Oceanside's police chief has called for an internal investigation into an arrest in which one officer used a stun gun to subdue a carjacking suspect, causing him to fall backward onto his head, before two other officers forcefully twisted him to lie face down.
Video of the Tuesday incident was captured on a witness' cellphone and shared on social media, according to Oceanside Police Department Chief Frank McCoy.
Police officials Wednesday released an officer's body-worn camera footage of the arrest along with the cellphone video, plus an open letter by McCoy providing more details.
The letter and images were released to the public on social media by the police department.
Dispatchers received reports around 4 p.m. Tuesday that the man attempted to carjack several people at multiple locations in Oceanside's Mesa Margarita neighborhood while armed with a knife, McCoy wrote in the letter.
One victim told police the man had punched him several times and slashed his hand with the knife.
Another victim reported being chased by the suspect, then the victim abandoned his vehicle and fled into his home before he saw the suspect steal his car, McCoy said. That victim went back outside a short time later and saw the suspect fighting with another person down the street.
The man was still armed with the knife when officers approached him Tuesday afternoon at an undisclosed location in the Mesa Margarita neighborhood, McCoy said.
The officers on scene were armed with two types of less-lethal weapons
as they approached, according to McCoy.
In the videos released by OPD, the man appears to have dropped the knife to the ground and has both hands on his head as one officer approaches from the front and two approach from behind. The man appears to kick something on the ground -- possibly the knife he had dropped -- and then takes a few steps toward it while shouting at the officers.
Warning: The video contains graphic images and language and may be disturbing to some, but it was posted on the OPD's Twitter feed Wednesday night.
As this was happening, the officer in front of him can be seen taking several steps toward the man before using his stun gun. The man goes stiff and groans as he falls backward, hitting his head on the ground.
The two officers behind him then rush in and grab him before forcefully turning him over onto his stomach. In the videos, it appears the man's face hits the ground as officers turn him, and he groans again.
Paramedics treated the man at the scene before taking him to Tri-City Medical Center for treatment of undisclosed injuries, McCoy said.
The man, identified as David Hernandez Avila, 32, was booked into the Vista Detention Facility around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday on suspicion of felony carjacking, attempted carjacking and assault with a deadly weapon, among other charges, according to jail records. He was being held in lieu of $1 million bail pending his arraignment, scheduled for July 31.
“I have had the opportunity to view this video and it has raised concerns with me,” McCoy wrote in his letter. “I have asked our Professional Standards Unit to conduct a thorough investigation into this matter.”
In his letter to the residents of Oceanside, McCoy writes that his department has been meeting with members of the community on issues dealing with law enforcement since the in-custody killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May. Floyd’s killing – caused by a police officer kneeling on his neck for many minutes as he pleaded for air, repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe” – sparked protests against police brutality and racial injustice across the nation, including in San Diego County.
McCoy said the OPD has, as a result of those meetings with the community, “revised and created several policies” surrounding police practices. He said some of those policies require training, and the full training of his officers is currently underway.
In the letter, McCoy said he expects “full implementation” of the policies to be completed within the next 60 to 90 days.
Those policies, dated July 2020, can be read, in full, on the OPD’s website here.