Video of a police officer arresting a woman who was selling flowers without a permit near a high school graduation in Southern California last month has sparked controversy on social media.
Perris police released a statement Monday noting they were in the area of Perris Boulevard and Nuevo Road for the Perris High School graduation ceremony on June 7, where street vendors were selling products to people stuck in traffic.
Officers "contacted, warned and cited" about 15 people for selling without proper city permits before they approached a vendor later identified as 52-year-old Juanita Mendez-Medrano of Fontana, who was selling flower bouquets and Hawaiian leis, also without a permit, according to police.
"Unlike the other vendors, Ms. Mendez-Medrano refused to cooperate as necessary to allow our officer to issue her a citation," a statement from Perris police said.
Police added she refused to tell officers her real name, gave them several fake names, tried to walk away and pushed the officer. The cop then tried to arrest her for "violating the city ordinance and obstructing justice."
Christian Lem, 23, walked by the incident. He told NBC4 he started taking pictures when the officer knocked flowers out of the woman's arms, and he started recording video on his tablet when the officer grabbed her arm.
Perris police said the officer was holding her arm to "prevent her from fleeing."
In the video Lem recorded and posted to Twitter, the officer and the woman appear to struggle briefly before what police described as a "physical struggle" as the officer tries to arrest her.
The video shows the officer grab the woman's ponytail, spin the woman around and onto the ground with her leis and bouquets before the officer briefly covers her mouth and kneels on her leg while trying to arrest her.
In the recording, Mendez-Medrano can be heard using an expletive in Spanish, saying that she is in pain and that the officer is arresting someone who is trying to make an honest living.
Lem said "it hurt" seeing the arrest unfold.
"I put myself in the shoes of her son or nephew as if it was my mom or aunt getting mistreated, and it hurt me inside," he said.
Before the struggle, Lem — who speaks Spanish — said the woman told the officer in Spanish she could not understand what he was saying and that the officer told her to "speak English" because she is in America.
Lem noted he also exchanged words with the "flustered" officer.
As of Tuesday evening, his video had over 13,000 retweets, 16,000 likes and hundreds of comments.
The statement from Perris police says the struggle occurred after Mendez-Medrano resisted "efforts to gain her cooperation."
"Unfortunately, the video did not capture the other vendors cooperating with the citation process, nor did it capture our officer's repeated efforts to convince Ms. Mendez-Medrano to do the same," the statement read. "As with most police events, the short, publicly produced video does not have the full context or content of the incident seen on the video."
Mendez-Medrano was booked into Southwest Detention Center and her fingerprints confirmed her "true identity," according to Perris police. Riverside County Sheriff's inmate records show she is due in court on Aug. 25.
Telemundo reached out to Mendez-Medrano, but she declined to comment on the incident. Telemundo is owned by Comcast through NBCUniversal.