LANCASTER – A woman who was seen being thrown to the ground and pepper-sprayed by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy during a June 24 confrontation outside a Lancaster grocery store said she feared the deputy was trying to kill her.
“The day of the incident, I thought that I was going to be killed,” Jacy Houseton said during a news conference on Monday, July 31, outside the WinCo grocery store in the 700 block of West Avenue K-4, where the confrontation occurred. “He tried to kill me. And for what? Because I was taking a picture? Or taking a video?”
Cell phone and body camera video of the confrontation has been widely circulated online, raising questions about the tactics employed by the deputy. During Monday’s news conference, Houseton and her attorney, Caree Harper, called for the deputy involved to be fired and charged with battery.
“Where on Earth is it acceptable to punch a woman in the face?” Harper asked, later adding, “It doesn’t happen to white folks like this, and we’re not going to have it happen to Black folks like this.”
County Sheriff Robert Luna has called the video “disturbing,” and insisted that a full and “objective” investigation was being conducted into the confrontation.
“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 after the video surfaced in early July. He 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.”
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 in the store parking lot, 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 — now identified as Houseton — 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 said he reached out to the area’s elected officials and community leaders in response to the video’s release.
“What we’ve directed our command staff to do is to organize a meeting with community stakeholders,” 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.
Luna said Houseton and her companion — Damon Barnes — went into the WinCo store together and were both involved in an altercation with store security. Video has since surfaced from inside the WinCo, showing the pair interacting with security officers, with some observers saying it shows Houseton shoving and even spitting at the security team. But Harper dismissed such assertions as an attempt to distract from what occurred in the store parking lot.
“The video I looked at, unless you were presently there and you could see projectiles coming from her mouth, you can’t say what she’s doing,” Harper said. “But that is to distract from the felony battery that occurred in the parking lot. That is a distraction. And let me tell you this, the sheriffs deputy who beat up my client cannot be saved by subsequently learned things that occurred in the store.”
Luna said earlier that Houseton and Barnes were arrested, then cited and released, on alleged violations including resisting an officer, attempted petty theft and interfering with a businesses. According to Luna, Houseton was taken to a hospital and treated for pain to her eyes from the pepper spray and abrasions on her arms. Harper said Houseton suffered a fracture to one of her arms during the altercation. In addition to the sheriff’s internal affairs investigation, probes of the confrontation 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.
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/.
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