A video clip of a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy punching and trying to restrain a Cotati man who was on the ground near Guerneville has spread through social media at a time when high-profile shootings have launched a national conversation about law enforcement use-of-force.
The 21-second clip, which was taken Saturday and posted on the Santa Rosa Copwatch Facebook page, depicts a moment when two deputies are on the ground trying to restrain Jonathan Carrozzo, 31, who eventually was booked into the Sonoma County Jail on suspicion of public drunkenness and resisting arrest.
The video was taken by a passing motorist who said he was disturbed by what he saw during the encounter.
The Sheriff’s Office released its account of the incident on Wednesday in response to media requests. Sgt. Cecile Focha, a spokeswoman for the agency, said the two punches shown on the video were “distraction jabs” used to get people to “stop what they’re doing.”
Several attempts to reach Carrozzo by phone and email were unsuccessful.
Focha said the deputies had been trying to help the intoxicated man get a ride home when Carrozzo became agitated and “squared off” at them, leading them to restrain him. Carrozzo later spoke to three Sheriff’s Office sergeants and each time apologized for his conduct and declined to file a complaint against the deputies, according to Focha.
The man who took the video said he was driving home on eastbound River Road when he saw “someone swinging, arm up and down, punching somebody.”
The man, a local business owner, said he didn’t want to be identified publicly because he didn’t want his involvement in the matter to affect his business. He pulled over and started taking video on his phone when he realized two deputies were striking a man on the ground.
“It was pretty brutal if you ask me,” the man said. “He was crying and saying ‘I’m sorry.’”
After posting the video to his private Facebook page, he gave it to local attorney Dave Jake Schwartz, who posted the video to the Santa Rosa Copwatch page on Facebook on Sunday afternoon. The Copwatch page, which has been a hub of communication by people concerned about the shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a sheriff’s deputy, is a forum about police accountability.
The video went viral.
The businessman said the Sheriff’s Office reached out to him and that he gave a copy of the video to a detective and was told he would be interviewed by someone with the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office.
Focha said the video did not depict the entirety of the encounter, which began at 6:13 p.m. Saturday when a 911 caller reported that a man was lying in the roadway. The caller said the man appeared to be “out cold” and could get run over, said Focha.
The man was lying down on the side of the road behind a parked car when the Russian River Fire Department and deputies arrived. Paramedics examined the man and determined that he did not require medical attention, Focha said.
Focha said the encounter was initially amicable. Carrozzo loaned the deputies his phone to ask a friend staying at a nearby campsite to come get Carrozzo, who had been at a beer festival at Stumptown Brewery, she said.
While they waited, Focha said, Carrozzo became agitated and began making statements about police actions in Ferguson, Mo., where an officer shot an unarmed black teenager.
“He asked if they drove tanks. He said, ‘Let’s go.’ He had plenty to drink,” Focha said.
On the video, the deputies shout “Stop resisting,” “Give me your hands” and “Show me your hands.” One deputy is down a slope in a thicket and appears to be restraining the man’s head. A second deputy is astride Carrozzo’s lower legs and strikes the man’s upper thigh and his face. That deputy then kicks out a foot in what appears to be a strike to Carrozzo’s face.
The deputies didn’t plan to arrest Carrozzo until the man became agitated and stopped cooperating, according to Focha.
Focha said the Sheriff’s Office is reviewing the incident to determine if the deputies followed policy.
Sonoma County DUI lawyer Dave Jake Schwartz said he posted the video to the Copwatch page because he wanted “to show people what happens on the street and to contribute to the dialogue about police accountability, that’s all I’m trying to do.”
“I know people are going to draw their own conclusions,” Schwartz said. “To me, the video speaks for itself and it looks excessive.”
You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jjreport.