LA sheriff investigating after video shows deputy throwing Black woman to the ground

ByDeena Zaru and Alex Stone ABCNews logo
Thursday, July 6, 2023
Deputy throws woman to ground outside store in California
A Los Angeles, CA area deputy was caught on video throwing a woman to the ground outside a grocery store in Lancaster, California.

LANCASTER, Calif. -- Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna spoke out on Wednesday afternoon about his department's internal affairs investigation into a June 24 incident outside a WinCo Foods grocery store in Lancaster, California, where a sheriff's deputy slammed a woman to the ground during a confrontation about an alleged robbery in progress.

Luna said that the sheriff's department received a call from an employee who said that two customers "were assaulting loss prevention employees."

"Upon arrival, a deputy approached a man matching the description given by store security personnel. As deputies attempted to detain the individuals, the encounter escalated into a use of force incident that was captured by a community member with a cell phone camera," Luna said.

The sheriff said that he has viewed both the body camera video and video recorded by a bystander and found the footage "disturbing."

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"It's disturbing. There's no ifs ands, buts about it," Luna said, adding that the investigation will include interviews with witnesses and a review of the body camera, cell phone and surveillance videos from the store.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department released the body camera footage of the incident on Monday, saying in a statement that they did so "in the interest of transparency" with the community.

"The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has opened an investigation into this incident. While the Department does not make statements related to ongoing investigations, Sheriff Luna has made it clear that he expects Department personnel to treat all members of the public with dignity and respect, and that personnel who do not uphold our training standards will be held accountable," the statement said.

According to the LASD, two deputies responded to the scene after a report of an in-progress robbery at the WinCo Foods store at the 700 block of West Avenue K-4 in Lancaster.

"Upon arrival, deputies approached a man and a woman, matching the description given by store security personnel in calls placed to 911," the LASD said. "As deputies attempted to detain the individuals described by store security personnel, the encounter escalated into a use of force incident that was captured by a community member with a cell phone camera. The video is disturbing."

The body camera video shows the two deputies approaching a man and a woman, who are both Black, outside the grocery store before the situation escalated.

"Why am I under arrest ... for what?" the man asked.

"You are not under arrest, you are being detained," the first deputy responded.

The other sheriff's deputy is then seen approaching the woman, who appeared to be recording the deputies' interaction with the man.

"You can't touch me! You can't touch me," the woman said in the video.

"Get down on the ground. Get on the ground. Stop. Stop or you're going to get punched in the face," the sheriff's deputy responded.

"STOP. If you touch me, you're going to get sued," the woman said.

The woman called out that she can't breathe as the deputy appeared to place his knee near her neck.

"I can't breathe," she says at one point, followed by, "you threw me down to the ground."

The deputy then appeared to pepper spray the woman.

The man can be heard telling deputies that the woman has cancer.

"She got cancer, man," he said and then asked the woman to "relax" and "cooperate" with deputies.

Luna said that the male involved in the incident was arrested and cited for resisting or delaying an officer, attempted petty theft and interfering with the business, while the female was "arrested cited for assaulting an officer and battery after assaulting loss prevention personnel inside the market."

He added that the woman "complained of pain to her eyes after being pepper sprayed, and sustained several abrasions on her arms," and was treated at a local hospital.

Luna did not name the man and the woman and ABC News' attempts to independently verify their identities have not been successful.

The identities of the two sheriff's deputies involved in the incident have also not been released.

Tom Yu, the attorney representing the deputy who threw the Black woman to the ground, told ABC News in an email on Wednesday afternoon that the deputies "were called to WINCO on a robbery investigation involving the male and female."

Yu added said that the man and woman were both "detained once the deputies (including my client) arrived at the location. The deputies were conducting an investigation and began patting down [the man]. [The woman] was also involved in the robbery investigation and was detained as well. Deputies specifically told both suspects that they were NOT being arrested, only detained."

Asked why the deputy slammed the woman to the ground, Yu said, "My client took [the woman] down to the ground due to her being resistant, and specifically saying, 'YOU CAN'T TOUCH ME,' multiple times."

"Deputies are trained to take suspects who resist to the ground in order to gain compliance and to safely handcuff the suspect," he added.

WinCo Foods did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

The LASD said both deputies involved were reassigned from field duty pending an administrative review, which will determine "if the force used was reasonable, necessary, appropriate, and proportional to the level of actions described."

Amid outrage following the release of the video, community members and advocates are set to hold a protest outside the WinCo grocery store in Lancaster on Wednesday evening organized by Cancel the Contract Antelope Valley - an advocate group that is calling on the city of Lancaster to cancel its contract with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and invest those funds into communities of color.

"As Black residents of this community we are tired of living in fear of the police," co-founder of Cancel the Contract Waunette Cullors said in a statement.