Insufficient evidence exists to prosecute a black Compton police officer videotaped last summer beating a Latino youth with a police baton, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said Thursday.
Activist Art Pulito called the prosecutors' decision a "slap in the face" to Compton's Latino community, and the youth's family said it will take the matter to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The district attorney's office said that while it did "not conclude that Officer (Michael) Jackson's actions were entirely necessary . . . there simply is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that (he) violated criminal law."
In his report Thursday to Compton Police Chief Hourie Taylor, Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti said the incident began about 1:30 p.m. July 29, when Beth Rodriguez, a Department of Children's Services social worker, went to a trailer park on West 156th Street to investigate allegations of child neglect.
Rodriguez said that when Felipe Soltero, 17, refused to let her enter his family's trailer, she called her supervisor, and Jackson was dispatched to the scene. The report states that when the boy refused to let Jackson enter, the officer "ordered Felipe to turn around to be handcuffed. Felipe refused. Officer Jackson placed his arm on Soltero to turn him around. . . . "Five witnesses . . . state that Soltero struck Officer Jackson in the head with a closed fist," the report continues. "Felipe Soltero denies ever hitting the officer."
According to the report, a struggle ensued, with both Soltero and the officer ending up on the ground. During the struggle, Felipe's sister, Brenda Soltero, struck Jackson on the head, according to six witnesses . The youth and the officer then got to their feet.
"It is at this point that the videotape, shot from two trailers away, begins," the report says.
The 59-second tape, shot secretly by a neighbor and subsequently aired on several local television stations, shows Jackson lunging at Soltero and apparently knocking him to the ground with a sharp blow from the butt of his baton to the youth's cheek. Bystanders can be heard screaming in the background.
The district attorney's office said the boy then appears to try to kick Jackson, and "the officer responds by striking Soltero four or five times in the torso as Soltero falls to the ground."
The report said that when Soltero ignored Jackson's commands to place his hands behind his back, Jackson struck the youth in the legs, jumped on him, handcuffed him and yanked him to his feet, using the baton as a hoist.
At a nearby hospital where Soltero was treated for a bruise on his elbow and what the report referred to as "other complaints," doctors concluded that his condition was "within normal limits."
After the videotape was televised, Arnulfo Alatorre Jr., Compton's Latino Chamber of Commerce president, complained that "Latinos are treated worse by city officials than blacks were treated by whites in South Africa."
Thursday, members of the Soltero family gathered at the Montebello office of attorney Gregory Moreno to denounce the decision not to prosecute.
Enriqueta De La Cruz, mother of Felipe Soltero, told reporters that the district attorney's office would have pressed charges "if it had been a member of the white or black communities suffering a beating at the hands of Officer Jackson."
The district attorney's report on the beating was prepared by Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Goul, who acknowledged Thursday that the videotape "looked very ugly."
"I was shocked when I first saw the videotape," Goul said."However, the tape has to be placed in context."
Goul said that after studying the tape in the context of the violence against the officer that preceded it, "we conclude that the force used by Officer Jackson in subduing and arresting Mr. Soltero was not excessive by a legal standard."
Jackson, 34, has had a "minimal disciplinary record" during his six years on the police force, Chief Taylor said.
Jackson has received four commendations, one of them for showing restraint in the use of force during an arrest.
Times staff writer Duke Helfand contributed to this story.