The man arrested in a controversial Santa Barbara traffic stop that prompted allegations of “excessive force” from eyewitnesses will face driving under the influence-related charges, the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday.
Tony Denunzio, 50, of Santa Barbara was pulled over by Santa Barbara police officer Aaron Tudor in Loreto Plaza on Oct. 21 and, when he left his vehicle, was hit and Tasered repeatedly.
The District Attorney’s Office talked to the 12 potential witnesses listed in police reports and obtained more video from Gelson’s Market in Loreto Plaza, which the Santa Barbara Police Department didn’t obtain during its investigation.
Denunzio will be charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, driving with a blood alcohol level above .08 percent and driving with a suspended license, which had been suspended because of a prior DUI conviction, according to the DA’s Office.
The office is still waiting for more reports and witness interviews to consider any charges surrounding “the events that occurred after Officer Tudor made contact with Mr. Denunzio,” but expects to file all related charges by the end of the month. On that Friday night, Denunzio was arrested on suspicion of resisting an officer in addition to the DUI-related charges.
At least 16 witnesses have been identified and interviewed, and the DA’s Office went to Loreto Plaza to see if any business owners had any video, which is how it obtained a roof video from Gelson’s Market, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer. The DA’s Office also has the video taken from Tudor’s patrol vehicle.
“It’s not terribly helpful,” Dozer said, since it shows the parking lot but not anything at the time of the incident. One witness captured some audio and video from a cell phone that don’t capture the beginning of the incident, but does show the exchange between Tudor and Denunzio.
“At this point, there are still things that need to be done in terms of a normal investigation to make sure we’re as thorough as possible,” Dozer said. “That’s why we will delay the decision until the end of the month, so we can rationally look at all the videos as well as get a couple of reports withstanding from witness interviews. This is the kind of event that, not only does the public take seriously, but this office takes seriously. There are allegations against an officer and serious allegations against a citizen … It’s important for us to leave no stone unturned.”
Denunzio was pulled over after changing lanes without signaling on Las Positas and had been spotted earlier leaving Arroyo Burro Beach, where he had a cocktail at the Boathouse Restaurant.
Statements released by the police said Tudor couldn’t get Denunzio to get on the ground and put his arms behind his back to be handcuffed and was resisting arrest, so the contact escalated from a hand on the arm to a trip, hand and knee strikes, and using a Taser.
Backup officers saw that the Taser was ineffective and helped Tudor control Denunzio, police said.
Many witnesses were on the scene and told Noozhawk that Tudor appeared to be using “excessive force” to get control of Denunzio, who they say was not resisting arrest.
Police Chief Cam Sanchez reviewed video footage from Tudor’s patrol vehicle and determined the officer had acted appropriately.
The altercation moved out of view of the patrol camera for about a minute, but the video recording shows no need for a formal administrative investigation, Sanchez said in a statement.
Denunzio’s attorney, Darryl Genis, has said Denunzio suffered a broken nose and broken ribs in the incident. Genis has publicly called for the release of video footage, but authorities have kept it sealed during the ongoing investigation.
Cameras are installed in a few patrol vehicles mostly likely because of Genis’ other high-profile case involving former DUI suspect Peter Lance, whose case was dismissed Tuesday.
Santa Barbara County Superior Court files show two DUI convictions in the past 10 years for Denunzio. He faced related charges in 2003 after being pulled over for weaving in his lane and straddling the broken white line, records show. He was sentenced to Zona Seca’s wet reckless drinking driver program and probation with specific conditions against driving with a suspended license or with any measurable alcohol in his blood.
In February 2009, he pleaded no contest to DUI, having a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent or higher and having one prior, and was sentenced to three years of unsupervised probation. He is currently facing charges for spousal battery, which occurred Oct. 5, according to filing deputy Lee Carter.