The Los Angeles police officer who was caught on video kicking, punching and elbowing a black man who was being held down on the street was sentenced to just two years’ probation Tuesday as part of a plea deal with prosecutors that has been criticized as being too lenient.
A probation officer recommended that Officer Richard Garcia spend a year in jail and serve three years of probation, and in a report that was made public Tuesday, he described Garcia’s actions as “violent conduct that indicates a serious danger to society,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
Matt Johnson, president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, said that he was “very disappointed” that Garcia would not serve time behind bars.
“Mr. Garcia’s actions were an embarrassment to the LAPD and to the hardworking men and women of the department who do honor our motto of ‘To protect and serve,’” Johnson said.
Garcia’s sentence was defended by a spokesman for the district attorney’s office, who said that it was “reasonable given the state of the evidence and the law.”
“Our office looked at the defendant’s prior criminal history, the seriousness of the victim’s injuries, the credibility of witnesses and the overall strength of our case,” spokesman Greg Risling said.
In the deal that Garcia, 36, made with prosecutors last year, he pleaded no contest to a felony charge of assault under color of authority, which carries a maximum sentence of three years behind bars.
The Times reports that the DA’s office gave Garcia the opportunity to avoid jail time and have his charge reduced to a misdemeanor in exchange for completing community service, following all laws, staying away from his victim and donating $500 to a charity by this week’s sentencing.
Deputy District Attorney Oscar Plascencia said in court Tuesday that when weighing how to resolve the assault charge against Garcia, prosecutors considered the fact that his victim had a criminal case that included charges of kidnapping and rape.
Superior Court Judge William N. Sterling accepted Garcia’s plea deal and allowed him to withdraw his felony plea and enter a new no-contest plea to a misdemeanor assault charge.
Garcia is currently on unpaid leave as he awaits his disciplinary hearing, which LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said Tuesday could lead to Garcia’s firing.
According to the Times, the plea deal has led to more community disappointment in District Attorney Jackie Lacey, who many feel has been too lenient when it comes to police officers and use of force.
Danny Bakewell Sr., executive editor of the black-owned Los Angeles Sentinel, told the Times that he believes Lacey has shown leniency to law-enforcement officers that doesn’t apply to black residents or other people of color. He said that police should be held to an even higher standard, given their responsibility to protect the public and enforce laws.
“Indict them, send them to trial, let a jury of their peers decide if they’re innocent or guilty,” Bakewell said. “But it appears to me that it’s more important to have a win record that you can campaign on than it is to seek justice.”
Attorney Caree Harper, who represents the victim in the case, 25-year-old Clinton Alford Jr., told the Times that the deal proved Los Angeles needs an independent prosecutor to handle cases involving the police, because Lacey “clearly doesn’t have the backbone to prosecute these officers.”
“We’re sending the message to the young 21-year-old cop who actually joined the force to help people … that this is the way that you can roll, and you’ll get away with it every single time,” Harper said.
Last year, Lacey told the Times that although she didn’t handle Garcia’s case personally, she felt the deal was appropriate given the evidence. She declined to detail the reasons for the plea but cautioned that the video “doesn’t tell the whole story sometimes.”
From the Times:
The video shows what happened after police tried to stop Clinton Alford Jr. as officers searched for a robbery suspect.
The three-minute clip shows Garcia rushing toward Alford as other officers held the man on the ground. Garcia swings his right leg and kicks Alford hard near his head. Over the next 10 seconds, the video shows Garcia knee Alford in the back and elbow and punch him in the head.
As the other officers stand up and move away, Garcia presses his knee into Alford’s back for more than two minutes, stopping only when other officers come to pick up the handcuffed man and drag him toward a patrol car.
Garcia told LAPD investigators that he used force to help control Alford because the man resisted arrest. The officer’s attorney has said his client never should have been prosecuted, arguing in court that Garcia used a reasonable level of force against someone who “still posed a threat” because one of his hands was under his body.
Alford was not present in court for Tuesday’s hearing. He is awaiting sentencing and facing life in prison after a jury convicted him three weeks ago in a separate case that included charges of rape, kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon, according to the Times.
Alford filed a lawsuit over the encounter with Garcia and accused police of violating his civil rights by using excessive force. The Times reports that federal court records indicate that a settlement was reached in March for an undisclosed amount, but the Los Angeles City Council has yet to approve that settlement.
Read more at the Los Angeles Times.