Cellphone video catches a San Diego Police officer slamming a teenager to the ground in what his mother and attorney call a blatant example of police brutality.
In the grainy video, Cruz Munster, 18, is seen walking with his skateboard away from a group of officers, who are not pursuing him. Suddenly, as walked between two cruisers, another officer grabs him by the shoulders and hauls him down in City Heights.
Several other officers quickly jump in to help handcuff the teen.
“It’s heartbreaking and very scary” said Carina Munster, the teenager’s mother. “They could’ve killed him — you never know, one blow to the head” said Munster.
She told NBC 7 her son’s head was slammed against the pavement.
The video was taken last October by a local business owner filming a police response at a local liquor store along the 4000 block of Van Dyke Avenue. It was just posted to YouTube on Tuesday.
Munster’s attorney Karolyn Kovtun, who is representing him in a separate legal matter, says she found it as part of her discovery and felt compelled to share with NBC 7.
“The reason I’m bringing it up is because it’s conduct we don’t expect from law enforcement,” said Kovtun.
Carina Munster said her son was questioned by police near the City Heights liquor store and released. But as Cruz started to walk away, officers started making fun of him and called him a “loser,” according to Carina.
She says he talked back, which is what she believes prompted the officer to take physical action.
According to the SDPD field interview report provided to NBC 7 by Kovtun, Munster was observed running from officers and discarding marijuana and a scale.
He was arrested and spent a night in jail, but police released him the following day without any charges.
Kovtun said there was no marijuana impounded and the video clearly shows the teenager walking, not running.
“They didn’t know they were being filmed, so they can say anything, and that’s what is disturbing,” said Kovtun.
An arrest report has a different account. In it, the officer involved in the altercation says as Munster approached him, he asked, "What's up, how are you doing?"
Munster responded with an expletive, the officer says, and stared at him with an angry scowl.
"Believing he was challenging me to a fight while carrying a skateboard that could be used as a weapon and ultimately cause great bodily injury if he hit me with it I immediately grabbed Cruz by his left shoulder and pulled him down to the ground by his shirt," the arrest report says.
The officer noted that Munster was wearing a shirt that had "ESD" across the front, which he says stands for the Eastside San Diego gang.
The District Attorney's Office told NBC 7 that Munster has three cases pending against him. In one, he is charged with murder.
SDPD Lt. Kevin Mayer released the following statement in response to NBC 7’s questions:
“We want the public to come forward and report concerns they may have regarding service or the actions of our personnel. Based on the information you have provided, an investigation has been opened to determine the factual circumstance of this case.”
The Munsters say they have filed a complaint with the department but never followed up on it, claiming they were scared about retaliation.