A video of an Orange County sheriff's deputy repeatedly punching a man during an arrest in Stanton shows excessive force, an assistant public defender alleges. But the Sheriff's Department is defending the deputy's actions, saying he used "appropriate" force against an "assaultive and intoxicated person."
The Aug. 19 encounter in a Stanton parking lot was captured on dashcam video.
Two Orange County Sheriff's Department deputies approached Mohamed Sayem as he was sitting in a parked car, according to a motion filed by Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders seeking the deputy's personnel files. Sanders helped uncover the improper use of jailhouse informants in Orange County in 2014.
Deputy Michael Devitt is seen on the video repeatedly punching Sayem in the face. But Sanders and the Sheriff's Department describe the encounter in very different ways.
The assistant public defender said the video shows excessive force, and proves that the deputies lied about the encounter to justify their actions.
"In Orange County, the Sheriff's Department will stand up for every deputy. It doesn't matter what they do, it will alway be justified. And that's the problem," Sanders said.
Sheriff Sandra Hutchens posted a three-minute video with her response to the allegations on Friday afternoon, saying the video released by the public defender shows only 15 minutes out of an hourlong recording.
Hutchens described the encounter, saying the deputy demanded the suspect show identification, to which the suspect did not comply.
"A appropriate use of force was utilized at that time," Hutchens said. "The deputy then handcuffed the individual and he was provided immediate medical attention at the scene."
"What you also did not see on the tape is when paramedics arrived, the suspect continued to be belligerent and refused to let them see him. I think that this is egregious on the part of the public defender's office. My deputy is not on trial. The suspect is on trial for assaulting a peace officer."
In the video, just prior to the blows, one of the deputies can be heard telling Sayem, "Don't get out of the car."
Sayem is heard saying, "Don't touch me like that," before the struggle begins. The camera view is largely obscured by the door of Sayem's vehicle, but the deputy can be seen grappling with Sayem, then punching him several times.
Sayem, who was originally approached on suspicion of public drunkenness, now also faces a charge of felony resisting arrest. But Sanders said his client never attacked the deputy. He has pleaded not guilty.
"It's a fabrication," he said. "And his sergeant knows he's not telling the truth."
The sergeant who supervises Devitt was himself prosecuted, but not convicted, over an excessive force claim nine years ago, Sanders said.
Sheriff's officials said the video serves as evidence that the deputies acted properly.
They responded to a call from a citizen when they encountered Sayem, who was "visibly under the influence," sheriff's spokeswoman Carrie Braun said in a written statement.
When a deputy asked for Sayem's ID, "The subject refused to do so and attempted to physically engage the deputy, during which the deputy used force appropriate for the situation to gain control of an uncooperative, assaultive and intoxicated person," Braun said.
The deputies "made every attempt to deescalate the situation" before resorting to force, she said.
The Sheriff's Department also said the attorney's allegation of a cover-up is false, saying the deputy's report was supported by the video, in its entirety.
"Any assertion otherwise substantially misrepresents the facts, and serves only to swell an anti-law enforcement narrative," Braun said.
And the department pointed out that the Orange County District Attorney's Office reviewed the evidence and filed charges against Sayem.
While it is the job of defense attorneys to try to get their clients cleared of charges, Braun said, "Our judicial system relies on the courts and juries to determine the facts of what occurred, and we have confidence that a conclusion will be reached supported by fact, not conjecture."
Association of Orange County Sheriff's Deputies President Tom Dominguez issued a statement on behalf of the union, stating, "We support our deputies."
He also questioned the integrity of Sanders.
"It is not surprising that criminal attorney Scott Sanders would make such exaggerated claims," Dominguez said. "He has a reputation in the criminal justice system for misstating and omitting facts, and manipulating the media, to obtain personal notoriety."
The involved deputies acted appropriately throughout the incident, and the union supports the district attorney's decision to file charges against Sayem, he said.
The footage does not tell the full story, Dominguez said.
"The video depicts the incident from the viewpoint of a patrol vehicle parked a distance away from the car. It does not capture the perspective of what the deputies were witnessing and experiencing at that moment," he said.
"These deputies did their jobs," Dominguez said. "They should be commended for keeping this dangerous person off the roads and protecting the citizens of Stanton and Orange County."
Sheriff Hutchens ended her video statement by saying that she stands "one hundred percent behind" the deputy.