LANCASTER – Calling video of the confrontation “disturbing,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna vowed that an “objective” and thorough investigation will be conducted into the actions of a deputy caught on camera slamming a woman to the ground and pepper-spraying her in the face outside a Lancaster grocery store.
“I want to make it clear to all of our community that this investigation is to objectively — and I do repeat objectively — determine if the force used was reasonable if it was necessary, if it was appropriate and proportionate to the level of actions that were described,” Luna said.
He repeatedly declined to offer an opinion on whether the deputy’s actions appeared to be appropriate or within department policy, insisting he did not “know the facts” and wanted to ensure the internal investigation is conducted fairly. But of the video, he said, “It’s disturbing. There’s no ifs and buts about it.”
Cell phone video of the June 24 altercation outside a WinCo store in the 700 block of West Avenue K-4 surfaced late Monday night, and the sheriff’s department responded by releasing deputy-worn body camera footage. Luna said deputies went to the store in response to a call from an employee who said two customers “were assaulting loss-prevention employees.” Video shows two deputies at the scene, one of them detaining a man who Luna said matched the description of one of the suspects given by store officials.
As that person is being detained, a second deputy approaches a woman standing nearby using her cell phone to record the deputies’ actions. The deputy grabs the woman and eventually forcibly throws her to the ground then struggles to handcuff her, ultimately using pepper spray in an effort to detain her.
The video has drawn the ire of community activists and residents who contend the confrontation is reflective of violent behavior by deputies in the Lancaster area — where the sheriff’s department is still operating under federal oversight due to a consent decree. Luna, who said he just learned of the violent confrontation on Friday, June 30, said he has already reached out to the area’s elected officials and community leaders.
“What we’ve directed our command staff to do is to organize a meeting with community stakeholders later on this week,” Luna said. “Those phone calls have already started. We’re still trying to identify a location and work with others to put this (together) but it will give the community an opportunity and our community leaders out there to bring forward their concerns regarding this incident. And our full intent is to work with the community and based on some of the community outcry that I’ve heard. There has been some challenges out in that area.”
“… I always think we can do better, but again, I don’t know all the facts and as we get them, we’ll be sharing them with our community,” Luna said.
The relationship between the man and woman involved in the confrontation was unknown, despite some reports suggesting they were a married couple. But Luna said the pair went into the WinCo store together and were both involved in an altercation with store security. On the various videos of the incident, there are suggestions the woman has cancer. Luna said the man and woman were ultimately arrested then cited and released on alleged violations including resisting an officer, attempted petty theft and interfering with a businesses. According to Luna, the woman seen being thrown to the ground was taken to a hospital and treated for pain to her eyes from the pepper spray and abrasions on her arms.
In addition to the sheriff’s internal affairs investigation, probes are also likely to be conducted by the county Inspector General’s office and the Department of Justice, which oversees sheriff’s operations in the area due to the federal consent decree. Luna asked anyone who witnessed the confrontation or who may have additional video to come forward.
“We do take the use of force — any use of force that occurs within our agency — very seriously,” Luna said. “But again, we need to determine the actual facts of what happens and … I’m going to make sure that it’s a very objective review.”
He asked for “the community’s patience to allow us to look at this objectively and (determine) exactly what happened.” He said he was unclear how long the department’s investigation might take, but he hoped it would be within 45 days. A group of protesters gathered outside the WinCo store Wednesday night, demanding the firing of the deputies involved. They also questioned why Luna did not learn about the confrontation until Friday.
After speaking out during a news conference, many members of the group made their way inside the store to continue the protest.
The body-worn camera video is available at www.lasdvideos.org/mediaportal/062423-lancaster-incident-dep-1/ and www.lasdvideos.org/mediaportal/062423-lancaster-incident-dep-2/.
Previous related story: Sheriff’s department to investigate use of force at Lancaster store