Viral video of a violent police encounter shows a California police officer forcing a 14-year-old boy's face into the dirt and punching him in the chest in an attempt to detain him Monday. Yralina Tufono, the teen’s sister, told NBC News her brother, Elijah Tufono, was targeted because he held a Swisher cigar. “All of this” was “over a swisher,” the 20-year-old also tweeted. Although she didn’t witness the incident, her account of what sparked the officer’s attention seems to match that of the sheriff’s office investigating the encounter.
Yralina Tufono said in another tweet that her brother was left with scratches and chest pains and charged with resisting arrest. She said Elijah has “a serious heart condition that could be triggered very easily by being hit” in his chest or back. “He’s a kid and has never been in any kind of trouble with the law,” Yralina Tufono tweeted. “He was very scared and in so much pain!!!”
Video of the incident has been viewed more than 190,000 times. In it, the officer is shown straddling the teen while Elijah was down on the ground with his back on the dirt. At one point, the officer grabs Elijah’s wrist and attempts to twist it behind his back, flipping the teen on his stomach before smashing his face into the dirt, the video shows. Somehow, the teen is able to roll onto his back again, when the officer swings at him repeatedly. The video shows the cop landing at least two punches in Elijah’s chest area. Someone on the scene can be heard yelling “stop” repeatedly. “Stop hitting him, bro,” the person said. Still, the officer yanks and flips the teen onto his stomach again, the video showed. “Ah,” Elijah could be heard yelling.
Sacramento County Sheriff's Sgt. Tess Deterding said in a statement posted to the police department’s website that it’s important to put the video footage into context, “especially in relation to a use of force incident." The officer, who wasn’t named in the release, was patrolling the area of Mills Station Road and Mather Field Road, which is about 15 miles east of Sacramento, after he received "complaints from citizens about hand-to-hand sales of alcohol, tobacco and drugs to minors," Deterding said. When the officer arrived on the scene, he saw “what he believed to be a hand-to-hand exchange between an adult and juvenile,” the spokesperson said.
“As the deputy turned around, he lost sight of the adult, who left the area,” Deterding said. “When the deputy approached the juvenile, the juvenile was uncooperative and refused to give the deputy basic identifying information.
“He told the deputy he was 18 years old. Having reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was occurring, the deputy attempted to detain the juvenile so he could conduct further investigation,” Deterding added. “The juvenile became physically resistive at that time, causing the deputy to lose control of his handcuffs, which landed several feet away. The deputy attempted to maintain control of the juvenile without his handcuffs and while alone waiting for his partners to arrive and assist him.”
The officer eventually “recovered tobacco products” from the teen, “which is presumably the reason for his resistance,” Deterding said. The child was cited and released to his guardians.
“This type of situation is hard on everyone—the young man, who resisted arrest, and the officer, who would much rather have him cooperate,” Deterding said. “The community should know our deputies have a heart for the Rancho Cordova community, especially for the youth they serve through the schools, PAL sports, and our new Youth Center.” The Sheriff’s Office and Rancho Cordova Police Department are investigating the incident.
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