San Francisco's district attorney charged two sheriff’s deputies with felony assault on Tuesday, more than six months after they were seen on video striking a suspected car thief with batons in the Mission District.
George Gascón said the two Alameda County sheriff's deputies — 14-year veteran and training officer Luis Santamaria and 3-year veteran Paul Wieber, who was undergoing field training — were charged with assault under the color of authority, assault with a deadly weapon and battery with serious bodily injury.
The alleged assault came at the end of a high-speed pursuit that stretched across the Bay Bridge in November.
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More charges could be forthcoming, Gascón added at a news conference, describing the entire incident as "disturbing."
“Policing that violates our constitutional rights damages the reputation of every person that wears the uniform, and it damages the public’s perception of those that are sworn to serve,” Gascón said. “When officers take the law into their own hands, they undermine the moral authority of the entire criminal justice system.”
Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern said the deputies are on paid administrative leave — a fact that San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi noted was "a very, very serious situation." It was Adachi who released the video of the beating when it occurred.
Still, Adachi added his was "relieved that charges have finally been filed. This has been a long wait."
The deputies' bail was set at $140,000 each, and they are expected to surrender by Wednesday. An arraignment date has not been set.
Attorney Michael Rains, who represents Santamaria, issued a statement Tuesday, saying the actions of Santamaria while taking into custody 29-year-old Stanislav Petrov were in accordance with the law.
"Since I teach classes throughout the state concerning the analysis of video and audio evidence in police use-of-force cases, I am very much aware that any use of force captured visually and audibly is graphic and ugly, even though it may be lawful in every aspect," Rains said. "I am confident that a careful and objective analysis of available audio and video evidence will demonstrate unlawful and active resistance by Petrov and the use of lawful force by the deputies to take him into custody."
Wieber is being represented by attorney William Rapoport.
Gascón acknowledged that filing charges against officers is rare, although a deputy was charged last year for assault under color of authority at San Francisco General Hospital.
The charges against the Alameda County Sheriff's deputies stem from the November video showing two deputies striking Petrov at least 30 times with batons after a pursuit that started in Castro Valley.
That night, Nov. 12, Petrov was involved in a pursuit with deputies that started in the Castro Valley/San Leandro area after authorities spotted a stolen 2015 Mercedes C300 sedan, according to Alameda County Sheriff's Sgt. Ray Kelly.
When they approached the sedan, Petrov started the car, ignored orders to stop and rammed two deputy cars, Kelly said, injuring one deputy and disabling his patrol vehicle.
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Petrov allegedly led deputies on a chase on Interstate Highway 580 into Oakland and then west toward San Francisco, crossing the Bay Bridge at speeds of more than 100 miles per hour.
He exited the freeway in San Francisco, struck a parked car on a city street and ran, according to Kelly.
Santamaria and Wieber chased him, prosecutors said, and Petrov eventually slowed down and put his hands in the air. Wieber tackled him, and then both deputies began to hit Petrov with their batons, prosecutors alleged.
Two separate videos captured Santamaria and Wieber beating Petrov with their batons over the course of 40 seconds, striking him at least 30 times, prosecutors said.
Petrov can be heard crying out and saying, “I’m sorry,” “Help me,” and “Oh my God.” The deputies stopped striking Petrov when other officers from multiple law enforcement agencies arrived.
Gascón said it took until now to file charges because his investigators had to go through all the evidence.
“Some of you may be asking, 'Why has it taken so long for this case to be filed?'" Gascón said. "I have to tell you that, as recently as last Friday, we were still getting medical records and we haven’t gotten all the medical records."
Gascón cited witnesses who emerged recently and whose statements needed to be vetted, along with the need to enhance the video, which was also analyzed by the FBI and an outside expert, as reasons the charges were delayed.
He also noted that officers have a constitutional authority to use force, another reason for the wait before charges were filed: “They are looked upon by the law very differently than most of us.”
The Mercury News reported that just one of the 11 deputies on the scene had their body camera rolling, and the one was turned on by accident. The body camera video "provides a more complete picture" of the events that night, Gascón said.
Adachi said that his office was told initially by the sheriff’s department that the officers did not have body cameras, and to have confirmed that a partial video did exist was “surprising.” Adachi called on the sheriff's department to release it.
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Last month, Petrov's mother told NBC Bay Area her son suffered from brain injuries stemming from the beating. He also suffered multiple broken bones in both hands and a concussion.
Also in April, Adachi released more video that appears to show a deputy taking Petrov's gold chain necklace from the scene. A homeless couple in the San Francisco alley told investigators that evening they witnessed the beating and a deputy gave them the necklace as payment for their silence — a claim Adachi said the video appears to prove.
Gascón did not charge the deputies with theft. But he did say Tuesday that the San Francisco Public Corruption Task Force is investigating additional allegations including false police statements, theft, bribery, witness tampering and possibly any other wrongdoing related to this case.
Adachi said he understands that prosecutors are still investigating a third deputy, Shawn Osbourne, who was seen on tape with Petrov’s chain and is alleged to have used it in an attempt to bribe two witnesses nearby.