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Police union: El Monte officer justified in kicking suspect in the head

May 15, 2009 |  2:42 pm

Rodriguez200 The kick to the head delivered by an El Monte police officer to a car-chase suspect lying on the ground at the end of a televised high-speed pursuit was a legally justified “distraction blow," an attorney for the police union said today.

Dieter Dammeier, attorney for the El  Monte Police Officers Assn, said the officer acted within his training and department policy when he delivered the kick.

“Unfortunately these things never look good on video. Sometimes officers have to use force when dealing with bad guys,” said Dammeier. “The officer initially came upon the suspect alone. The suspect hadn’t been searched and was a parolee and a gang member. The individual officer saw some movement. He feared the parolee might have a weapon or be about to get up. So the officer did what is known as a distraction blow. It wasn’t designed to hurt the man, just distract him."

El Monte officers, he said “are trained to deliver a distraction blow to stop a [suspect] doing what they planning on doing.”

The decision by the officer to kick the head of a suspect who was surrendering has been criticized by use-of-force experts. Samuel Walker, a criminology professor at the University of Nebraska, called the kick to the head "unprovoked and unnecessary . . . It's one of the worst incidents of this kind that I've seen." The incident began Wednesday afternoon when gang officers recognized a man they believed was a gang member driving a Toyota. They were trying to determine if the car was stolen when the driver committed an unspecified traffic violation.

Richard Rodriguez sped off, blowing through stop signs and running red lights at speeds reaching 80 mph, even attempting to elude authorities by driving on the opposite side of the road and on a sidewalk full of pedestrians, said department spokesman Ken Alva.

Video shows Rodriguez being kicked in the face after he had put his hands up and fell to the ground with his arms above his head. Two officers are seen in news footage giving each other high-fives. Alva said investigators are also examining the actions of a second officer, who used a plastic flashlight to subdue Rodriguez.

-- Richard Winton

Kingthumb Photos: Excessive force? A history of L.A. area police incidents

Earlier: Police officer kicks suspect in head after he appears to surrender (with photo and video)

Earlier: Experts say El Monte police officer's kick was unjustified

Photo: Richard Rodriguez. Credit: El Monte Police Department