A Westminster police officer is on paid leave after cellphone video captured him punching a woman in the face while arresting her on suspicion of assault, authorities said Thursday.
The officer, who has not been identified, is being placed on leave while the Westminster Police Department conducts an internal affairs investigation, the Orange County agency said. The incident occurred about 4 p.m. Wednesday in the 14100 block of Locust Street, according to police.
In a written news release, the department states the officer struck the woman in the face twice using his fist after she “became combative” while he and another officer were arresting her. Two officers stopped him and kept the situation from escalating, according to police.
The statement from police also indicates the woman is suspected of assaulting an officer but gives no details on how that alleged assault occurred.
The video, which has circulated widely on social media, shows the woman trying to stand while officers have her in handcuffs and sitting on a curb. As she gets up, two officers holding her pull her down to the ground.
She briefly appears to try squirming away and lifting one of her legs, although the angle of the video makes it difficult to see exactly what’s happening. Just as she moves her leg, one of the officers throws a punch to her face with his right arm — twice.
Sandy Armenta, her father and a neighbor were outside at the time, watching as the incident unfolded. She shot the cellphone video that’s been posted online.
“I think she kicked him once,” Armenta said of the handcuffed woman. She said that’s when the officer started punching the woman in response.
A third officer, who was standing to the side holding a notepad while the other two were arresting her, then jumps in. He says “No, no, no,” as he and the other officer push away the officer who hit the woman, and then he appears to block the officer from the woman.
The other officer also tells the punching officer “stop” repeatedly.
Still holding his notepad, the third officer then assists in holding the woman as she starts to sit up straight. The officer who punched her steps away as his colleagues take over.
“Two WPD Officers immediately intervened and deescalated the situation,” states the news release from the Westminster Police Department.
Armenta said the other two officers stopped the offending officer from being further involved.
“The other two officers told him to stop, and they backed him up and he wasn’t on the scene anymore,” Armenta said.
The woman, identified by police as 34-year-old Ciomara Garcia of Westminster, was suspected of assaulting another woman who had tried to rescue a dog as it ran into the street, police said. She was being arrested on a felony warrant for vandalism when the officers noticed she appeared to be under the influence and decided to call paramedics, according to police.
They were waiting for paramedics to arrive when the incident happened, according to police.
The department said no injuries were reported after she was evaluated at a hospital following her arrest.
A person provided supervisors at the department with cellphone footage of the incident, police said. The department news release states the force is “well aware” of video surfacing online and describes the incident as a “serious event.”
The officer was placed on leave following a “careful review of the video and based on the totality of the circumstances,” the news release states.
When the video was posted to a local neighborhood account on Instagram, the top-liked comments were from people commending the two officers who intervened. One person wrote, “Respect for the other cops tho facts,” while another commented, “At least the other cops weren’t letting that slide.”
Police said Garcia was booked into Orange County Jail on the arrest warrant for vandalism. She is suspected of assault and battery, being under the influence of a controlled substance, resisting arrest and assault on a police officer, according to police.