minneapolis, Minnesota, on national TV and international cameras in our city because the mayor, the police chief and this city’s regional leaders failed to take action.”

Harris vowed to “fight to pluck out the next Derek Chauvin in our region.”

“They keep talking about this ideological (issue) of police reform,” he said. “But I want to tell them today that if you don’t get rid of the next Derek Chauvin, you are not doing any police reform. You are doing the opposite of police reform.”

Standing at a podium set up at the corner of La Jolla Scenic and La Jolla Village drives, the local civil rights leader said he was not “here to make assumptions about what happened.”

“I’m here to say what I saw was concerning, and I want the whole background story,” he said.

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