Mayor and Police Chief Respond to Use of Force

February 12, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Fresno's mayor and police chief answered questions Thursday about the investigation into two officers accused of using excessive force in the arrest of a homeless man.Mayor Ashley Swearengin and Chief Jerry Dyer are promising to get to the bottom of what happened on Monday.

And the chief is saying the video itself may hold some clues people aren't seeing.

The video of Officers Scott Payn and Jeffrey Gross detaining a homeless man shows Payn throwing several punches to Glen Beaty's face. But police say it also shows a possible explanation for the use of force.

"You can clearly see in the video that the officer is detaining him and taking a badge out of the suspect's hands," said Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer. "Then, you can see a pen fall out of his other hand."

Here's what Chief Dyer is talking about:

We've put a box on the video to show officer Gross taking a pen away from Beaty's right hand. A short time later, Beaty also drops something from his left hand, which police said was a badge he ripped off of them. But about 30 seconds later, after the officers have Beaty's arms behind his back and his face to the ground, Payn throws one more punch.

"When you first look at the video, it is definitely concerning," said Fresno mayor Ashley Swearengin.

Mayor Swearengin said police have the toughest job, and sometimes they have to use force. But she says this incident and the investigation into auto theft charges against members of the narcotics unit have highlighted the need for an independent police auditor.

"What we've learned over the last two weeks has definitely escalated the conversation," she said. "But it's something we've been planning all along. This isn't a kneejerk reaction to what has happened in the last two weeks."

Chief Dyer said internal affairs investigators have identified 11 witnesses and interviewed seven of them. He said he's not defending the officers, but he wants the public to let the process work and let all the information come out.

But attorney Rick Berman, who's been asked to represent Glen Beaty, said the video is all the information anyone needs.

"The days of police beating suspects about the face are long gone," he said.

Glen Beaty is in custody at a mental health facility right now.

District Attorney Elizabeth Egan told police there's not enough evidence to charge him with a crime. But she said she'll let police finish their investigation before closing the case completely. She'll also consider charges against the officers.

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Many specialists trained in police tactics and force issues here in the Valley didn't want to be interviewed, because of the scrutiny they may come under for their comments, but a man who is one of the most qualified in the nation weighed in on what he saw watching the video. An expert who has studied force used by officers for decades watched the video of Fresno Police striking a homeless man. He said even though the tape did not capture the entire incident, one thing was unusual about the officer's choice of techniques.

"By law and by training officers can use force including pain and pressure to gain compliance. It was most unusual to me is that they would strike the subject in the face. That is not a traditionally technique unless the officer's are in a dyer circumstance," said Dr. Bill Lewinski.

Dr. Bill Lewinski is a behavioral scientist, police psychologist, and founder of the Force Science Institute in Minnesota. He describes the confrontation as a fairly low stress encounter. "I understand it's a struggle but it's not a type of struggle that would create a high stress response unless these or new or not very well trained officers."

Based on the video Lewinski watched, he said adrenaline many officers feel during situations like this one may intensify their movements, cause them to revert to their training and even forget many details about what happened.

Dr. Lewinski said if he was able to watch the incident from the time the officers arrived, he'd be able to give more context. He has interviewed 900 officers involved in deadly force incidents and said overall this confrontation was not that distressing.

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