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Man repeatedly punched by Los Angeles officer sues city as body-cam video released

The officer used closed fists to repeatedly strike Richard Castillo for 20 or more seconds while a female officer "failed to intervene," the lawsuit states.

A man who was repeatedly punched by a Los Angeles police officer during an arrest in April that was captured in a cellphone video has sued the city.

Richard Castillo alleges in the lawsuit filed Monday in the U.S. District Court in the Central District of California against the city and members of its police force, that a male officer began to violently strike him in his face, head and body during an encounter near a vacant lot in the 2400 block of Houston Street in the Boyle Heights neighborhood on April 27.

The Los Angeles Police Department released police body camera footage of the incident Tuesday.

The officer used closed fists to repeatedly strike Castillo for 20 or more seconds while a female officer "failed to intervene," the lawsuit states. Castillo also alleges that the male officer spit in his face.

Throughout the incident, Castillo "was terrified for his life, and was experiencing substantial pain and suffering," the lawsuit states. Witnesses and residents expressed disapproval to the male officer who responded by telling them to "shut the f--- up," "get inside" and "you are all idiots," according to the lawsuit. Castillo said at some point during the encounter, a resident recorded video of the incident that went viral. Castillo spent a night in jail and was released "without any pending charges or citations," the lawsuit states.

Castillo has lived most of his life in Boyle Heights on the 2400 block of Houston Street and was raised two houses down from the vacant lot, according to the lawsuit, which states he lives in a tent with his dog on an empty lot in the neighborhood.

His attorney, Wesley Ouchi, told NBC News that Castillo is safe. Castillo is seeking unspecified punitive damages as well as attorney's fees.

Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for the City Attorney's Office, declined to comment Tuesday other than to say the lawsuit will be reviewed.

In the viral video, two officers can be seen ordering a man to turn around near a fence outside a church. A male officer tells the suspect "Don't fight. You're fighting, man." Castillo responds: "Ain't nobody fighting." The officer then throws punches to the back of Castillo's head while shouting profanities. A female officer stands by and does not appear to intervene.

NBC News does not know what occurred before the events shown in the video.

The incident has prompted an internal review, the LAPD said in a statement on May 4 after video of the encounter was widely shared online.

Police Chief Michel Moore said in a video released Tuesday that he had serious concerns after watching the "third-party video that was released last week."

"Any use of force, justified or not, is difficult to watch," Moore said. "But this one is disturbing."

He cautioned that one video does not tell the whole story and said he will not pass judgment on this case until the investigation is complete.

"We discovered this video the same day that the interaction occurred and took immediate action," the LAPD said in its statement.

Neither the officer nor the suspect were identified in the statement.

The officer received minor injuries to his hand, while the suspect had abrasions to his head and face and refused medical attention, according to the LAPD. The man was ultimately released pending further investigation, the statement said.

David Winslow, an attorney representing the officer, did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday. Winslow told NBC Los Angeles he believed the punching, while not "pretty," was justified because Castillo swung at the officer before the cellphone video recording began and attempted to grab his hands before the first punch was thrown.

"The suspect was substantially larger than the officer, younger, and in better shape," Winslow said. "This isn't a police officer bullying someone who's smaller than him, this is an officer defending himself."

A community member who recorded a portion of the altercation on a cellphone provided a copy of the video to police.

The officer was placed on modified duty pending further investigation, Moore said.