Lawsuits alleging physical abuse against police officers are notoriously difficult to win.
They're the ultimate he-said, she-said, and since there is generally not much proof other than bruises and black-eyes, most folks tend to trust the word of an officer over an accused criminal.
But a videotape showing abuse can change all of that.
A San Bernardino man claims he has such a tape and is suing San Bernardino County and several sheriff's deputies, claiming they beat him unconscious and lied about what happened to cover their asses.
According to a lawsuit recently filed in Los Angeles federal court, Dennis Cruz was at a Circle K in Hesperia on March 6, 2009 when a deputy approached him and asked to see his drivers license.
Cruz says he handed over his license and that the deputy asked him if he was a member of the violent El Salvadoran street gang Mara Salvatrucha. The deputy then said he was “going to make sure” that Cruz was deported, claims Cruz.
Cruz's attorney, Luis Carrillo, tells the Weekly that Cruz is not in the country illegally and has Temporary Protected Status, meaning the Department of Homeland Security has deemed it unsafe for him to return to his home country and may remain in the United States.
Next, according to the lawsuit, the deputy tried to run Cruz's license through the computer in his squad car, but the system was down so he placed Cruz in handcuffs, had Cruz's car towed, and took him down to the station.
Cruz claims that when he got to sheriff's building, a white officer slammed his head into a wall and then five deputies placed restraints around his legs and assaulted him, causing him to lose consciousness.
The next thing Cruz remembers was waking up in a hospital.
Cruz was charged with assaulting an officer and eventually pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, says Carrillo. But he's hoping the discovery of a videotape of the incident will prove that the officers used unnecessary force and lied about what happened in order to charge Cruz.
“We have the video,” says Carrillo. “It shows excessive use of force was used against Mr. Cruz and against an unrelated female who was also there at the time.”
Carrillo says he will try to get us a copy of the videotape.