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Sunday, January 20 , 2019, 3:13 am | Fair 48º


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

Bystanders say police officer repeatedly punched and Tasered a motorist in a Friday night traffic stop at Loreto Plaza

The Santa Barbara Police Department on Sunday had no new information to release about a Friday night incident during which witnesses say they saw a police officer repeatedly punch and Taser a motorist.

Police Sgt. Jill Beecher, the department’s Sunday watch commander, said she had nothing more she could add to the scant details that Lt. James Pfleging had provided Noozhawk on Saturday. Police Chief Cam Sanchez did not return Noozhawk’s call to his cell phone Sunday.

According to several witnesses Noozhawk interviewed Saturday, at around 9:40 p.m. Friday, a Santa Barbara police car with its lights flashing followed a truck into the Loreto Plaza parking lot in front of Gelson’s Market, 3305 State St.

Witnesses say they saw the truck’s driver, whom they described as a white man in his 30s, get out of the vehicle. The police officer called to the man to get back into the truck, but the bystanders say the driver appeared not to understand the command. One witness, Ellen Hunter of Santa Barbara, speculated that the driver was “possibly intoxicated.”

The witnesses say the officer then ordered the man to get down on the ground. As the man dropped to his hands and knees, the witnesses told Noozhawk, the officer began punching him in the back and the face. They said they saw and heard as many as 15 blows.

Throughout the incident, the witnesses say, the officer kept yelling at the man to stop resisting arrest. But they said the man was submissive and, in fact, was yelling back to the officer, “I’m not resisting! Why are you hitting me?” The bystanders say the man repeatedly asked the officer what he wanted him to do.

At that point, according to the witnesses, the officer took out his Taser and began zapping the man in the back. As he cried out for help and attempted to wiggle away, the witnesses began shouting at the officer to stop striking and Tasering him. Hunter used her cell phone to call 9-1-1 and was told that police backup was on its way.

According to the witnesses, the officer did not acknowledge their protests and did not stop Tasering the man until additional police officers arrived moments later.

“This was excessive force right in front of our eyes in Santa Barbara,” Hunter said. “... Officers like this make it hard for the majority of the other officers to do their jobs. This is wrong.”

On Saturday, Pfleging told Noozhawk that he had not yet read the incident report or talked with the officers involved, but he said the command staff would investigate the accusations.

“It’s something we take very seriously,” he said. “We would never want something like this to happen with one of our officers.”

Beecher said Sunday that she had no further details to release. She said the SBPD’s public information officer won’t be back at work until Tuesday but that she would try to get additional information from commanding officers Monday.

The primary officer’s name has not been not released, nor has any information been disclosed about the motorist, his alleged infraction or his condition or custody details.

Witnesses interviewed by Noozhawk said about a dozen people had gathered around the scene Friday night, and more were watching from in front of Gelson’s and Harry’s Plaza Café.

KEYT reported Sunday evening that a Gelson’s manager blocked its attempts to interview a store employee who had witnessed the incident. KEYT’s Sharon Weston said another witness from Harry’s did not want to comment. Click here to view KEYT’s report.

Pfleging encouraged anyone with more information about the incident to contact him at 805.897.2300.

Noozhawk also welcomes additional information and statements, and can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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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