Los Angeles County sheriff Robert Luna says a bystander’s cellphone footage showing a deputy violently tackling a woman while she filmed a man being handcuffed, then pepper-spraying her in the face, is “disturbing.” Community groups called on Luna to hold his agency accountable. The June 24 incident in Lancaster, Ca., follows several cases that have drawn scrutiny to the department amid allegations of excessive use of force by deputies. It’s testing the reform efforts of Luna, a former Long Beach police chief who has vowed to overhaul the nation’s largest sheriff’s department since taking over in December after defeating incumbent Alex Villanueva, reports the Associated Press.
Both officers were pulled off field duty and could face discipline ranging from letters of reprimand all the way up to dismissal if misconduct is found. Luna didn’t learn about the encounter until six days after it occurred. The department released footage from the deputies’ body-worn cameras on Monday. The sheriff said his department was investigating the deputies’ use of force and had notified the county’s Civilian Oversight Commission and federal monitors overseeing reforms the department agreed to in 2015. That agreement settled federal allegations that deputies in the Antelope Valley, including Lancaster, engaged in excessive use of force and racially-biased policing that included disproportionately stopping or searching Blacks and Latinos. The couple in the June 24 incident reportedly matched descriptions of robbers targeting a grocery store in Lancaster, 45 miles northeast of Los Angeles. Video shows the man sitting on a large rock outside the store and holding a cake before deputies handcuff him as the woman films the encounter. One deputy tackles her to the ground and pins her down with his knee on her neck and shoulder. The woman yells “I can’t breathe!” as the deputy pepper-sprays her in the face. Luna said the deputies were responding to a robbery after receiving a 911 call from the store saying that two customers were assaulting “loss prevention employees.”