Charges of a Cover-Up Expand Alameda County Deputies’ Beating Scandal

Stanislav Petrov was hospitalized for almost two weeks after two Alameda County sheriff's deputies beat him with batons. (Courtesy of Michael Haddad)

Stanislav Petrov was hospitalized for almost two weeks after two Alameda County sheriff’s deputies beat him with batons.
(Courtesy of Michael Haddad)

By Alex Emslie
KQED

Updated 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, March 29:

A third Alameda County Sheriff’s deputy has been placed on paid leave in a widening scandal over the severe beating of a car theft suspect last November that was captured on a surveillance video.

Deputies Luis Santamaria and Paul Wieber were removed from duty shortly after video of them repeatedly striking Stanislav Petrov with batons as he appears to surrender was published by the San Francisco public defender on Nov. 13. Wieber and Santamaria were among several deputies Petrov led on a high-speed pursuit from San Leandro to San Francisco the day before.

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office mistakenly released incident reports related to Petrov’s arrest last week, in which Wieber and Santamaria wrote four days after the incident that Petrov continued to resist throughout the beating and may have had a gun.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi called the reports a “legal fiction,” and Petrov’s civil attorney, Michael Haddad, said they showed obviously collusion between several deputies reporting on the arrest. A sheriff’s spokesman said Wieber and Santamaria requested attorneys before writing their reports and would have been allowed to watch the surveillance video that went viral days before they were submitted.

Now a third, unnamed deputy has been implicated for allegedly taking Petrov’s gold cross, chain, cash and methamphetamine and giving it to a witness in an alleged attempt to bribe him into silence. A Sheriff’s Office spokesman told reporters Monday night that the deputy was removed from active duty last week.

“It’s come to light that there were two witnesses on the scene, who were homeless, and that after the beating one of the beaters went up to the witnesses and said ‘I hope you enjoyed the show,’” Haddad said Tuesday. “One of the deputies handed them a valuable gold chain and money that they had stolen from Stanislav, and we believe that they were trying to bribe these witnesses into silence.”

Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern said Tuesday that the beating was “disturbing” and allegations of a cover up constitute a “total breach of ethics.”

“That’s not who we are,” Ahern said. “Law enforcement should not be doing that. My deputy sheriff’s should not be doing that. If that allegation is true, that’s one of the most horrific things I’ve ever heard. In fact when it was reported to me, I said we’ll investigate that because I’m sure that didn’t occur.”

A reporter brought the witnesses and claims of a cover up to Ahern’s attention, he said. Local news television station KTVU reports that Jerome Allen and his wife Haley Harris were camped near the scene of Petrov’s arrest at Stevenson Street and Clinton Park in San Francisco’s Mission District:

Allen said two deputies approached him. One of them handed him some items that belonged to Petrov. “The other cop came around the corner and said, ‘Hey, I found something: don’t spend it all in one spot.’ And he passed me a very nice gold chain with a large medallion cross on it, with diamonds, Turkish gold.”

Harris drew KTVU Fox 2’s Tara Moriarty a picture of the medallion which the couple hawked for $1,500. They said they spent the money on food, clothes and shoes. We found what appears to be the missing necklace on Petrov’s Facebook page.

Allen said he was taken aback by the deputy’s offering. “At first I look around, ‘Is this being recorded or something?’ You know, like they were trying to set me up or something? And I’m like, well, they want me to be quiet; they want me to not say something about that ass whooping they just gave him.”

Allen said the deputy handed him money, a packet of crystal meth and some Newport short cigarettes.

The Sheriff’s Office discovered footage from Wieber’s body camera about six days after the incident, Ahern said, which was apparently accidentally switched on during the beating. The leaked incident reports say that 11 deputies and two sergeants involved in the Petrov pursuit and arrest did not activate their body cameras, and current policy does not requires deputies to activate their cameras.

That’s going to change, Ahern said, along with other policy and training changes in the wake of Petrov’s arrest.

He said every deputy on the scene had a duty to intervene in the beating and report any misconduct. He said one deputy at the scene did raise concerns about the arrest but declined to explain further.

“It’s incumbent upon me to make sure that the culture of this agency is above reproach,” Ahern said. “Not by just a few of our deputies, but every single deputy sheriff will be responsible to make sure they’re in compliance with every law and every policy. Not the majority, every single one.”

A civil claim filed Tuesday takes aim at the carefully written incident reports turned in days after the arrest.

“Santamaria, Wieber and other ACSO officers authored and filed materially false police reports and conspired with other Respondents and ACSO officers to cover up their misconduct and unlawful actions in this matter,” the claim says. “All Respondents participated in a code of silence concerning the unlawful conduct of fellow officers.”

Ahern said it’s not atypical for a final report to be submitted days after an incident, and that Wieber and Santamaria would have filed draft reports at the end of their shift. Their drafts have not been released.

“We’ll be looking into what their original reports look like,” said Julia Sherwin, another civil rights attorney representing Petrov.

Petrov suffered severe fractures to both arms and hands as well as head injuries in the beating. He was hospitalized for 12 days after the beating and underwent multiple surgeries to repair his “crushed” hands, according to his attorneys.

A spokesman for the San Francisco District Attorney’s office said earlier this week that a criminal investigation into the actions of sheriff’s deputies is ongoing, but so far no charges have been filed. The Alameda County District Attorney declined to pursue a raft of criminal charges against Petrov stemming from the chase — including assaulting a peace officer, evading police, possession of narcotics for sale and a loaded handgun, which was discovered in his vehicle after he was arrested.

Read Petrov’s claim against Alameda County below:

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