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Officer in Videotaped Attack to Stay on Duty

Internal probe focuses on deputy shown hitting undocumented worker, Riverside sheriff says.

May 02, 2003|Louis Sahagun and Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writers

Rafael Torres sensed there might be trouble when he saw his friend being detained by the sheriff's deputy known by the avocado grove workers as "Maligno" or bad man.

"The minute the deputy made Francisco sit on the ground, I knew it was going to be bad," Torres said in an interview Thursday. "I ran and got my video camera."

The shaky, 90-second videotape, shot Monday and aired Wednesday on Spanish-language Telemundo 52, shows Riverside County Sheriff's Deputy Alex Todd hitting Francisco Padilla, 18, while he was on the ground being handcuffed after a traffic stop.

Padilla has since been deported, and Todd remains on active duty in the Southwest office in Temecula but faces an internal department investigation.

Riverside County Sheriff Bob Doyle said Thursday that a preliminary investigation -- conducted without seeing the video -- indicated that the deputy did not need to be placed on administrative leave.

"Policy-wise, unless it's a severe, totally egregious thing, we will not put someone on paid administrative leave," Doyle said in an interview. "In reviewing this incident [Wednesday], we didn't feel that threshold was met. Had [Padilla] been handcuffed and our deputy hit him in the face, yes, he'd be out of a job."

Doyle, who headed the executive staff that opted not to suspend Todd, added, "We were concerned enough to order an investigation."

Todd, who has worked in the Southwest office since February 1999, has been employed by the department since October 1995.

The images on the videotape are muddled and any interaction or dialogue between the two men is mostly unclear.

The tape begins with a shot of Todd's SUV parked on a dirt road facing the camera. At one point, it appears as though Padilla tries to stand up and run. Todd reaches out to grab him. Then the camera moves.

It focuses on the incident again for a few seconds to show Todd pushing Padilla to the ground. The camera moves again. When Padilla returns into view, he appears to be lying on his side with the deputy straddling him.

Todd appears to punch Padilla in the head with his right fist three times. Seconds later, Todd is apparently holding Padilla's head down with his right forearm and appears to hit him again in the face with his left fist.

A woman can be heard yelling in the background. Then a man says in Spanish, "Here they will beat you because you don't have papers. This is what the police do. They don't do anything to the people who really do wrong."

"Turn over, turn over, right now. Don't move," Todd can be heard saying, moments before handcuffing Padilla.

Torres recalled Thursday that it was an emotional scene. "The deputy hit him in the face," Torres said.

"My wife was screaming at him to stop. My children stood nearby and watched, trembling and crying."

Authorities would not provide details about what motivated the incident, pending completion of the internal inquiry.

Doyle said, however, that the area Todd patrolled had generated numerous complaints of speeding and drunk driving on narrow, winding two-lane roads.

Locals also mentioned several recent thefts of thousands of dollars of freshly picked avocados.

"We were asked to do more traffic enforcement, and this individual [Padilla] had a traffic violation," Doyle said. "The citizens of the mountain were asking us, 'Jiminy Christmas, when are you going to do something?' "

Padilla, an undocumented worker from Mexico, was arrested on suspicion of resisting arrest, and cited for not having a driver's license, said Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Sgt. Shelley Kennedy-Smith.

Rene Gonzalez, an assistant patrol agent at the U.S. Border Patrol station in Temecula, said Padilla would have been retained had he filed a complaint while he was jailed in Riverside County's Southwest Detention Center.

He instead chose to be deported back to Mexico on Tuesday, Gonzalez said.

"He had three choices: ask to see an official in the consular office, ask to see an immigration judge or go back to Mexico," Gonzalez said.

The incident became a hot topic of conversation among the many undocumented workers gathering avocados among the groves surrounding opulent hilltop manors.

They said they nicknamed the husky sheriff's deputy because they said he had been writing numerous traffic citations recently.

Picking avocados and tossing them into a cloth satchel while at the top of 20-foot ladder, one man said: "It's scary around here right now. What happened to that boy could happen to any of us.

"That deputy was new around here, and he was always giving tickets," added the man, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being detained by immigration authorities. "He'd pull you over, ask two questions: Do you have a driver's license? Do you have immigration papers?"

Times staff writer Hilda Munoz contributed to this report.

To see the video of the attack, go to www.latimes.com/deputy.

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