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Bill Macfadyen: Best of Noozhawk 10.28.11

This week's Noozhawk recap packs a punch as it follows reports of 'police brutality,' 'excessive force,' witness perceptions — and proper response

By William M. Macfadyen, Noozhawk Publisher | @noozhawk | updated logo |

This week has been all about an alleged case of “excessive force” witnessed by numerous bystanders during a traffic stop by Santa Barbara police in Loreto Plaza.

On the night of Oct. 21, Tony Denunzio, 50, of Santa Barbara, was pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence. Officer Aaron Tudor, a four-year SBPD veteran and drinking-driver team member, had followed him for three miles along Las Positas Road from the Boathouse Restaurant at Arroyo Burro Beach County Park, 2981 Cliff Drive, to the parking lot of Gelson’s Market, 3305 State St.

According to Tudor and to witnesses who contacted Noozhawk, Denunzio appeared not to comply with Tudor’s command to get back in his truck after he parked the vehicle and got out. Witnesses agreed that Denunzio appeared to be “possibly intoxicated,” but what happened next has been hotly disputed by the police and the witnesses.

Most of the witnesses say they saw Tudor repeatedly punch and Taser Denunzio while yelling at him to “stop resisting.” One witness said that, while it was Tudor who Tasered Denunizo, it actually was a backup police officer who was doing the punching that broke the suspect’s ribs. The witnesses all say Denunzio was not resisting arrest and that what they characterize as the “brutality” of the response was unwarranted.

In an official police statement issued Monday and in Police Chief Cam Sanchez’s first public response to the incident Wednesday, the department stood by the actions of its officers. Both Sanchez and the SBPD said Tudor had good reason to pull over Denunzio, who, it turns out, was driving with a suspended license, which was the result of a previous DUI conviction. He was arrested for that, along with suspicion of DUI and violating DUI probation.

Police say Denunzio refused to submit to a blood-alcohol concentration test at the scene — a violation of his probation — and that an involuntary sample was taken from him later at the Santa Barbara County Jail. The results of that sample have not been made public.

Denunzio also was charged with resisting arrest, and it is here that the two versions of the events sharply diverge.

Citing the patrol car’s dashboard camera videotape, Sanchez said Tudor acted in accordance with SBPD policy and “standard law enforcement operating procedure” throughout the incident, although he acknowledged there was about a minute of video during which the two men were out of view. Sanchez stated unequivocally that Denunzio was resisting arrest, affirming the department’s assertion Monday that he was physically struggling with Tudor. The department’s official statement also said “Denunzio was resisting by not placing his hands behind his back and tucking them underneath by his waist. The officer believed that Denunzio could possibly be retrieving a weapon.”

Bystanders, however, say Denunzio’s arms were extended out in front of him and his hands were never near his waist. The witnesses also insist that the only struggle was Denunzio attempting to scoot away each time he was Tasered. They say he kept shouting to Tudor “I’m not resisting! Why are you hitting me?” and that he repeatedly asked the officer what he wanted him to do.

It took Sanchez three days to return Noozhawk’s calls for comment and five to elaborate on his response, which was an announcement that — as a result of his review of the videotape — the department had done nothing wrong and there was no need for “a formal administrative investigation.” Then he appeared to reprimand the witnesses who he implied did not understand what it was they think they saw.

All of the witnesses interviewed by Noozhawk stand by their stories and are quite upset that, despite having given their statements to police at the scene, Sanchez would dismiss their accounts outright without even talking to them.

These people had no connection to the parties involved in the incident but were random bystanders who watched in disbelief as it unfolded before them. A husband and wife walking home from a Friday date night. A man waiting for his wife to check her makeup before they joined friends for a late dinner. A woman sitting in her car listening to a story on the radio before she dashed into the market for a few groceries. They spoke on the record, believing that they were doing the right thing and that allegations of police brutality and excessive force were taken seriously.

On Monday afternoon, shortly after the Santa Barbara Police Department issued its official statement, I received a phone call from a City Council member who wanted to make sure Noozhawk had received SBPD’s news release and that we would be publishing it (which we already had). Curiously, I wasn’t asked about the witnesses or their credibility, and no explanation was offered for why the city of Santa Barbara’s chief of police could not make the announcement himself.

Of course, the obvious question is who works for whom? Does Santa Barbara not have a single elected official with the leadership to call up a municipal employee and ask him to hold a quick news conference to say nothing more than “We don’t yet have all the facts, we take these allegations seriously, we’re going to investigate this thoroughly and transparently, and we’ll explain our conclusion once we have one”? Seriously?

As it stands, few are satisfied with the result and — candidly — suspicions will linger, which cannot be good for this community. Releasing the videotapes from all of the patrol cars on the scene would be helpful to put this story to rest.

Meanwhile, one of Noozhawk’s witnesses, a retired teacher, bluntly has suggested that SBPD hold a public forum to explain police protocol and procedures, what constitutes excessive force and how witnesses should interact with officers. That sounds like a more worthwhile episode of On Patrol with Santa Barbara PD than the gripping drama of drunken college students on Lower State Street.

But there’s another side to this issue that could be dangerous for our society. Since 9/11, law enforcement has exhorted citizens to get involved. “If you see something, say something” goes the slogan. What would be a tragic shame is if citizens who do see something decide there’s just no point in saying anything.

1. Witnesses Say Santa Barbara Police Officer Used ‘Excessive Force’ During Traffic Stop

2. Police Tell a Different Story of Fateful Traffic Stop That Spurred ‘Excessive Force’ Accusations

3. Police Report Counters ‘Excessive Force’ Accusations

4. Sanchez Says Internal Investigation Not Warranted in Alleged ‘Excessive Force’ Incident

5. Santa Barbara Police Provide No New Details on ‘Excessive Force’ Accusations from Witnesses

This week wasn’t without positive news, however, and it involved bystanders leaping into action — literally. Two men jumped into the water off Stearns Wharf on Oct. 27 to rescue a wheelchair-bound man who had fallen in after getting too close to the unprotected edge. All three were rescued and there were no injuries in what officials have concluded was an accident.

Meanwhile, if you own a shelter or rescue dog and haven’t sent us a photo of you and your furry friend, it’s not too late to email it to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). October is Adopt-a-Dog Month and we’re running a slideshow of your pictures to mark the occasion.

Next month, we’ll have readers vote for their favorite photo. Thanks to the generosity of La Cumbre Feed, 3652 Calle Real, the winning adopted dog will be dining on $100 worth of free dog food from WellPet. All photos received by Nov. 1 will be entered in the contest.

Noozhawk needs and welcomes your support. Just as you might subscribe — or formerly subscribed — to a favorite newspaper to keep up with your community news, please consider becoming a voluntary paying subscriber to Noozhawk, for as little as $5 a month, or becoming a member of our Hawks Club.

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Noozhawk publisher Bill Macfadyen can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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» on 10.29.11 @ 02:40 PM

Police are public servants and risk their lives to keep us safe.  None of us were there and do not have the evidence.  Don’t jump to the conclusion that this was police brutality and don’t publish stories that might bias the public.  This guy was driving drunk on a suspended license and resisted arrest.  He might have killed someone on the road or if he had a concealed weapon he could have killed officer Tudor.  We have all seen stories of the police being killed on the job.  It took 3 officers to bring Denunzio down ultimately!  Officer Tudor is a human being and deserves to be treated with respect.  If Denunzio had killed someone on the road, people would be outraged as to why he was still driving.  If the court wont keep guys like Denunzio off the street, don’t get mad at the police for trying to protect us.

» on 10.29.11 @ 02:55 PM

Thank you to Noozhawk for staying on this story in a fair and balanced way. MY 2 cents is that the witnesses have never suggested — at least in Noozhawk’s reporting — that the officer didn’t have probable cause to pull the dumbass over. It seems they all EXPECTED to see a drunk-driving arrest, but it was the beatdown that caught them by surprise.

It’s nice to know that SBPD is reading Noozhawk, though. Maybe they’ll learn something.

» on 10.30.11 @ 08:09 AM

Bill, Could you reveal the city council member who called you to request that you publish the SBPD’s news release. Was it our mayor? If this member is currently one of the candidates in this election, it would be nice if you could identify this person to your readers.

[Bill Macfadyen’s note: No, I won’t be identifying the individual, Lou. This is about leadership, not politics. In crisis management, organizations can choose to have the top official make a quick and forthright acknowledgement that there is an issue and a pledge that it will be resolved as quickly and prudently as possible. Or they can circle the wagons. The city of Santa Barbara apparently chose the latter course and our community may come to regret the consequences.]

» on 10.31.11 @ 03:52 PM


“He might have killed someone on the road or if he had a concealed weapon he could have killed officer Tudor.”  So we don’t have all the evidence to decide if this was police brutality, but your conjecture is enough to convict Denunzio?

Here’s what we DO know:  We DO know he didn’t have a weapon, we DO know he didn’t kill anybody, and we DO know Denunzio had the crap kicked out of him.

Here’s what we DON’T know:  We DON’T know what’s on the video(s), we DON’T know happened during 1 minute they don’t have video (though it’s easily filled in by multiple, independent eyewitness accounts who have nothing to gain by this), and we DON’T know Denunzio’s BAC, or if there was probable cause to begin with.

So before you convict Denunzio and decide the police were justified in beating him, realize there are an equal number of unanswered questions and plenty of evidence damning the police.

» on 10.31.11 @ 07:02 PM

If you were an Eye Witness to this Arrest please call 800-961-7371 and Leave Name & Number
To Be Contacted For Interview.

Thank you

» on 11.01.11 @ 07:21 PM

I have seen firsthand the outcome of driving’s never pretty and this guy appears to have an ongoing problem with alcohol.  My guess is that he was toasted.

However, one of my good friends spent many years with the CHP and his only comment (after saying you really had to be there) was that he “learned from years of experience that you had to give drunks a little time because their reaction times are so screwed up.”  Of course if it REALLY looked like he was going for a weapon, you can’t give him that time.

With all of that said, if there was indeed no real threat to the officer, he should be disciplined.  And the rest of the department should be instructed to act appropriately.  A cop’s job is a tough one, but an appropriate response to a citizen’s behaviors is oh so important.

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