Santa Rosa police records detail arrest that broke suspect’s elbow

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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.

A sergeant later interviewed the suspect in the back of Fajardin’s patrol vehicle, an interaction captured on body-camera footage released by the Santa Rosa Police Department. The suspect told police he didn’t mean to evade Fajardin, insisting that he thought the officer’s signals were meant to clear the way for him to pass.

After the suspect complained about Fajardin’s “continuous aggression,” the sergeant told the cyclist he didn’t think Fajardin was trying to hurt him: “Well, I don’t think he’s trying to break your elbow, partner, or else your elbow would probably be broken.”

In fact, the cyclist sustained a broken right elbow, which police referred to as a bone chip and a “minor bone fracture,” according to police records.

Fajardin first drove the man to the Sonoma County Jail, where he was to be booked on suspicion of resisting arrest and violating his probation.

At the jail, Fajardin told the man, “You might want to rethink your life choices that caused you to be in the back of a police car,” adding, “I want to get you in here as fast as possible so I don’t have to be around you.”

The officer eventually asks the man a question that can’t be heard because of an audio redaction. The man apparently indicated problems with his arm, and Fajardin decided to take him to a hospital. After arriving at Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital, the man yelled in pain and cursed before asking Fajardin to loosen his bonds.

Body camera footage shows Fajardin note that he’s filming the interaction and disputes the man’s characterization of the tightness of the cuffs.

“I can’t even feel my wrists,” the man yells. “You’re cutting my wrists off!”

“Stop making stuff up,” Fajardin replies. “Just saying it louder doesn’t make it any more true.”

Fajardin’s body-camera footage shows the officer take the man into the hospital and handcuff him to a bed. Fajardin describes the man’s injuries as preventable effects of resisting arrest and warns him not to resist further as medical professionals examine him.

The man reports pain in both elbows and says “my elbow is broken” before yelling in pain again. A medical staffer outside the room asks about the cause of the noise.

“Nothing,” Fajardin says from near the doorway, “Doing his X-rays for his made-up injuries.”

Katon, the Oakland attorney, said the comments suggested Fajardin had “no concern for this guy’s well-being.”

Record release with new law

The records about the incident were among files for four cases released so far by the Santa Rosa Police Department under a new police transparency law that took effect in January.

The law, Senate Bill 1421, requires law enforcement agencies statewide to release internal documents detailing police use of force and sustained misconduct investigations into officers who have committed sexual assault, lied on the job or planted evidence. The Press Democrat requested all such records in January from the Santa Rosa Police Department and 26 other North Bay law enforcement agencies.

Police initially declined to identify the injured suspect, who was not charged as a result of the incident. Though the department regularly publishes arrest logs, those records are only made available for seven days as a matter of policy, Corcoran said. He added that he had requested formal legal advice from the city attorney’s office about whether the name was releasable.

After The Press Democrat identified the man as John Mastromoro Jr., by comparing police records with jail booking information, police confirmed his identity.

Mastromoro Jr., 53, could not be reached for comment on a phone number provided by his father, John Mastromoro Sr. of St. Johnsville, New York.

Mastromoro Sr. described the younger man as an intelligent former U.S. Navy sailor whose once-promising life went off the rails amid drug abuse decades ago in Hawaii. The elder Mastromoro was critical of his son and sympathetic to local law enforcement when informed of the incident.

“Don’t go after that cop,” Mastromoro Sr. said. “He did what he’s supposed to do.”

It was unclear where Mastromoro Jr. lived as of press time. In footage of his interview with the sergeant, he shares his desire to leave Santa Rosa after the sergeant admonished him for not complying with Fajardin’s orders.

“I need to get out of this town,” Mastromoro Jr. said. “I need to leave this place.”

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @wsreports.

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