The Los Angeles County sheriff has decried the use of force after a video of a deputy punching a woman twice in the face - as she held her baby - was released.
The distressing footage, filmed in July 2022, saw a male driver arrested on suspicion of driving on a suspended license, driving under the influence of alcohol and child endangerment.
Four women were also in the car at the time and during their arrests, a deputy punched one woman twice in the face after she refused to let go of her child, Luna said. All four were held on suspicion of child endangerment.
The video shows one woman’s child being forcibly taken from her as she shrieks, then a second woman sitting cross-legged on the ground, holding her 3-week-old child.
Warning: This video contains distressing images
At a news conference, Sheriff Robert Luna said he found the punching “completely unacceptable” and has sent the case to the county district attorney’s office, which will decide whether to file criminal charges against the deputy. The FBI also was alerted, Luna said.
It's the second time in a week the Los Angeles County sheriff has decried the use of force by deputies in the Antelope Valley.
The edited video from body camera footage shows the July 2022 encounter during a traffic stop in Palmdale, northeast of Los Angeles.
Last week, Luna said two deputies had been pulled from field duty after video surfaced of a deputy in neighbouring Lancaster violently tackling a woman while she filmed a man being handcuffed, then pepper-spraying her in the face on June 24.
In both cases, Luna said he had only lately learned of the incidents. Although the sheriff said state law bars him from detailing specific discipline against deputies, he has said those involved in improper use of force could face anything from additional training to days off or dismissal.
Luna, a former Long Beach police chief, has vowed to overhaul the nation’s largest sheriff’s department since taking it over in December after defeating incumbent Alex Villanueva.
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During the July 2022 encounter, deputies stopped a car driving without headlights at night, smelled alcohol, and saw three babies who weren’t in car seats and were being held in their mother’s arms, Luna said.
Deputies try to convince one of the women to give them the child, and the mother responds: “You’ll have to shoot me dead before you take my baby,” the video shows. As she resists, a deputy punches her several times in the face, and she is handcuffed.
Luna said he believed the punching was “an isolated incident committed by an individual who will be held accountable.” He said most other employees are doing “incredible work on behalf of 10 million residents.”
Federal monitors continue to oversee reforms that the department agreed to for the Lancaster and Palmdale stations, which are among the busiest in the county.
In 2015, the Sheriff’s Department settled federal allegations that deputies in those stations had engaged in excessive use of force and racially biased policing that included disproportionately stopping or searching Black and Latino people.