A district attorney’s investigation has cleared police officers of wrongdoing in a videotaped incident in which a transient in handcuffs was apparently pepper-sprayed in a police car, police Chief William Bratton said Tuesday.
The February 2005 incident came to light this week when the videotape, shot by a citizen, was released by the man’s attorney.
The tape of Benjamin Barker’s arrest surfaced on the heels of an 18-second video showing a Los Angeles officer repeatedly punching a suspect in the face while another officer tried to handcuff the man during a struggle on a Hollywood street on Aug. 11.
At a news conference, Bratton cited a Nov. 15, 2005, decision by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office in which prosecutors declined to file any charges against officers in the arrest of Barker, who had been in a scuffle with a Venice merchant.
“Examination of the videotape clearly shows (the officers) did not use excessive force on Benjamin Barker, nor did they assault him under color of authority,” Bratton said, quoting the decision. “The officers showed remarkable restraint and demonstrated professional courtesy to Barker despite his belligerent, threatening and combative behavior.”
The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that the tape shows an officer take pepper spray out of a holster, then raise it toward Barker’s face, but the actual spraying is obscured by shadows.
The report found that Barker kicked at one officer, lunged toward another, “battered” another officer by spitting on him, and then vandalized the police car, Bratton said.
“The officers used that degree of force necessary to restrain Barker and maintain custody of him,” the chief said, quoting from the decision.
Barker has since pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery on the shopkeeper.
Barker’s attorney, John Raphling, told the Los Angeles Times that Barker was whining and crying on the tape, “but he is not being aggressive or threatening” to the officers. Messages seeking comment were left Tuesday by The Associated Press, but were not immediately returned.
The district attorney’s office also concluded that reports by two officers that said the pepper spray was administered outside the car were mistaken recollections and not intentional misstatements of fact.
The chief noted that a court commissioner who held a hearing in the separate Hollywood arrest also found the officers in that case did nothing wrong because that suspect was resisting.
But the chief said administrative reviews of whether officers in both incidents violated departmental policies or procedures had yet to conclude. He said his decision in the Barker arrest would be made soon.