Friday, June 22 , 2018, 11:47 am | Fog/Mist 61º


Local News

Sanchez Responds to ‘Excessive Force’ Allegations

Santa Barbara police chief says officer complied with standard procedure in detaining suspected DUI motorist

Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez has completed a review of a disputed traffic stop that witnesses say turned into a case of “excessive force,” and has authorized the following statement:

“Keeping the city streets safe is important for the Santa Barbara Police Department, and DUI enforcement is definitely one of our priorities. Many serious traffic accidents are caused by DUI drivers. Repeat DUI offenders, such as Mr. (Tony) Denunzio, represent a real threat to traffic safety. I am glad that he was stopped before he hurt himself or someone else.

“In addition, DUI enforcement can be very dangerous for our officers, as intoxicated drivers are frequently uncooperative, resistive and at times even combative. Mr. Denunzio’s choice to drink and drive, in violation of his probation terms, was a very bad decision. He further compounded this error by resisting our officers.

“I have reviewed the video recording of the incident, which was recorded from inside Officer (Aaron) Tudor’s vehicle. The video clearly shows that Mr. Denunzio, upon being told to get back into his vehicle, looked back, did not comply with Officer Tudor’s verbal commands, and in fact began to walk away from the officer. This prompted the officer to grab Mr. Denunzio’s arm to stop Mr. Denunzio from leaving, at which time Mr. Denunzio began to resist.

“At this point, consistent with standard procedure, the officer had probable cause to arrest Denunzio for resisting/obstructing an officer (148 PC). The video shows the officer using a variety of options, including palm and knee strikes and multiple Taser applications, to get Mr. Denunzio to comply with instructions. The use of these options are, as a matter of department policy, available for use by a SBPD officer, depending on his/her reasonable judgment in maintaining their own safety and that of the public and the arrestee, and in also making sure that a person who has violated the law is not able to escape arrest for that violation. 

“It is a good thing that the most of the incident was captured on video. However, the resistance was so strenuous that the struggle moved outside the view of the video recording, and for approximately one minute I was unable to see what transpired in that time frame. In fact, in that one-minute time frame, it took three officers to eventually take custody of Denunzio. All of the decisions made and options exercised by the arresting officer that were captured on the video recording were justified standard law enforcement practices given Mr. Denunzio’s resistance. 

“The use of force is never desirable. It is difficult for members of the public to witness, particularly someone not familiar with police arrest/use of force training. To an outside observer, the use of this type of force may seem excessive. However, with the possibility of a fleeing suspect being armed, and officer safety at stake when making an arrest of a noncomplying suspect, the techniques and force used by the arresting officer in a split-second decision-making mode is standard law enforcement operating procedure.

“Based on what the video recording shows, witness accounts of the incident and after reviewing the corresponding police report, there is no apparent violation of department policy or law enforcement procedure that would warrant a formal administrative investigation of the incident.”

— Sgt. Lorenzo Duarte for the Santa Barbara Police Department.

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