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Deputies suspended for beating suspect after chase on horseback

By Amy R. Connolly

SAN BERNARDINO , Calif., April 10 (UPI) -- Ten San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies were placed on administrative leave after a video appears to show them kicking and punching a suspect after a horseback pursuit in the desert.

A KNBC-TV helicopter was flying overhead as deputies appeared to strike Francis Pusok, even after he put his hands behind his back. The television station said the 30-year-old man appeared to be kicked 17 times, punched 37 times and struck with batons four times. Thirteen blows appeared to be to the head, the TV station said.

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Sheriff John McMahon ordered internal and criminal investigations into the incident.

"It is disturbing, and it appears on its face that there are violations of policy, but that will ultimately be determined in the investigation and to what degree," McMahon told the Los Angeles Times. "We'll figure out exactly what happened and proceed from there whether there was criminal wrongdoing on the part of our deputies."

The incident unfolded about 12:15 p.m. Thursday when deputies attempted to serve Pusok with a search warrant in an identity-theft investigation. Pusok led deputies on a three-hour car chase that ended with Pusok dumping the car and stealing a horse to escape, investigators said.

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When Pusok took off into rough terrain near the San Bernardino National Forest, a sheriff's office helicopter was used to lower deputies into the area. Pusok fell from the horse as deputies closed in, and a Taser was used on him.

The Sheriff's Office said the Taser was ineffective because he was wearing loose clothing. The video footage, captured by the news helicopter flying above the scene, shows Pusok on the ground with his hands behind his back as deputies land blows, including a kick to the groin.

Investigators said Pusok was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Two deputies were treated for dehydration, and a third was treated for an injury sustained when the horse kicked him.

Hector Villagra, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said the incident was "disturbing."

"Once again video has provided an important account of what really happened, this time in San Bernardino County," he said. "While we applaud Sheriff John McMahon's prompt decision to investigate the disturbing actions of his deputies, we believe more is needed. Too often the department has failed to address questions, including those raised by the ACLU SoCal, about use of force and Taser policies."

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