Santa Rosa police records detail arrest that broke suspect’s elbow
A Santa Rosa police officer was found by his department to have acted within city policy when he tackled an unarmed bicyclist suspected of low-level traffic offenses during a February arrest that fractured a bone in the suspect's elbow, newly released records show.
Santa Rosa police late last month released more than three hours of body-worn camera footage and 18 pages of reports on the incident under a new California law designed to increase transparency into the conduct of law enforcement officers.
The incident involved a case of a man known to Santa Rosa police who an officer said was swerving while riding his bike, violating traffic laws and appearing not to heed an officer's attempts to pull him over.
The man's claim, as seen on police body-camera footage, was that he didn't know he was being pulled over or was resisting arrest, having thought the officer's signals were only to allow the police vehicle to pass by.
As the cyclist continued on his way, Officer Mark Fajardin, a 12-year veteran of the department, exited his patrol vehicle, chased the man on foot, tackled him off his bike and detained him after a brief struggle on the ground.
A Santa Rosa police investigation into the February arrest concluded the actions of Fajardin were “reasonable, lawful, and within policy,”Lt. Ryan Corcoran said.
“It was a viable option to tackle him,” Corcoran said.
An Oakland civil rights attorney who reviewed the records, Glenn Katon, characterized the arrest as a “repulsive” instance of overly aggressive policing against an unarmed low-level offender.
“There is just absolutely no plausible explanation for using that kind of force,” said Katon, who examined the records at the request of The Press Democrat. The records, including video footage, are publicly available online at srcity.org/3093/Transparency-Information.
Fajardin declined The Press Democrat's request for an interview.
"Rapidly evolving situation"
The Feb. 10 encounter took place near the Joe Rodota Trail, where Fajardin was driving his patrol vehicle west behind a slow-moving and weaving cyclist who he said failed to stop or signal at a stop sign before turning off the trail onto Hampton Way, according to the officer's report.
Fajardin wrote that he recognized the man from prior law enforcement contacts and tried to stop him by sounding his horn and siren, activating his red-and-blue lights, and blocking the bicycle's path with his vehicle. The man “completely ignored” the officer before turning around and riding north “to get away from me,” Fajardin wrote.
The officer's report characterized the encounter up to this point as a “tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving situation which required me to make split-second judgments” - using terms similar to the language of a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision creating a test to determine the reasonableness of acts of force by police.
Fajardin noted in the report that he was a defensive-tactics instructor and also coached officers through a training exercise that simulates situations in which officers might use force.
Fajardin chased the cyclist and caught him in about five seconds, as shown in his body-worn camera footage. The force of him tackling the man dislodged the officer's camera, though the device continued to record the interaction.
“What are you doing? Why are you doing this?” the suspect asks as Fajardin prepares to handcuff him.
Part of the officer's response is redacted before the audio returns: “I'm stopping you to do a probation search, and then you ran from me, so now you're going to jail.”
Fajardin admonishes the man not to roll over and tells him to put his arm behind his back. The man yells out and insists he's trying to comply.
“Do not resist,” Fajardin says. “Stop moving.”
Officer's physical tactics
Fajardin's report acknowledges using physical tactics to gain “pain compliance,” and the man yells out again when a second officer arrives to control the man's arms and get him into handcuffs.
The officers put on latex gloves as Fajardin informs his colleague about the encounter. Body camera footage appears to show Fajardin saying that the cyclist is going to jail for “being a dumbass.”
After arresting the man, police found in his possession a small plastic bottle of cheap vodka and a tall can of malt liquor, both unopened, as well as a “very small” amount of marijuana, according to the report. The man had previously broken the law on several occasions, according to Sonoma County court records, and wasn't supposed to possess alcohol as part of his probation, according to records released by the Santa Rosa Police Department.