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Deputies in Beating May Have Violated Policies

Law enforcement: Officials investigate whether officers escalated force and ignored order to break off pursuit.


"Members shall not use more force than is reasonably necessary in overcoming any resistance or force," the policy states. If the deputies are charged with a crime, a jury would be asked to consider whether reasonable police officers, acting in violently charged situations, would react the way that Watson and Franklin did.

In addition to general principles such as that one, however, Riverside Sheriff Larry Smith said the county department teaches deputies not to use their batons until after first attempting to use chemical agents such as pepper spray and after displaying their batons to suspects as a warning.

On the 15-second videotape of the incident, neither deputy can be seen discharging pepper spray, and neither appears to display his baton as a warning to the suspects before beginning to strike them. Current and former deputies said the failure of their colleagues to take those steps was troubling.

"We're supposed to use verbal judo, to try and talk them down, then try a control hold, then use pepper spray," said one former Riverside deputy. "And if that doesn't work, then you're supposed to pull your baton."

Before the department-issue baton is swung, deputies are supposed to hold it aloft, and then use it to control someone before striking them with it, the former deputy added.

Moreover, most law enforcement agencies prohibit their officers from using batons on suspects for merely refusing to obey an order. The Los Angeles Police Department's use-of-force handbook, for instance, explicitly bars such behavior.

"The baton shall not be used in a striking movement to gain compliance to verbal commands absent combative or aggressive actions by the suspect," the LAPD handbook states.

Also at issue, sources say, are what commands Watson and Franklin gave to the suspects before beginning to hit them.

Michael P. Stone, who represents Watson, said the suspects were told in English and Spanish to get on the ground and put their hands behind their back. Seeking to hear from the other side, FBI agents and Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies interviewed one beating victim in the hospital Thursday and were conducting more interviews Friday.

Although the circumstances surrounding the use of force at the conclusion of the pursuit are the most crucial questions for criminal investigators, the deputies' conduct during the chase could also become relevant. If authorities establish that the two deputies were ordered off the chase but stayed with it anyway, it could bolster the contention that they were determined to see the pursuit through so they could exact vengeance on the suspects, who had allegedly tried to pelt their cars with debris.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block, whose deputies are participating in the investigation of the beating, said his agency never was asked to take over the pursuit and did not join it. But he said he could not speak for the Highway Patrol.

The CHP dispatch tapes and radio calls do not clearly establish that the deputies were ordered out of the chase, but they do suggest that Highway Patrol officers were asked to provide assistance and were doing so.

As the suspect vehicle--followed by Franklin and Watson--was crossing into Los Angeles County, a CHP dispatcher told Highway Patrol units: "That's affirmative on the request for CHP assistance. At this time, it looks like we could have one Santa Fe Springs sergeant and one unit in the pursuit," apparently referring to officers from the CHP's Santa Fe Springs station, one of whom can be seen on the video.

Friday, a Highway Patrol official said requests for assistance generally are accompanied by insistence that the requesting agency relinquish its role in the chase. In Riverside, however, Sheriff's Sgt. Mark Lohman said his agency never asked the CHP to take over this chase.

"It was our pursuit," he said, adding that he did not know whether anyone else had requested CHP assistance.

Wrestling with the troubling possibility that Watson and Franklin ignored orders to break off the chase, a top Riverside County official confirmed that government leaders there were investigating those allegations.

"We've not seen any tapes or transcripts," the official said. "We've just heard verbal renditions from reliable people that their own sergeant called them off, and they went ahead. We don't know if they heard that and just went ahead or not."

Riverside sheriff's officials have not released copies of the tapes that recorded radio traffic between their dispatchers and vehicles, but Lohman said he expected transcripts to be made available Monday. Meanwhile, Riverside officials have confirmed that authorities are investigating whether Watson and Franklin were ordered off the chase and, if so, whether they might not have heard that order because they had traveled out of radio range.

After five days of grinding scrutiny on his department, Riverside Sheriff Smith tried to calm the waters by releasing a personal message to the 1,200-member force. Smith's message, distributed to all Riverside stations on videotape, features the sheriff addressing his employees and then replaying 12 minutes of his comments from a news conference Wednesday.

During that session, Smith sharply criticized the actions of Watson and Franklin but praised the department in general and complained that its overall work was being distorted by the focus on Monday's incident.

Times staff writers Josh Meyer, Stephanie Simon and George Ramos contributed to this story.

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