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LAPD officer used Taser on handcuffed woman

Elements of the officer's version of events are contradicted by video footage. The department denies that this and other force cases add up to a behavioral pattern of abuse.

November 17, 2012|By Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times
  • LAPD officials have confirmed that Police Chief Charlie Beck is seeking to have four officers fired, including one who used a stun gun on a handcuffed woman.
LAPD officials have confirmed that Police Chief Charlie Beck is seeking… (Luis Sinco, Los Angeles…)

A Los Angeles police officer shocked a handcuffed woman with a Taser stun gun while joking with other officers at the scene, according to interviews and law enforcement records, adding to a series of controversial use-of-force incidents at the LAPD.

Officer Jorge Santander then appeared to lie about the December 2010 incident repeatedly in written reports. The three other LAPD officers who witnessed Santander stun the woman all corroborated his version of events when first questioned and failed to tell supervisors that one officer had recorded a video of the encounter, the records show.

The video shows Santander firing the Taser without warning and later displaying a Superman logo he wore on his chest beneath his uniform, according to the records. Off camera, another officer is heard laughing and singing.

The details of the case were outlined in a memo written by a prosecutor in the Los Angeles County district attorney's office that was obtained by The Times. Police officials confirmed that Police Chief Charlie Beck is seeking to have Santander and the three others fired. All four have been suspended since shortly after the incident.

The D.A.'s office concluded last year that the video and other evidence were not conclusive enough to prove that Santander had committed any crimes, according to the prosecutor's memo. Prosecutors also declined to charge the woman.

This marks the fourth time in the last few months that cases have come to light in which LAPD officers are accused of using force on suspects who had been restrained.

In August, a security surveillance camera captured an officer violently throwing a handcuffed woman to the ground with any apparent provocation. Days later, the Times reported on a July incident in which a video camera in a patrol car recorded a female officer stomping her heel onto the genitals of a woman who was being restrained by other officers. That woman died after being forced into the back of a patrol car, although there is no evidence that her death was caused by the officer's kick. And this month The Times learned about a botched arrest in July, in which a handcuffed man was mistakenly shot by officers after he escaped custody.

The civilian Police Commission, which oversees the LAPD, has launched an independent inquiry into cases of Taser use and other types of non-lethal force by officers.

The roughly 1,700 such cases that occur each year are investigated less rigorously than those involving lethal force, and the study will examine, among other things, whether changes to training and oversight need to be made, said commission President Andrea Ordin. She added that the report, which she said is expected to be completed in the coming months, will shed light on whether the recent string of controversial cases are unrelated or rooted in some common problem.

"They certainly raise some red flags," said Geoffrey Alpert, a leading expert on police violence and training, of the recent cases. "These types of things do happen, but when they do you have to look for the patterns that link them, if there are any. Were these officers trained by the same people or in the same way? Do they share a common psychological profile that can be identified? Someone needs to start peeling back this onion to search for what's going on."

Department officials rejected the idea that the cases add up to a larger behavioral pattern. Cmdr. Andrew Smith called them "isolated, unrelated cases in which officers got out of line." The cases, he emphasized, represent a small fraction of the total number of those involving force and added that in each of the cases in question the department is investigating the officers for misconduct.

The case involving the woman shocked by officers dates back nearly two years. Two officers, Steven Bauman and Jose Lepe, were dispatched to a parking lot behind a Hollywood nightclub around 1:30 a.m. on Dec. 4, 2010. A couple had returned to their car to find a drunk woman inside, who refused to get out. The officers ordered the woman out of the car and repeatedly gave her the opportunity to leave voluntarily, records show. When she refused to go, Bauman and Lepe arrested her on suspicion of public intoxication.

According to records, the officers handcuffed the woman and requested that a female officer be sent to assist them. Santander arrived shortly after with his partner, Georgeta Buruiana. Buruiana searched the woman and then Lepe tried to seat her in the back of his patrol car. The woman resisted and Lepe eventually resorted to pushing her down into the car. For reasons not explained in the D.A. memo, the officers then decided instead that Santander and Buruiana would transport the woman to a nearby station to be booked.

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