SANTA ANA, Calif-- An investigation is underway to determine if Santa Ana police officers used excessive force Sunday night while taking a vehicle theft suspect into custody in an incident captured by a neighbor on her cell phone.
One family who lives on the 2000 block of Kilson Drive were home when officers arrested Jesus Martinez in front of their house around 7:20 p.m. and began filming the confrontation after witnessing what they perceived as an excessive use of force.
Martinez, who police say is a documented gang member, had been neutralized as a threat when police continued to deliver a series of severe blows and unfair treatment, said Roxana Cedillo, who filmed the arrest from her living room window.
“I’m very grateful that they do put themselves in the line to help us, and help all innocent people. But in that case, he was already on the ground," she told KTLA. "There was no need for the brutal part.”
The graphic video begins with one Santa Ana officer holding the man identified as Martinez to the ground as he delivers orders for the suspect to put his hands behind his head.
“Get your f—ing hands behind your back,” the officer is seen shouting while holding the man identified as Martinez by the wrists.
Martinez is heard replying, “They’re behind my back sir, let me put them behind my back sir.”
Though Martinez was failing to comply with the officer's orders, the officer was also making it nearly impossible for him to comply, according to Cedillo.
“The officer was already on top of the suspect and was telling him to put his hands in the back, but the suspect had them right here,” she said, motioning with her arms a bit in front of her face, “not where he wanted them. At the same time, I did see the officer holding his hands, telling him, ‘Put them in the back.’”
What happens next is unclear as the video pans away, but Martinez’s yelps intensify as a second officer rushes over, and slapping noises are heard. As they return to frame the officers are hitting Martinez, then continue holding him down as he writhes and shouts.
Eventually, a third officer approaches and is seen hitting Martinez with his baton and kicking him as he lay prone on the ground.
“There was three guys holding him and still punching him. That was a little bit too much what they did," said Rafael Silo, Cedillo's husband. "It was difficult to watch because I was nervous for my kids.”
The couple has two children, the second of whom was born two weeks ago.
Blood remained spattered on the family's sidewalk when KTLA visited the family's home.
Police say the confrontation began when two officers encountered a vehicle with no license plates driven by Martinez. He and a passenger, Gabriel Mendoza, were not wearing seatbelts, according to Cpl. Anthony Bertagna with the Santa Ana Police Department.
The car refused to yield when officers tried to pull it over, and a pursuit ensued with speeds pushing 85 mph, he said.
The pursuit ended, and officers used force to detain Martinez after he attempted to flee on foot, officials said.
He and Mendoza were arrested on suspicion of grand theft auto, narcotics possession and possession of a replica handgun, Bertagna said.
None of the involved officers have been identified.
Bertagna said Santa Ana's acting chief of police, David Valentin, has seen the video and has assigned the department's internal affairs unit to investigate.
“They’ll look at the whole incident and evaluate whether this officer’s use of force was within policy or out of policy,” Bertagna said.
Silo said his family is sympathetic to the harsh realities of policing but thinks it's time for the department to reflect on its use of force practices.
“We understand your situation and your job," he said, "but there are other ways of doing it.”