The FBI will join local prosecutors in investigating a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputy from the Palmdale station throwing punches at a woman while she cradled her baby during a traffic stop, the department announced Wednesday.
Sheriff Robert Luna told reporters at a news conference about his decision regarding the incident that took place in July 2022 and where the department released body camera video footage of the traffic stop.
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass on Thursday called the video — which shows a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputy from the Palmdale station throwing punches at a woman while she cradled her baby during a traffic stop — “enraging and disturbing” and said the acts in the video must be condemned.
“The idea that you would assault a mother with a child in her arms and then subject that child to the child welfare system just because the child didn’t have a car seat is an abuse of power,” Bass said. “When a child goes into the child welfare system, it can take months for that child to be returned. That process can result in lifelong trauma for both the mother and the child.”
In the video, a male deputy at the edge of the frame is shown throwing two overhand punches at the woman as she is seen pleading not to take her baby away.
“I found the punching of the woman and the circumstances completely unacceptable,” Luna said.
Luna said he took the “swift action” of relieving the deputy of duty after finding out about the incident a few days ago.
Luna said the traffic stop occurred just before midnight on July 13, 2022, when deputies from the Palmdale Sheriff’s Station noticed a vehicle driving at night without the headlights on, the Los Angeles Times reported.
When they pulled over the driver, the deputies noticed the smell of alcohol coming from inside and saw four women, three of whom were holding babies in their arms instead of using car seats, according to The Times.
The deputies arrested the man driving the vehicle on suspicion of felony child endangerment, as well as driving under the influence and driving with a suspended license.
The women were arrested on the same charges but during the course of arresting them deputies used force with two of them.
On the video released Wednesday, the deputies can be heard saying that the woman was riding in a car driven by someone without a valid license and that her baby was not in a car seat.
They repeatedly asked the woman who was eventually struck in the face to give up the child so she can be placed under arrest, telling her that her infant will be pulled away otherwise.
“Forcefully taking your child from you is not what’s best,” one deputy said. “Taking my child from me is not what’s best,” the woman replies.
The Times reported that after several minutes of back-and-forth, the deputies pulled the woman’s hands apart and she began screaming as the child was taken away.
Another woman who is close by and holding a baby begins screaming and cursing at officers. When deputies state they plan to arrest her as well, she becomes incensed.
“Y’all gonna have to shoot me dead to take my baby from my arms,” she says before a struggle with deputies ensues.
During the confrontation, a male deputy is seen throwing two punches at the woman’s head while she is still holding her baby.
Late Wednesday night, the Association for Los Angeles County Deputies, the union that represents deputies, released a statement saying the video does not tell the entire story about the traffic stop.
“The video makes one thing obvious — police work is demanding and unpredictable. Any dispute over the control of infants on the roadway at 12:30 a.m. during an arrest of the driver of the car these children were riding in without proper restraints is a bad situation. Apparently, our deputies and the on-scene patrol supervisor had determined it wasn’t safe for the children to leave with the parents who were going to be taken into custody,” wrote ALADS President Richard Pippin.
“The physical safety of the infants was clearly our deputies’ highest priority as they were seen pleading with the women for a lengthy period. There will be a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking, and some will no doubt say that things could have been done differently.
“We will let the public decide that for themselves.”
Fifth District Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents Palmdale on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, called the video “gut-wrenching. My heart aches for the children that we see in this video and for their mothers,”
Barger added, “To the law enforcement community who will also see this video today and whose work will be judged harshly in the court of public opinion, I want you to know that I value your work.”
Fourth District Supervisor Janice Hahn called for Luna to fire the deputy who threw the punches.
“It is appalling and there is no justification for this violence,” Hahn said in a statement. ” This deputy does not belong in our Sheriff’s Department.”
“I’m disturbed and horrified by the footage that LASD released showing mothers in distress who simply needed help keeping their children safe. These women and their children needed a safe ride home; instead, those sworn to protect them inflicted physical harm (and) lasting trauma” said 3rd District Supervisor Lindsay Horvath.
Holly Mitchell, who represents the 2nd District, said, “The body cam footage Sheriff Luna released of a male deputy using excessive force during an interaction with a Black woman and her infant is shameful. This footage is further indication of the need for a culture shift that ends the long history of brutality directed towards Black people and communities of color by law enforcement.
“These acts of violence cause immeasurable harm and I expect zero tolerance for this behavior. I want to thank Sheriff Luna for working towards increased transparency and accountability in the department,” Mitchell said.
The confrontation took place during the tenure of former Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who lost his reelection bid to Luna after a contentious campaign. In a statement to The Times, he called Luna’s statements “extremely disingenuous” and said he hadn’t taken action to terminate the deputy before leaving office because the investigation into the matter had not concluded.
“Furthermore, the only reason action was taken today was because the statute of limitation was about to expire tomorrow, July 14,” Villanueva said. “His presser deliberately excluded all footage that showed the struggle to remove the infants from the custody of the suspects who endangered their lives, and the context of the deputy’s decision to use force.
“That very context will most likely preclude any criminal proceedings that would lead to a conviction, so this is nothing more than political posturing.”
Luna said he could not “speak to what my predecessor did or did not do. The action I am describing to you today is action that I took in the last couple of days.”
The release of the video occurred against the backdrop of a June 24 confrontation when deputies responded to 911 calls for a reported robbery in progress at a WinCo Foods grocery store on Avenue K in Lancaster. After arriving on scene, they encountered a man and a woman who allegedly matched the description of the suspects given to 911.
As the deputies handcuffed the man in the parking lot, the woman began filming with her phone. Within seconds, one of the deputies rushed toward her and reached for her arm, seemingly in an attempt to take the phone. The woman was thrown to the ground and pepper-sprayed by a deputy.
Updated July 13, 2023, 12:05 p.m.