Video of violent arrest triggers probe of LA police officers

Thursday, November 9th 2006, 8:23 pm
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) The FBI opened an investigation Thursday into video footage of a police officer repeatedly striking a suspect in the face during a struggle on a Hollywood street.

Federal investigators initiated a civil rights inquiry after the video from the three month old incident came to the bureau's attention Thursday, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.

The footage shows two officers holding down William Cardenas, 24, on a sidewalk as one punches him several times in the face before they are able to handcuff him. The struggling suspect yells repeatedly, ``I can't breathe!''

The Police Department has begun its own criminal and administrative investigations into the officers' use of force during the August 11th arrest, said police spokesman Lt. Paul Vernon. The officers were identified as Alexander Schlegel and Patrick Farrell, and both have been reassigned to administrative work.

``There's no denying that the video is disturbing,'' Chief William Bratton said at a news conference. ``But as to whether the actions of the officers were appropriate in light of what they were experiencing and the totality of the circumstances is what the investigation will determine.''

Vernon said Cardenas, a known gang member who had been wanted on a felony warrant for receiving stolen property, ran after police encountered him. After catching up to him, the officers knocked him to the ground and arrested him.

Cardenas, who was held without bail, faces two charges of resisting arrest.

The officers told their supervisors after the arrest that they had used force, said Gary Ingumenson, independent counsel for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which provides legal representation for officers.

Ingumenson said he welcomed the investigations, contending the officers acted well within their rights and department policy. In particular, police appeared to use what are known as ``distraction strikes,'' a tactic for subduing suspects, he said.

``This would have never happened if the suspect had surrendered as he is lawfully obligated to do,'' Ingumenson said.

Cardenas' attorney, B. Kwaku Duren, accused the officers of violating his client's civil rights and claimed department investigators were stalling.

``I think the LAPD is being caught covering up an obvious excessive use of force,'' he said.

Authorities learned of the tape in late August after the defense turned it over to prosecutors. The district attorney's office is reviewing whether to continue with the Cardenas case, which is scheduled for trial November 20th, said spokeswoman Jane Robison.

It was unclear who shot the footage, which is not an official police video or from a surveillance camera. It was also posted on