The family of the 14-year-old boy involved in a use-of-force incident with a Rancho Cordova police officer called the incident caught on video an unjustified “beating.”
He’s “our everything,” said Leata Tufono, the boy’s aunt, said during a news conference Wednesday night. “He was raised to be respectful, to not talk back to adults. ... He’s a good, good kid and he didn’t deserve this.”
The boy — identified as Elijah Tufono by family members on social media — was forcefully detained Monday after the officer believed he saw a “hand-to-hand exchange” of tobacco between Tufono and an adult, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. Tufono allegedly resisted the officer’s commands, which led to a scuffle that was caught on cellphone video.
But according to a use-of-force expert, the officer’s conduct may be “justified.”
The incident gained national attention Tuesday when a video of the altercation was viewed more than 7 million times and shared on social media by public figures including California Sen. Kamala Harris.
The video shows less than a minute of the incident in which the officer, who is a Sacramento County Sheriff’s deputy, tries to gain control of the teen by pinning him beneath his body weight.
As the video continues, the officer grabs the teen’s right wrist and pulls his arm in an apparent attempt to turn the teen onto his stomach. The teen appeared to resist, and the officer uses his right hand to push the teen’s face toward the ground as he tries to pull the teen’s right hand behind his back.
Then, the officer is seen in the video using his right hand to punch the teen as he used his left hand to hold down the teen.
The person capturing the struggle on video is heard yelling in an apparent attempt to get the teen and the officer to stop. “Stop hitting him, boss,” the person with the camera says to the officer.
At one point, the teen appears to yell out in pain when his face makes contact with a cement curb as the officer places his hand firmly on the teen’s back.
In response to the video, the Sheriff’s Office, which is under contract with Rancho Cordova to provide law enforcement services, released a statement saying the incident was under investigation “in order to gain a complete and thorough understanding of the events that took place during this incident.”
Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Sgt. Tess Deterding said the officer was on patrol in the area of Mills Station Road and Mather Field Road because of complaints of hand-to-hand sales of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs to minors.
“The deputy saw what he believed to be a hand-to-hand exchange between an adult and juvenile,” Deterding said in the statement. “As the deputy turned around, he lost sight of the adult, who left the area. When the deputy approached the juvenile, the juvenile was uncooperative and refused to give the deputy basic identifying information.”
The officer tried to detain Tufono but the Sheriff’s Office said he became “physically resistive.”
The officer was alone and lost control of his handcuffs during the incident.
FAMILY SAYS TEEN HAS HEART CONDITION
Black Lives Matter Sacramento held Wednesday’s news conference in the neighborhood where the incident occurred, calling for the officer to be put on unpaid leave and then terminated. More than 30 friends and family members gathered in support of Tufono — including Stevante Clark, whose brother Stephon Clark was shot and killed by Sacramento police in 2018, and BLM Sacramento leader Tanya Faison.
An attorney for the family said the incident has had an affect on the teen, whom they referred to as Jah.
“This was an opportunity for the officer to actually build community relations in dealing with the young man, and instead I’m certain he’s left a mark on this young man’s spirit and soul and brain that will live with him the rest of his life,” said Adante Pointer, a civil rights attorney representing the family.
Ed Obayashi, a Plumas County Sheriff’s deputy and use-of-force expert, said the video shows that Tufono was resisting and the officer was “straining” to gain compliance.
“This is going to be hard for the general public to understand, but I can see this officer is struggling with a kid who, in my opinion, is actively resisting,” he said. “He’s definitely trying to turn this kid over and hes’ having trouble with it. The kid is not complying with commands. And the longer it goes on, the more dangerous it becomes for the officer and the subject. The officer needed to take control of that situation immediately. “
Obayashi said the officer’s punches acted as “distraction blows,” which is a technique taught in law enforcement academies. A distraction blow is a direct strike or kick that is used to distract a suspect long enough for the officer to gain control or compliance.
“It’s a direct strike that is delivered with less force than an officer could have used,” he said. “There’s no haymakers here, they’re short, deliberate strikes.”
OFFICER REASSIGNED DURING INVESTIGATION
The Rancho Cordova Police Chief Kate Adams issued her response to the incident in a video released Wednesday before the news conference.
“Due to the volatile nature of the situation and the pending investigation the officer involved has been temporarily reassigned to a different role outside of the Rancho Cordova Police Department,” she said.
The officer was identified by Tufono’s family as Brian Fowell.
In an interview with Fox40, Tufono expressed remorse for his actions saying, “Sir, I’m sorry for the way that I acted towards you and for not cooperating. And I just hope that we could meet again and be on better terms.”
Adams said in her video that she and Fowell had seen the news report and had reached out to the family to set up a meeting.
“It is heartening to me that on both sides with the young man and the officer there is a desire to listen to each other and understand how the situation could have been different,” Adams said.
When asked about the potential meeting at the news conference, Pointer, the family’s attorney said, “The fact that they want to have a face-to-face now kind of rings hollow. They should have been doing that when they had to call home to tell this boy’s family the way this officer treated their young man.”