LAPD officer Tasered woman in handcuffs, records show
Four Los Angeles police officers are under scrutiny after one Tasered a handcuffed woman while joking with others at the scene, according to interviews and law enforcement records.
The video taken of the December 2010 arrest shows Officer Jorge Santander firing the Taser without warning and later displaying a Superman logo he wore on his chest beneath his uniform, according to records. Off camera, another officer is heard laughing and singing.
Santander then appeared to lie about the incident repeatedly in written reports. The three other officers who witnessed him stun the woman corroborated his version of events when first questioned and failed to tell supervisors that a video of the encounter existed, records show.
According to a memo written by a prosecutor in the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, the incident began when 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, when a couple reported a drunk woman inside their car.
After the woman refused to leave voluntarily, records show, the officers arrested her on suspicion of public intoxication.
The officers requested a female officer be sent to assist, which is when Santander arrived with his partner, Georgeta Buruiana, who searched the woman, records showed. For reasons not explained in a D.A. memo of the event, Santander and Buruiana would transport the woman to a nearby station for booking.
Bauman had turned on a personal video camera and focused it on Santander and Buruiana as they led the woman over to their patrol car. She resisted getting in — something she had also done when Lepe tried to seat her in the back of his patrol car.
As before, officers shoved the woman into the seat, but she managed to stand back up. Without warning, Santander placed a Taser against the woman's torso and fired it twice, according to the prosecutor's account of the video. The woman fell face-down onto the seat.
Immediately after he delivered the shocks, Santander stated that the woman had kicked him in the stomach. It was not possible to tell from the video if the claim was true, the memo said. The D.A. memo details Santander displaying the Superman logo but does not say exactly when in the chronology it occurred.
As the woman lay in the car kicking and yelling, the video showed the officers discussing how to move her into a seated position. Santander climbed into the front seat and is heard warning the woman that she will be shocked again if she doesn't comply, the prosecutor wrote. The officer then reached back toward the woman with the Taser and, according to the memo, appeared to place it against her arm as the weapon's red activation light illuminated, although it was unclear if he pulled the Taser away before the electrical charge began.
When a sergeant arrived at the scene, Bauman turned off the camera. Santander told the supervisor simply that he had used the Taser on the woman twice because she had kicked him and had tried to kick out the windows of the patrol car. The three other officers corroborated that version of the encounter and none mentioned Bauman's video, the memo said.
Sometime later in the day, Santander wrote an account of firing his Taser for the woman's arrest report. In it he said he had fired the Taser only twice and warned the woman that she would be stunned before firing the Taser the first time. He also alleged that she had kicked him in the chest with such force that she knocked him off balance. Both claims — about the warning and being knocked off balance — were proven false by the video, the prosecutor wrote.
Santander amended the arrest report a few days later, saying that it had been Bauman, instead of himself, who warned the woman about the Taser. That, too, was untrue according to the video, the memo concluded. Santander also added mention of firing the Taser from the front seat but said he had used it only to scare her with the noise of the electrical charge.
Word of the video reached a supervisor only after Santander asked an officer if he had seen it and that officer reported the conversation to a higher-up.
The woman declined to speak to investigators about the incident on the advice of her attorney. The Times could not reach her for comment, and the officers involved did not respond to requests for comment.
Police officials confirmed that Police Chief Charlie Beck is seeking to have Santander and the three others fired. All four were suspended with pay until August this year, when the department concluded an internal investigation and Beck ordered each of them to go before discipline panels, which has the power to fire officers.
One officer's hearing is underway, and the others are expected in the coming months, Cmdr. Andrew Smith said.
The nearly two-year delay in passing judgment on the officers was a result, in part, of the seriousness of the case. Santander's actions were disturbing enough to police investigators that they postponed the internal inquiry in order to present the case to the district attorney's office for possible criminal charges.
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.
The incident 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. 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.
— Joel Rubin
Photo: 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. Creidt: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times