The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office soon will finish its investigation of the Oct. 21 driving under the influence arrest in which a motorist was punched and Tasered by a Santa Barbara police officer, prompting allegations of “excessive force” from eyewitnesses, District Attorney Joyce Dudley told Noozhawk on Friday.
Video from the camera in the police officer’s patrol vehicle shows most of the incident — minus about a minute during which the altercation moved out of view — and Gelson’s Market, 3305 State St., where the incident occurred, turned over a videotape to the DA’s Office a few days ago, Dudley said.
Tony Denunzio, 50, of Santa Barbara, was pulled over by Officer Aaron Tudor in the Loreto Plaza parking lot. He got out of his vehicle and didn’t get back in when asked, which is, by all accounts, when the police officer approached him.
Witnesses allege that the officer used excessive force — punching and Tasering the man repeatedly — although Denunzio wasn’t resisting.
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.
One witness said a responding officer repeatedly punched Denunzio in the ribs.
Denunzio was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, violating probation, resisting an officer and driving with a suspended license, which police say is the result of a DUI conviction. He was transported first to the Santa Barbara County Jail to get a sample taken to determine his blood-alcohol concentration level, then to the hospital to get medically cleared, and then was booked into jail, where he stayed the night.
His attorney, Darryl Genis, has said Denunzio suffered a broken nose and broken ribs in the incident.
Dudley said her office will finish the investigation on or before Nov. 15, which will determine what if any charges will be filed.
“This is not a typical case; DUI investigations don’t usually take this long,” she said.
Police Chief Cam Sanchez reviewed the patrol vehicle video and announced five days after the incident that there would be no internal investigation into Tudor’s use of force.
“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,” he said in a statement.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer and supervising investigator Greg Wilkins began interviewing witnesses last week and are still reaching out to more. There were apparently many people who saw the traffic stop and arrest, Dudley said, and her office wants to contact everyone who has any information, photographs, audio or video recording of the incident.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Wilkins at 805.568.2357.