On Tuesday, former presidential candidates Julián Castro and Sen. Kamala Harris brought national attention to a video filmed Monday of a police officer in Rancho Cordova, California, brutally assaulting a 14-year-old boy over the underage purchase of a Swisher cigar.
The footage of Elijah Tufono’s beating itself is almost too horrifying to watch:
Further footage, posted on social media by Tufono’s sister, shows the child identifying himself to the officer as a 14-year-old, the officer punching him repeatedly, and the child screaming as the officer pins his head to the pavement.
As a result of this clear use of excessive force, the police officer in question was immediately identified and stripped of his badge, and is now facing criminal charges for assaulting a minor.
The Rancho Cordova Police Department issued a statement on Tuesday defending the officer’s behavior and suggesting the teenager had it coming. Here is the key section of the response from Sgt. Tess Deterding:
It’s important to put video footage into context, especially in relation to a use of force incident. In this case, the deputy saw what he believed to be a hand-to-hand exchange between an adult and juvenile. As the deputy turned around, he lost sight of the adult, who left the area. When the deputy approached the juvenile, the juvenile was uncooperative and refused to give the deputy basic identifying information. He told the deputy he was 18 years old. Having reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was occurring, the deputy attempted to detain the juvenile so he could conduct further investigation. The juvenile became physically resistive at that time, causing the deputy to lose control of his handcuffs, which landed several feet away. The deputy attempted to maintain control of the juvenile without his handcuffs and while alone waiting for his partners to arrive and assist him.
Ultimately, the deputy recovered tobacco products from the 14-year-old juvenile, which is presumably the reason for his resistance. The juvenile was cited and released to his guardians.
This type of situation is hard on everyone–the young man, who resisted arrest, and the officer, who would much rather have him cooperate. The community should know our deputies have a heart for the Rancho Cordova community, especially for the youth they serve through the schools, PAL sports, and our new Youth Center.
Again, Tufono, who reportedly has a life-threatening heart condition, can be heard on the video identifying himself as a 14-year-old.
If you can, it’s worth watching the footage with the “context” of the Rancho Cordova Police Department’s description.
The official statement is meant to “put video footage into context.” What is the “context,” exactly? The child “was uncooperative and refused to give the deputy basic identifying information”—that is, he was asking for it. “He told the deputy he was 18 years old”—that is, he lied (before later giving his real age). “Ultimately, the deputy recovered tobacco products from the 14-year-old juvenile, which is presumably the reason for his resistance,” so the child was breaking the law—by purchasing a cigar. And the officer himself is a victim here: “This type of situation is hard on everyone—the young man, who resisted arrest, and the officer, who would much rather have him cooperate.” Finally, “the community should know our deputies have a heart for the Rancho Cordova community, especially for the youth they serve,” so you should just look the other way, again.
The department further said that it is conducting an investigation, but based on the statement it seems clear what it will determine. All the facts that are necessary are in that footage—the officer beat the child—but the department has determined that he was merely attempting to “maintain control of the juvenile.” As Black Lives Matter Sacramento founder Tanya Faison told a local ABC News affiliate, the officer would be charged with a crime if not for his badge. And other officers will be taking note of what happens to him.
“It’s common for them to terrorize our kids,” Faison told the ABC reporter. “They intimidate our kids and humiliate our kids. They often detain us for something really small or nothing at all then they sit the kids on the curb for hours for all to see.”
Rancho Cordova is a suburb of Sacramento, and, as the Sacramento Bee noted, the area has a recent history of horrific police brutality incidents that resulted in zero consequences for the offending officers.
“Nearly three years after three Sacramento sheriff’s deputies shot a disturbed African American man named Mikel McIntyre to death on Highway 50—and two years after Sacramento Police Department officers killed an African American man named Stephon Clark in his grandparents’ back yard—our community must once again confront a scene of horrific police violence against black people,” the Bee observed.
As ABC News also noted, just last week the family of a 12-year-old boy who was arrested for panhandling at a carnival sued the Sacramento Police Department after an officer put a spit mask over his head during the arrest.
Even after California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill last year increasing the standards for use of deadly force, it’s clear that something is still very rotten in the state capital.