A Black teen in California whom police now say has no gang affiliations and no criminal record is filing an excessive force lawsuit against the Fresno Police Department after one officer punched him repeatedly, Law & Crime reports. The officers were on the lookout for suspected gang members when the shocking incident, caught on video, occurred. Charges of resisting arrest were filed initially but then dropped by prosecutors when the video of the incident, which occurred in January surfaced.
Calling the footage “disturbing,” Fresno police chief Jerry Dyer said the video may lead to discipline.
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In the video 17-year-old London Wallace is seen standing with his hands behind his head, The Washington Post reports. Then another officer orders him to sit down. The teen appears to be heading in that direction, but then officer Christopher Martinez grabs Wallace’s arm and starts punching him in the face. In a report filed after the incident, Martinez alleges Wallace was resisting arrest and fighting back. The officer claimed the punches were necessary to restrain the teen.
But now the incident is being investigated by the department’s internal affairs division and Dyer calls the video “disturbing to see.” Purportedly he first saw the video earlier this week.
“The video I have reviewed certainly raises concerns, and raises concerns for me as a police chief,” Dyer said. “Those questions will be answered.”
Nolan Kane, Wallace’s attorney, said the video shows that Martinez’s version of what happened doesn’t hold up.
“It’s a very disappointing situation,” Kane told ABC30. “You can see London Wallace crying. You can see him bleeding. He’s a high school kid. He likes playing basketball. He’s a nice, calm, timid person […] And you can kind of see that in the video. He’s not used to police contact.”
In the police report, Martinez alleged that Wallace “was not listening” when he was told to sit down. He also alleged the teen walked in the opposite direction, becoming combative during the confrontation.
“I believed Wallace was going to attempt to flee down the stairs … I gave Wallace a chance to sit on his own, but he still did not sit down as I told him to,” the officer wrote.
Martinez also alleged in his report that he grabbed Wallace’s right arm “to regain control.”
“Wallace pushed me back and took a fighting stance … I was in fear Wallace was going to push me and other officers over the side railing as he was pushing forward.”
That’s apparently when the officer began punching the teen.
“I punched Wallace approximately three times in the face in order to get him off me and to back him up.”
The body camera video, however, Martinez appears to throw eight or more punches at Wallace’s head within seconds of grabbing his arm. Near the end of the footage, Wallace’s face can be seen bleeding and Kane said the punches left the teenager with a broken nose and other facial injuries.
Martinez also indicated in his report that he struck the teen two more times “while he was on the ground and actively resisting, refusing to place his hands behind his back and trying to fight back.”
Police initially arrested Wallace on suspicion of resisting arrest but prosecutors dropped the charges, Kane said. He added that while some of the men inside the apartment complex were known gang members Wallace isn’t a member of any gangs and has no criminal record, and the video made it clear he wasn’t carrying weapons or drugs.
In short, the attorney added, Wallace was no threat to the officer and the violent response wasn’t warranted.
“We’re very fortunate that we have this body camera video because if we’re going by just the words of the officers, it’d paint a completely different picture,” Kane said at one point.
During a news conference Tuesday, Dyer said Martinez has been placed on desk duty and will remain there until the pending the results of the investigation, The Fresno Bee reports.
He asked the community to remain patient as the investigation continues.
Kane said that although Wallace is now doing better, the incident has left him shaken.
“You have a minor who has a clean record who is not only being contacted by police but being attacked by police,” he said. “It was upsetting for him and his family.”
I’ve included the video footage below so that you can see for yourself what happened, but be forewarned that the violence is pretty shocking.
Featured image courtesy of the video above