Sacramento

Questions raised over police actions

SACRAMENTO -- On July 17, Aristeo Vásquez was walking with his family on Simon Terrace Street in West Sacramento when he stopped to watch a street fight being carried out by two groups of people.

In a matter of minutes, several police cars arrived at the scene and all those involved in the fight started running away to hide.

Suddenly, a police officer approached Vásquez, who was standing at about 50 feet from the scene, and ordered him, in both English and Spanish, to drop to the floor with his hands behind his head.

"At first I didn't understand what the officer was telling me but at the second request I obeyed without any kind of resistance and he immediately started beating me up with a club; once in the stomach area and others on my back and legs," said Vásquez, 30.

When Vásquez' wife, who was holding their infant son in her arms, saw what was happening, she approached the officer and begged him to leave her husband alone because he was not part of the fight, but the officer pushed her and she fell unconscious on the floor.

"It was horrifying to see my wife and son on the floor while the police officer was beating me up, it was a complete act of injustice," Vásquez said.

While the officer was beating him, witness Jesús Castro Haro was recording the event with his cell phone. The police officer approached him, confiscated his cell phone and arrested him.

Today Castro Haro faces deportation charges.

After the incident, a group of Latino activists from West Sacramento held a press conference last week outside City Hall, where they denounced the excessive police force and called the attack an act of racial discrimination.

"We believe that this was an act of unnecessary violence and of discrimination against our community. And this is nothing new in West Sacramento to the point where many people in other nearby cities don't want to come here because of all the things that happen with the police," said Frank González, community activist.

The West Sacramento Police Department released the officer's report on the incident, which contradicts Vásquez' comments.

According to the report, police officers considered it was necessary to use excessive force with Vásquez since he was resisting and fighting with them.

After the police carried out an investigation on the case, Vásquez was arrested under suspicion of complicity and for putting at risk the life of a minor.

The entire incident -- with audio -- was recorded by one of the video cameras in a nearby patrol car.

The report also points out that officers asked Vásquez to put his hands up in the air but he didn't comply. After that, the officer went after him hitting him three times behind his left leg to subdue him.

Due to the charges he now faces, Vásquez hired Anthony Palik, a lawyer who will represent him in court in about two months.

According to Palik, it is evident that there was excessive use of force by the officer when he hit the suspect three times with the club, and he is willing to present evidence before the judge.

Palik will also represent Castro Haro, who faces charges of allegedly being under the influence at the time of the incident despite his statements that he was just there recording the fight with his cell phone.

Palik said that he already has Castro Haro's cell phone and he will soon have access to its contents and see what exactly happened.

Send email to: mmartinez@vidaenelvalle.com

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