San Diego police released video footage Friday from the body-worn cameras of a pair of officers who tackled and repeatedly punched a homeless man last week in La Jolla.
The release came a week after a local civil rights activist called on the SDPD to release the video. Shane Harris, president of the People's Association of Justice Advocates, also demanded that dispatch and police-radio records related to the arrest of 34-year-old Jesse Evans be made public.
According to SDPD officials, the two officers, whose names have not been released, contacted Evans in the 4100 block of Torrey Pines Road after they said they saw him urinating outdoors.
Evans' arrest was videotaped about 9 a.m. on May 12 by a bystander and posted on social media, prompting outrage after the video went viral.
Friday's video release by the police of a professionally produced edit of the footage yielded very little new information of the actual arrest. For most of that section of the video, the lens is blocked by a body cam being pressed against Evans. Police said that the second officer's camera was knocked off during the scuffle and shot no useful footage until after the encounter.
However, a section of the video does show the interactions between Evans and the officers prior to what was seen on the bystander's clip.
At the start of the recorded interaction as released by the police, Evans, who is facing a treeline with his legs spread, turns his head toward police and can be heard telling police, "I'm gonna p--- my pa nts," and one of the officers replying as he approaches, "You can't urinate in public, my man, you can't urinate in public…. People have to pass by here and watch you urinate? That's not cool, man."
"Do you want me to p--- my pants?" Evans responds, turning to face the officers. "What in the f--- is wrong with you?"
The officer replies, "Relax, boss," and Evens turn and walks away, shouting some more, A discussion between the officers follows, with Evans shouting from a fair distance down the sidewalk, "Stay the f--- out of my life," then the officers return to their patrol vehicle to follow Evans.
Last Friday, Evans denied publicly urinating in the coastal neighborhood near the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, though he admitted that he was preparing to when the lawmen approached.
While saying he forgave the officers for what happened, Evans, who had a bandage over his left eye, spoke of a need for better relations between police and the homeless population.
"I hope I'm the last victim of such nonsense," he said. "I hope that we can hire reasonable individuals to look out for us and protect and serve our greater good in a better way, represent us in a better way as a community, as a nation."
For their part, SDPD officials contend that Evans' alleged refusal to cooperate with the patrolmen led to the altercation.
"[Evans] would not stop to speak with officers; therefore an officer held the man to detain him," the department asserted in a prepared statement released Thursday. "Despite the officers' repeatedly telling the man to stop resisting, [he] would not comply."
The witness cellphone video shows the officers grabbing Evans and wrestling him to the ground. During the ensuing struggle, one of officers can be seen hitting in the face twice with his fist, and the other punches his leg several times.
After being struck, Evans appears to pull a portable radio off one of the officers' belts and hurl it onto the roadway, then appears to hit one of them back in the face. More officers pull up in cruisers and join in the struggle before the video ends.
After the personnel finally got Evans into custody, he was taken to a hospital for an evaluation then booked into county jail on suspicion of resisting arrest and battery on a police officer.
Police said at the end of Friday's video release that the internal-affairs unit was conducting an investigation of the arrest.
Local Civil-Rights Activist Responds to Release of Body-Cam Footage
Shortly after the release, Harris called a news conference for Friday afternoon to discuss the video and "the concerns that we have in regard to this video and what we're doing about things as we stand today."
"I want you to know that what we saw was egregious," Harris said shortly after 5 p.m., adding later, "It is very clear that what we are watching is a failure of police work."
Harris said the video shows police operating outside of the scope of their assigned tasks.
"Instead of protecting and serving, they are being horrific and disturbing," Harris said. "Instead of understanding that this is an unsheltered human being who deserves dignity and respect, they treat him with disrespect and disgust."
It is Harris's contention that the officers made assumptions about Evans when they arrived and based their subsequent behavior on those decisions.
"The police officers' mistake -- both of them -- is that they analyzed Jesse from a 'guilty first' initiative rather than an 'innocent first' initiative, and guilty second" Harris said. "Very concerning to us."
Harris maintained that Harris could have been brought to a bathroom by officers, seemingly implying that, had they done so, the incident could have been avoided.
"They did not offer that to him in this situation," Harris said. "I don't hear anywhere in this video where the police officers, who are protecting and serving, are asking him, 'Sir, would you like to use the restroom? I could take you to the restroom.' Now, some would argue with me and say, 'Shane, that's not what police officers are taught to do.' "
There lies the problem, Harris said, arguing that the police should have a support network to assist them when they approach the unsheltered.
In fact, the police have a HOT unit, or Homeless Outreach Team whose purpose is to "provide an alternative to enforcement for those who find themselves in need of assistance and willing to accept help," according to the city of San Diego website.
The events of May 12 seem to have occurred too quickly to call the HOT unit, however. After the arrest was made, though, it appears that a PERT (Psychiatric Emergency Response Team) clinician was at the scene. Also, the officers who made the arrest were assigned to the Neighborhood Policing Division, whose mission is to "enhance the quality of life and safety in San Diego's neighborhoods in a manner that is compassionate, professional and fair to all," according to the city's website.
Last week, San Diego County district attorney Summer Stephen announced her office had declined to prosecute the felony charges of resisting arrest and would be passing the case back to City Attorney Mara Elliott's office for review on the misdemeanor counts. On Friday, Harris called for those charges to be dropped as well. Instead, he said, he would be asking the state attorney general to review the case.