DA to Investigate Salinas Police Officers' Use of Force in Arrest Caught on Camera

Salinas police Chief Kelly McMillin announced Thursday that the Monterey County District Attorney's Office will investigate officers' use of force with batons in the arrest of a 28-year-old man last Friday depicted on a video posted online that has received national attention.

McMillin at a news conference Thursday at Salinas police headquarters said the 102-second video posted on YouTube is only a fraction of what happened on Friday evening during the arrest of Jose Velasco.

"Our policy is to use only the force needed to stop the violence and to make an arrest," McMillin said.

The identities of the officers involved in Friday's case have not been released because police fear for their safety given Velasco's "substantial gang ties," McMillin said.

One officer at the end of the video seen using the most force on Velasco has been taken off patrol enforcement duties and is limited to duties within the police station, according to McMillin.

McMillin said he understands the "trust issues" between law enforcement and the community and has asked the district attorney's office to conduct an investigation into the officers' use of force on Velasco.

"I've asked the district attorney's office to step up to a much more detailed level of investigation equivalent to an officer-involved shooting," McMillin said.

During the news conference, 15 calls made to police dispatch were played to reporters. Many of the calls described Velasco screaming, blocking traffic, jumping on cars, doing pushups on the roadway and beating up a woman.

Around 7:15 p.m. Friday, officers responded to reports of a man screaming on North Main Street north of Bernal Drive near Sherwood Gardens Shopping Center, police said. A witness reported seeing the man slam a woman, later determined to be his mother, into the pavement, according to police.

Arriving officers found the man, later identified as Velasco, allegedly slamming his mother into the pavement while heavy traffic passed by, according to police.

Velasco's mother, Rita Acosta, alerted police of her son running through traffic and officers tried to pull him away from the roadway, police said. In one of the 911 calls released Thursday, Acosta is heard yelling, "What're you doing?" "Stop it," "Jose," and "Please be careful with my son." The four-minute call is filled with yells, screams and moans and later police sirens are heard arriving to the scene.
A third voice is heard saying, "Get on your stomach or you'll get hit."

Velasco allegedly resisted and attacked the officers, at one point taking a Taser that was in a holster attached to an officer, according to police. Officers deployed two Tasers on Velasco, but the shocks had no effect on him, police said.

Five officers worked to stop Velasco from being combative and in the process used batons on him, police said. Once Velasco was placed in handcuffs, he was transported to Natividad Medical Center to be evaluated and treated, police said.

On the way to the hospital, Velasco allegedly battered a police officer and paramedic by grabbing them and attempting to bite them through the rails of a gurney he was on, according to police. Once he was treated for injuries that included a fractured leg and bruises to his arms and legs, he was released from the hospital, police said.

Velasco was booked into county jail on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, assault on an officer causing injury, resisting arrest and parole violation, police said.

Velasco had told officers that he was under the influence of methamphetamine and alcohol before the alleged assault, according to McMillin. His toxicology results showed he was only under the influence of methamphetamine, McMillin said. Velasco was diagnosed with a drug-induced psychotic disorder, McMillin said.

Three of the five officers who faced Velasco had crisis intervention training, which prepares officers to deal with people suffering from mental illness, McMillin said.

About 78 percent of the department's force has CIT training, the chief said. The officers who were called to the scene Friday evening did not have knowledge of Velasco's mental health, McMillin said. When officers are faced with a violent incident, they don't have time to determine if the suspect is under the influence and have to protect victims and the public, according to McMillin.

Police made previous contact with Velasco on April 15, when he waved down two patrol officers and told them that people were trying to kill him, McMillin said. When the two officers saw Velasco acting erratically, they called for more officers and arranged for an ambulance to take him to a hospital, according to McMillin.

The officer questioned Velasco and asked if he wanted to hurt himself, but Velasco said he wanted help obtaining his medication, McMillin said.

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