Salinas police officers who beat Jose Velasco with batons on North Main Street last month were cleared of any wrongdoing and will not be charged with crimes, prosecutors announced Wednesday.
On June 5, five officers arrested Velasco and some beat him repeatedly with batons while he was on the ground.
A witness recorded the violent arrest with a cellphone and uploaded the footage onto YouTube. The video raised concerns by residents about possible police brutality, and reopened a heated debate over four 2014 fatal officer-involved shootings in Salinas.
Monterey County District Attorney Dean Flippo and his investigators decided to charge Velasco with felony assault likely to produce great bodily injury, removing a police officer’s Taser while resisting arrest, and assaulting a firefighter.
Salinas police and 911 callers said the 28-year-old man was throwing his mother into oncoming traffic on North Main Street and attacking her. Rita Acosta told KSBW that she was never in danger and wanted police to help her son, not break his leg.
Prosecutors, however, concluded that Velasco did in fact assault his mother, and officers did not use excessive force while trying to control the screaming man.
The Monterey County District Attorney’s Office issued the following press release Wednesday afternoon:
“Monterey County District Attorney Dean D. Flippo announced today the filing of three charges against Jose Velasco, age 28 of Salinas, for acts committed on June 5, 2015. The charges are felony assault likely to produce great bodily injury upon Velasco’s mother Rita Ramirez (Acosta); removing Salinas Police Officer David Pritt’s taser while resisting arrest, a felony; and misdemeanor assault on firefighter Collin Mitchell. Velasco will be arraigned on July 2.”
“Further, after careful review of all of the available evidence, including independent consultations with two certified instructors in defensive tactics using baton and fixed stick weapons, there is insufficient evidence to prove any officer committed a crime during the incident,” the DA wrote.
“Under California Rule of Professional Conduct 5-120, a member of the bar shall not make an extrajudicial statement that has a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing a pending case. The reason for this rule is to prevent the parties from arguing their cases in the media. Thus, the rule preserves the right to a fair trial for both sides. The officers’ use of force and the admissibility of that evidence will be a material issue in Velasco’s case.
Therefore, because of Velasco’s pending case, the District Attorney is prohibited from further explaining the decision not to file charges against the officers. Publicizing the facts and reasoning for the decision risks a substantial likelihood of prejudicing Velasco’s right to a fair trial. The District Attorney expects further evidence will be made public at Velasco’s preliminary hearing,” the DA wrote.
Civil rights attorney John Burris described the five officers who arrested Velasco as “jaguars” in a feeding frenzy. Burris filed an excessive force claim against the city that will likely turn into a lawsuit.
“When one jaguar was eating away, another jaguar jumped in. They were all trying to get a piece of the action,” Burris said.
On Wednesday night, Burris said the District Attorney’s decision to file criminal charges against Velasco instead of the officers was outrageous.
“He was actually being beaten and had a right to halfway defend himself,” Burris said. “The man who was beaten is now being charged.”
Burris said the community should be outraged as well, and he requested a federal investigation into the Salinas Police Department.
Police Chief Kelly McMillin asked the Monterey County District Attorney to conduct an independent criminal investigation on his officers’ conduct to increase transparency.
McMillin emphasized that when someone is on the ground, it does not mean they are no longer a threat. “I had my nose broken one time by a guy who was on the ground,” the chief said.
A toxicology test on Velasco revealed he was under the influence of methamphetamine. McMillin said Velasco suffers from a drug-induced psychotic disorder, but does not have any mental illnesses when he is not under the influence of drugs.