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Video of California deputy's violent encounter with teen prompts investigation

The teen "was uncooperative" and refused to provide basic identifying information when the deputy approached him, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office said.
/ Source: (re)zip

A viral video of a California deputy's violent encounter with a teenager has prompted an investigation.

The video, posted to Twitter early Tuesday by the sister of 14-year-old Elijah Tufono, appears to show him being punched and choked by the officer, a deputy sheriff assigned to the Rancho Cordova Police Department. NBC News has not been able to verify what happened before the events shown on the video.

Yralina Tufono, 20, did not witness the incident, which she said occurred about noon Monday in Rancho Cordova, a suburb of Sacramento, and was recorded by one of her brother's friends. It stemmed from a Swisher cigar her brother was carrying, she said Tuesday.

Included in her tweet of the video was the hashtag #JUSTICE4JAH. The video was viewed more than 100,000 times by Tuesday evening.

The deputy was patrolling the area where the incident occurred due to complaints from citizens about hand-to-hand sales of alcohol, tobacco and drugs to minors, according to a statement released Tuesday night by Sacramento County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Sgt. Tess Deterding.

"It's important to put video footage into context, especially in relation to a use of force incident," the statement said. "In this case, the deputy saw what he believed to be a hand-to-hand exchange between an adult and juvenile."

Deterding did not identify the deputy or the teen.

As the deputy turned around, he lost sight of the adult, who left the area, according to the statement.

"When the deputy approached the juvenile, the juvenile was uncooperative and refused to give the deputy basic identifying information," the statement said. "He told the deputy he was 18 years old."

The deputy, having "reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was occurring," attempted to detain the boy "so he could conduct further investigation," the statement said. "The juvenile became physically resistive at that time, causing the deputy to lose control of his handcuffs, which landed several feet away."

The deputy attempted to maintain control of the teen without his handcuffs and while alone waiting for backup, Deterding said. The deputy recovered tobacco products from the juvenile, who was cited and released to his guardians.

Deterding said this "type of situation is hard on everyone" and that the sheriff’s office and the Rancho Cordova Police Department have started an investigation into the use of force by its deputy in order to gain a complete and thorough understanding of the events that took place during the incident.

"Maintaining the public trust and remaining transparent are of paramount importance to the Sheriff’s Office and Rancho Cordova Police Department," Deterding said.

Yralina Tufono uploaded separate clips from the incident in a Facebook post that she said show Elijah was not resisting arrest, but "was simply trying to get his arms free because he was in pain!!"

"He's a kid and has never been in any kind of trouble with the law!" she wrote in a subsequent tweet. "He was very scared and in so much pain!!!"

She said her brother has a serious heart condition that could be easily triggered by him being hit in his chest and back.

The siblings' aunt, Leata Tufono Tagalu, gave what she described as the backstory that led to the incident in a Facebook post. Tagalu did not immediately return a request for comment.

"Elijah had an adult purchase him a swisher," she wrote, adding that he was pulled over by an unmarked police car that led to the video that has been circulating online.

She said Elijah was physically scratched up, is experiencing chest pains and is sore from the encounter.

"He has SVT but thank God it did not trigger at the time of the incident or now," she said, referring to supraventricular tachycardia, also defined as an abnormally fast heartbeat.

"Mentally he's still not sure," she wrote. "We are all in shock and of course we never thought it would happen to our own child/children!"